At a time when the media and even Congress are scrutinizing claims by law schools about their graduates' employability and earning power, these application questions caught my eye:
1. Please list all of your outstanding educational loans. List amount, type, lender name, and total amount.
2. Have you ever defaulted on any educational loan?
Law school applications don't typically ask you to provide information about your indebtendess (except in the separate, optional financial aid application). These questions showed up in a Tier 1 application this year, and I wonder if other schools will follow suit. #2 makes perfect sense, because it's hard to take out additional educational loans if you're already in default, and your existing default might affect your ability to attend law school at all. The reasons for #1 are a bit more opaque, but I'm glad they ask, because when it comes to educational debt, it's easy to stick one's head in the sand.
We require all our applicant-clients to list their existing debt in our client questionnaire. We ask because it's information you absolutely have to be thinking about as you decide whether and where to apply, what kinds of career and lifestyle options you want to pursue (and what trade-offs you might have to make), and ultimately which law school to invest in.
Even if the typical law school application doesn't force you to answer questions about your educational debt, you should still go through the exercise for your own benefit. Tallying up your debt in black and white can be clarifying (and sobering), and you should be giving thought to what your debt profile will look like if you attend law school.
I'm a big fan of FinAid.org, which has helpful online tools you can use to calculate what your monthly payments will be. What will your debt carrying costs be after law school? What kind of salary will you need in order to pay back your loans without living under a bridge? Given the hard truths emerging about legal employment, at what price points will it make sense to attend School A vs. School B? Or any at all?
Keep in mind that published tuition rates are just sticker prices; you'll have to wait and see what tuition discounts each school offers you in the form of grants and scholarships before you know what the actual price will be and how much you'll have to borrow. However, doing some math upfront might make you realize that you're willing to attend School X even at a high price point, but School Y only at a low one (or for free). Take advantage of those calculators and tools before you sign on any dotted lines.
Former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and a recovering lawyer, Anna Ivey founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process. You can find more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions. Join the conversation here in the blog comments and on Twitter and Facebook, or email us a new question for the blog.