Debt U: Study Ranks Law Schools With Greatest Debt Load For Students

A new report is out that the average education debt for law graduates at private schools last year was nearly $125,000. The list of the top schools in the debt competition may surprise you.


There has been an increase in debt of over 17 percent from the prior year for private law grads and 10 percent for public law grads. Here are the top five schools:

1) John Marshall Law School in Chicago, with average debt of $165,178.

2) California Western School of Law, with average debt of $153,145.

3) Thomas Jefferson School of Law in California, with average debt of $153,006.

4) American University in Washington, D.C., with average debt of $151,318.

5) New York Law School, with average debt of $146,230.

The next five include Phoenix School of Law (6), Southwestern Law School (CA) (7), Catholic University of America (Columbus) (DC) (8), Northwestern University (IL) (9), and Pace University (NY) (10). It is an interesting list. I had expected to see the top schools in the rankings since they tend to have the highest tuition. Northwestern (my alma mater) is the only such school in the top ten. Northwestern has always been one of the most expensive schools (it was the most expensive law school in the country when I attended). Yet, the high debt among lower ranked schools like Phoenix School of Law was a bit of a surprise.

Just for the record, the law school with the least student debt was Georgia State University — weighing in with an average of $19,971.

Source: US News and World Report as first seen on ABA Journal

21 thoughts on “Debt U: Study Ranks Law Schools With Greatest Debt Load For Students”

  1. I thought for sure UDC would have the lowest debt. It costs 9k in state and 18k out of state per year of attendance. Georgia State is 13k in state and 33k for out of state. I guess 2 factors may be the cost of living there being cheaper and the money students have going in.

  2. After the Stafford limit is reached each year at $20,000 plus as commoner stated, the next loan is the Direct Plus loan which carries a 7.9% interest rate.

  3. The glut was evident 25 years ago. I remember being at a high school reunion where the newly minted lawyers kidded about being “time a dozen” lawyers. there’s nothing new here. Other professions also have allowed programs to proliferate while professional options have become more constrained in one way or another.Public health programs are growing in number, even though the job market for grads has not been growing. APA allowed clinical diploma mills to grow and dilute the pool of competent professionals.

  4. Wow the places where you are least likely to receive a job upon graduation want you to go deep into debt? Federal Stafford loans alone give any law student 61,500 dollars. That’s a nice chunk of change that the government is funding to worthless law schools.

  5. I’d add that, in a few years, everyone doing temp work as document reviewers for large firms will be replaced by a fully automated, software-driven system, so things will get even worse.

    At this point, they should require full disclosure by law schools–debt load; percentage employed at FT permanent JD/admitted required paying positions 0/9 months after graduation; average salary for employed grads(I think they can find a way to get a higher response rate–pay them 50 bucks for responding truthfully, e.g.); % of placements into Big Law, Government, clerkships, and Public Service/Nonprofit work; real unemployment rate; etc.

    If you could collect and publish all that information, you could then cross-compare and compile it, in order to get a “cost-benefit” analysis–which school gives you the best return on investment?

  6. Mack, There is a shortage of doctors in some areas and an overabundance of lawyers everywhere. I guess they didn’t open up a boatload of useless medical schools.

  7. Kinda reminds me of.

    Question: What do they call the person that graduated last in their class at medical school?

    Answer: DOCTOR!

  8. The other problem is because of the the budget problems the government has a virtual freeze on hiring in places like the justice dept. Legal aid and the non profits are facing severe cutbacks at the state level where the republicans have cut their budgets.

  9. What was true ten years ago is certainly not true now. There are too many law schools and not enough jobs for those that are graduating. The employers can afford to be far more selective. Many that graduate will never practice law.

  10. The problem isn’t necessarily the drop in applicants because the schools are still getting enough applicants to fill whatever amount of classes they want. So, while the school’s ranking may take a hit, the amount of money it brings in does not.

  11. It makes sense that the debt loads would be greatest at the standalone “night school” law schools and very expensive private universities. The latter probably can offer more scholarships than the former. As for competence, a friend of mine once worked for a large professional society. Their economists came from places like the U of Chicago. Their lawyers came from Marshall-type places.

  12. I agree with Frankly. In my prior life as a human my tuition was Two Thousand three hundred fifty dollars a year. I had a student loan for an even $2,500.00 a year and the balance was beer money. The best trial lawyers dont seem to have come out of the Ivy League and dont always talk “tirty, turd and a turd” speak like Scalia and half of the schmucks on the Supreme Court from NY or neaby environs.

    A lawyer from Phoenix U? Give me a break.

  13. I think law schools are cutting their own throats. With the difficulty in finding jobs for new law graduates leading to some scandalous accounting, and the huge tuition increases, law schools are assuring themselves fewer and fewer applicants. Quite simply they have priced themselves out of the market for most students.

  14. You don’t say….. Warren Berger if I recall went to a night school in California……doesn’t say much though….

  15. Frankly, Yes it does. I have a daughter that is a 2l and firms won’t attend OCI at the lower ranked schools. Minnesota is ranked higher than GWU.

  16. Running up that much debt might be worth it at Northwestern since so many there want corporate big law, and they have a pretty good chance of achieving it. For the rest it not so good.

  17. So, why would you not go to GSU law – unless your goal was a USSC robe?

    I have asked this question before but not seen an answer. If you skip the huge names at the top of the heap, how much difference 10 years into your career would having a degree from GSU as opposed to one of these listed as to 10 debt builders make? I get the prestige schools (Harvard, GW) but does it really matter between Minnesota, Northwestern, UK, Nebraska, Colorado State etc?

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