Clearly, law school isn’t cheap. So how do you go about paying for three years of long, hard work?

There are three major ways to go about this. While they aren’t exclusive, it’s critical to understand these three methods so that you can make the best financial decisions before attending law school.

A. Scholarships and Grants

Like college, scholarships and grants can help you fund your law school education. These financial awards can come from the law schools themselves or may come from private organizations that fund scholarship opportunities. Also similar to college, an applicant’s scholarship and/or grants may cover all or some of the cost of attending law school.

A merit-based scholarship or grant provided by law schools will depend on the particular law school that you attend. As for private law school scholarships, you can visit websites like AdmissionsDean to search for scholarships that may be the best for you.

B. Out-of-Pocket

We can’t include a discussion of paying for law school without a discussion of out-of-pocket payments. If you are lucky enough to pay for your own law school education (or have someone else pay for you), you will have much more flexibility in terms of your career choice. You won’t feel that subtle pressure of taking a job to pay off your loans and can, instead, choose something you are more passionate about, even if it pays less.

Of course, you may have to pay out-of-pocket to supplement any costs that loans or scholarships don’t cover. If you are able to do it, however, paying out-of-pocket for the totality of law school is a much better option than funding your experience through loans.

C. Loans

This is the big one.

In all likelihood, you are familiar with taking out loans to attend college. The procedure for law school is quite similar. The Law School Admission Council (“LSAC”) provides a preliminary guide to paying for law school.

We could spend another article (or series of articles) describing how to take out loans to pay for law school. That said, here are some fundamental principles to keep in mind.

First, recognize that federal loans provide more benefits and perks than private loans. Federal student loans provide more flexible repayment options and more opportunities for payment relief versus a loan provided by a private or institutional entity.

Second, any financial aid that you accept cannot exceed the cost of attendance established by the law school you attend for the academic year. This is set by your law school and will vary from school to school. Each school’s website will provide more information.

Third, mind your deadlines. If you intend to take out federal student loans, you will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) beginning October 1 of the year before you attend law school. Regardless of whether you are seeking federal student loans, you will need to carefully read the information provided by your school’s financial aid office to ensure that you are submitting all required paperwork on time.

If you’d like to do some introductory research on student loans, you can find more information in LSAC’s Financial Aid Guide or on Sallie Mae’s website.