Beware of Misleading Student Loan Debt Figures

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on April 25, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you are a prospective law student who is currently weighing her options between schools, no doubt estimated debt figures have entered into your analysis. But how much can you rely on these figures?

According to the opinion of Shannon Achimalbe at Above the Law, you'd be prudent to watch your step. Those numbers could be double or even triple when reality hits.

Thomas Jefferson School of Law Strikes Again

Thomas Jefferson School of Law has gotten quite a bit of media attention recently due to a certain student's lawsuit. But Achimalbe reminds us that the now infamous law school has an equally infamous number to feather its cap: $172,000. That's the average debt load of a randomly chosen law grad from its 2014 class. And, according to the ABA, it also happens to be the school with the highest average student debt number for that year.

So, how does a $172,000 bill stack up against the bill from Harvard of $150,000? The latter is a smaller bill coming from the highest ranked law school in the nation. And through some very convincing arithmetic, Achimalbe persuades us that Harvard's $150,000 is a touch misleading.

Factor in Rent, Living, Food, Rising Tuition, etc.

The law school's tuition was $57,000 for the 2015-2016 year with an estimated cost of attendance estimated at $85,000. Each year it will incrementally increase. For a full three years, the cost adjusted price tag is actually a little closer to $300,000 by Achimalbe's account.


And you'd better hope you get a scholarship too. The good folks at Law School Transparency estimate that those unlucky blokes who did not secure scholarships will end up with approximately $300,000 hanging over their head with about $400,000 or even $550,000 to look forward to depending on which repayment plan they choose. Present value calculations really can suck for debtors.

Since there's definitely a discrepancy between what Harvard is saying what we think is going on, the reasonable conclusion is that Harvard Law arrived at the $150,000 number by taking the highest debt number and the lowest debt number, adding them together and dividing them by two. Tada!

Simply math says that with $400,000 on your shoulders, a five percent interest means you'll be paying quite a nice chunk of change for a while. Five percent of $400,000 is $20,000. Divide by twelve and you get $1,667 per month. That's a mortgage payment in some places.

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