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Whether you want to earn a Juris Doctor (JD) and become an attorney or work in the legal field as an assistant, consultant, or mediator, an online law degree is an ideal place to start. Earning a bachelor’s degree in law or legal studies gives students a solid foundation for entry-level jobs and further study at the graduate level.

While practicing law can earn individuals a median annual salary of $145,760, completing the necessary education to take the bar exam can be an expensive proposition. Therefore, it’s important to make smart financial decisions from the start, including choosing an affordable online law degree. That’s why Intelligent.com compiled this list of the most affordable online law degree programs. This article also offers insight into the costs that factor into an online law degree program, the career outlook for legal professions, and how to choose the affordable online law degree that’s right for you.

Cost Breakdown for an Online Law Degree Program

When selecting an online law degree program, there are a number of costs to consider that affect how affordable a program is.

Tuition

Tuition is the primary cost associated with earning a college degree. When students attend a program full-time, they typically pay a flat per-term tuition fee. Meanwhile, part-time students usually pay per credit hour based on how many classes they take in a given term. According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost per credit hour at four-year institutions (public and private) is $694. Part-time students may pay less per term, but bachelor’s degrees require a minimum of 120 credits to graduate — all students end up paying the same amount overall. Students should consult with their school’s financial aid office to determine their tuition rate, how tuition is assessed, and what payment options students have.

Fees

Schools often charge additional fees to cover expenses not subsidized by tuition. For example, online students may be charged a virtual classroom technology fee to pay for online course platforms or tech support. Students in online law degree programs may have to pay fees to access digital legal libraries. Fees may be charged on a one-time, annual, or per-term basis. When budgeting for your online law degree, consult with a financial aid counselor to get clarification about fees.

Personal technology

Online students must ensure they have reliable devices and internet access, as they likely won’t have access to on-campus wifi, computer labs, and tech support. Students who are enrolling in a program with live virtual classes should also confirm that they have a working webcam and microphone. Do a tech assessment before starting your program, and determine if you need to upgrade your computer or internet service. Check with your school to find out if they partner with any retailers or companies to offer students discounts on essential tech supplies.

Books and supplies

According to the Education Data Initiative, the average postsecondary student spent between $628 and $1,200 for books and supplies during the 2021-2022 academic year, so this is another key cost students must budget for. If your program requires an internship, you may also need to purchase business attire and pay for transportation costs to your internship site.

Factors Influencing the Cost of an Online Law Degree

There are several factors that impact how much schools charge for tuition. Understanding these factors can help you determine what an affordable online law degree looks like for you.

Public vs. private institution

Public colleges typically have two tuition rates: one for students who reside in the state where the school is located and one for students who are from out-of-state. This is because public schools use state tax dollars to fund their operations. Resident students pay a lower tuition rate because they have already subsidized part of their tuition through taxes. However, some online degree programs charge all students the in-state tuition rate, regardless of where they live. Meanwhile, private colleges charge all students the same tuition rate, regardless of where they live, because they don’t receive any tax revenue. Because private colleges rely more heavily on tuition as a source of revenue, they tend to have higher tuition rates than public colleges.

Nonprofit vs. for-profit

Another college classification status is non-profit and for-profit. All public and most private universities are non-profit, which means they must reinvest revenue into the institution through faculty and staff salaries, infrastructure, student services, and more. For-profit schools operate like corporations, with the primary goal of earning a profit. Tuition rates may be lower, but because for-profit schools typically invest less in faculty, infrastructure, and other student resources, students at for-profit schools may receive a different quality of education than those at non-profits. Students considering for-profit schools should carefully review how the institution invests its money and its student outcomes.

Student military status

Many schools offer discounted tuition rates to students who are currently serving in the military or are veterans. Spouses and children of active-duty service members and veterans may also be eligible for special tuition rates. Students who think they might be eligible should consult the school’s financial aid office for more information.

Number of credits and completion time

A student’s individual education experience can also impact how much they spend on an online law degree. Bachelor’s degrees in law or legal studies require a minimum of 120 credits and typically take four years of full-time study to complete. However, students who already have credits earned from a previous undergraduate program, such as an associate degree, can decrease their completion time, and therefore their costs, by transferring eligible credits to their law degree program. Many schools offer degree completion programs that may accept as many as 75% of the necessary credits from previously attended institutions, saving students time and money.

Most Affordable 50 Online Law Degree Programs

Most Affordable Online Law Degree Programs_2024 badge
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Pennsylvania Western University
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Liberty University
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Regent University
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Southern New Hampshire University
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University of Central Florida
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Rowan University
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Herzing University-Brookfield
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Stevenson University
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Bellevue University
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Dominican University
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University of Massachusetts Global
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PennState World Campus
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University of Arizona
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University of Maryland Global Campus
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Arizona State University

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How we rank schools

This list features some of the most affordable online law programs in the U.S. All are offered at nonprofit, accredited institutions, either public or private, with a high standard of academic quality for postsecondary education.

We evaluated each degree program on admission, retention, and graduation rates as well as tuition costs, faculty, reputation, and student resources. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared our picks to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like U.S. News & World Report, among others, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

How to Pay for an Online Law Degree

There are a variety of different options for paying for an online degree, with most students and families using some combination of methods.

Scholarships

One of the most beneficial ways to pay for an online law degree is by using scholarships, which are considered gift aid because they don’t require repayment. Most schools offer scholarships based on merit or financial need. For need-based scholarships, students must typically submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be considered. There are also many external sources for scholarships, such as professional organizations, non-profits, community and religious organizations, and private scholarship funds.

Grants

Grants, like scholarships, don’t require repayment, although most grants are awarded to students based on financial need. The Federal Student Aid program offers Pell Grants to undergraduate students who demonstrate extraordinary financial need. Individual states and schools may also offer grants to students who need funds to cover education costs.

Out-of-pocket

If you or your family are paying your own money directly to the school to cover tuition and expenses, this is considered out-of-pocket. While some students pay their full tuition out-of-pocket, it’s common for students to use a combination of out-of-pocket payments and other forms of financial aid to cover all their education expenses. For students paying tuition out-of-pocket, find out if your school offers a payment plan option so you can pay tuition in installments throughout the term.

Federal student loans

As part of the Federal Student Aid (FSA) program, the U.S. Department of Education offers Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans to undergraduate students. Students must complete the Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA) to determine their eligibility for student loans. These education loans have interest rates and repayment terms set by Congress and are generally more favorable than private education loans. More information about applying for student loans through the FAFSA is included in the next section.

Work-study

The FSA program also awards work-study funding to eligible students. In this program, students work part-time for their college in exchange for an hourly wage. Work-study positions exist in various college departments, and online students should inquire about available remote work-study positions. Work-study jobs pay at least the federal minimum wage, although many pay more.

Employer tuition assistance

For students who are working while earning an online law degree, employer tuition assistance benefits might be another option to help them pay for school. While specific policies vary by employer, in most cases, students pay upfront for courses and are then reimbursed by their company after successfully completing their classes or program.

Private education loans

If students have reached the maximum amount of money they can borrow through federal student loans and need additional funding to cover gaps, another option is private education loans through lenders like Ascent, SoFi, and Sallie Mae. The interest rates and repayment terms for private education loans are set by lenders based on current market rates and the borrower’s credit history. Therefore, they may be less favorable than terms for federal student loans. Students who need to use private education loans to help pay for their degrees should keep an eye on interest rates throughout the year to lock in the most favorable terms possible.

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Applying for Financial Aid

In order to receive financial aid based on financial need, students and families must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application collects information about finances for students (and their parents or guardians if they’re dependents). Schools then use that information to create financial aid packages to help students and families pay for their education. The Ultimate FAFSA Guide provides more in-depth information about completing and submitting this form.

Student loan forgiveness and repayment

Although the Biden administration has taken action to forgive student loan debt for some borrowers, at this time there is no comprehensive action to eliminate student loan debt for all current and future borrowers. Therefore, all students and families who use federal student loans to pay for an online degree should expect to pay all loans in full, with interest, so it’s essential to make smart financial decisions from the start.

One of the key things borrowers can do to avoid significant student loan debt in the future is to only borrow the amount of money they need, says Dana Marvin, an independent college counselor.

“If you’re eligible for a $12,500 loan but only need $8,000, there’s no need to take out a loan for those extra funds,” Marvin says. “Remember that every dollar you borrow in a loan must be repaid with interest, so only borrow what you absolutely need.”

Marvin also advises students to begin repaying loans as soon as possible, even before they complete their program. “Even paying off a few hundred or thousand dollars before finishing school can make a huge difference to those loan amounts post-graduation,” she says.

Students and families must also be realistic about what they can afford to pay out-of-pocket and through student loans.

“If attending a certain pricy college is going to put a family into major debt and require potentially dangerous financial decisions, such as taking out a second mortgage or withdrawing from a retirement account early, it may mean a hard conversation of choosing a different school,” Marvin says.

What Can I Do with an Online Law Degree?

For students who plan to become licensed attorneys, an online bachelor’s degree in law can be the first step in the educational journey that leads toward that profession. Once students complete their bachelor’s degree, they must attend law school to earn an advanced degree and then pass the bar exam to get their license to practice law. The process typically takes, at minimum, seven years.

Meanwhile, students who don’t intend to become attorneys or want to gain work experience before attending law school have several options. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in legal professions is expected to grow at a much faster-than-average pace through 2032. The agency predicts that there will be an average of 91,700 new job openings each year during that time.

Bachelor’s-level legal careers include working as legal assistants, paralegals, arbitrators, mediators, or conciliators. Legal knowledge and experience can be applied in a variety of different settings, including business, finance, economics, law enforcement, real estate, and more.

Career outlook

Students with a bachelor’s degree in law can qualify for the following jobs:

  • Paralegals and legal assistants — Perform various tasks to support lawyers, including maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, drafting documents, and helping lawyers prepare for hearings, trials, and meetings.
    • Median annual salary: $60,970
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 4%
    • New jobs projected: 38,000 per year
  • Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators — Help opposing parties settle disputes outside of court by conducting private, confidential hearings, which are less formal than a court trial.
    • Median annual salary: $71,540
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 5%
    • New jobs projected: 400 per year
  • Lawyers — Advise and represent clients in criminal or civil proceedings as well as other legal matters, conduct research and analysis of legal issues, and prepare and file legal documents, such as lawsuits, contracts, and wills.
    • Median annual salary: $145,760
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 8%
    • New jobs projected: 39,100 per year

How to Choose the Affordable Online Law Degree Program That’s Right for You

For budget-conscious students, selecting an affordable online law degree might be the top priority. However, there are other important factors to consider to ensure that you choose the online law degree program that’s best for you.

Clarify goals and needs

Before beginning your search for an online law degree program, reflect on your career goals. An online law degree can prepare you for many different legal positions, but it’s not the only path to entering this field. For example, if you’re interested in becoming a paralegal, an associate degree is the minimum education requirement for these types of positions. Because an associate degree only takes two years to complete, it can be a more affordable option than a bachelor’s degree.

For individuals who plan to go to law school so that they can take the bar exam and become an attorney, it’s also worth remembering that students don’t need a bachelor’s degree in legal studies to pursue a graduate law degree. Depending on the type of law a student is interested in practicing, undergraduate degrees that may be beneficial include criminal justice, business, or economics.

Regardless of what type of bachelor’s degree you decide to pursue, if you’re attending school online, it’s also helpful to set some logistical parameters before you start seeking out programs. For example, do you want a synchronous or asynchronous program? Are you planning to enroll on a full-time or part-time basis? Do you want a program with an internship component so you can gain hands-on legal experience before entering the field?

Research schools and programs

Once you’ve established some criteria for the type of online law degree program you’re seeking, you can begin researching schools and programs. Gather as much information as you can about curriculum, faculty, internship requirements, graduation and job placement rates, admissions requirements, cost, and financial aid availability to help you make an informed decision. This information is usually available on a school’s website or through information sessions and open houses.

Confirm that the school has institutional accreditation from a regional accrediting body by checking the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) database. Institutional accreditation is essential because it can affect eligibility for federal financial aid, future educational opportunities, and job candidacy. The American Bar Association (ABA) also approves law degree programs, verifying that they meet industry standards for legal studies education.

Submit applications

Before selecting the school (or schools) you’ll apply to, review their application instructions and ensure you meet eligibility requirements. Every school has its own processes and deadlines for applications, so it may be helpful to use a spreadsheet or checklist to keep track of information, especially if you’re applying to multiple schools.

Undergraduate applicants to online law programs must typically submit the following:

  • Completed application and fees
  • Official transcripts from previous schools attended
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal statement or essay
  • Resume or CV
  • SAT or ACT scores

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