Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Even though we talk to students at the start of their law school journey about planning financially for the bar exam, it is not until their 3L year that they begin to pay attention and ask questions. Reminders about bar applications and the bar exam seem to either motivate students to further assess their finances or totally avoid them. Some students paid attention early and by the end their 1L year, have already made financial plans for the bar exam. Students without a plan are often distracted throughout bar review usually pondering how they will pay for various expenses.
I often encourage students to refrain from tapping into private loans as their first resort to finance their bar exam expenses but consider it a last resort. The primary reason being that many of our students who have resorted to private loans have had challenges either obtaining one for a variety of reasons or paying it off. The interest rates differ and the terms differ from one lender to another. With this information in mind, I offer the following few suggestions for students to consider as they prepare to financially manage their bar exam journey.
(1) What’s my budget and what are my expenses?
• List current monthly/weekly expenses
• Take stock of necessities such as rent, apartment related bills, food, car maintenance and repair, gas, etc.
• Consider all obligations including current debt
• Anticipate Bar Exam related expenses such as Bar application fees (registration, application, character and fitness, fingerprints, criminal history records, driving record, birth certificate, credit reports, laptop fee, notary fee, etc.); MPRE (registration fee and reporting fee); Bar review course and possible supplemental bar review program; Bar exam day accommodations and necessities (hotel for 2 to 3 days; transportation to and from exam by plane, rental car, or personal car; meals and snacks for 2 to 3 days; parking; etc.); and relocation costs after the bar exam
(2) What savings?
I often hear from students: “what can I save? I am barely making it.” In response, I tell them “a dollar or more here and there that is set aside on a regular basis can amount to quite a bit.”
- Distinguish between what you need, what you want, and what can wait. You might not need to purchase all items immediately. Strictly assess your use of money and leave credit cards alone.
- Embrace couponing and other cost savings options for groceries and necessities. A few of my students started a couponing group and they have saved and shared items and coupons. The money saved goes toward they bar exam fund.
- Bring your lunch and coffee to school. Instead of purchasing food on campus, you could probably save a few dollars that you can set aside.
- Consider “staycations” for spring break and save your money. When I ask students how much their spring break trips cost, it is often a good chunk of money that could go to their bar review or bar application costs.
- Save monetary gifts. Birthday money from grandparents, holiday money, graduation money and other such monetary gifts can be set aside for bar exam needs or emergencies.
- Be specific with those who want to support you. Family and friends are usually elated to hear about individuals graduating from law school and typically want to offer support to you in their own way. I have had students who were very specific about their requests, asking for monetary support to assist with bar applications, bar review programs and expenses during bar study. It is often surprising how many persons are willing to assist once they become aware of specific needs.
(3) Sources of Funding
Inquire about sources of funding at your law school and from students who recently sat for the bar exam.
- Are there scholarships offered to assist with bar applications or bar review programs?
• Are there funds created by students or alums to assist?
- Are there opportunities for discounts or reduced costs from bar review programs?
If you never try, you will never know. (Goldie Pritchard)