When should you go to law school?

As the new year is approaching, I will start getting back to the core of this blog- helping people with information about Education. I have decided to start with “Law School” as my first topic after a long break from Educational topics.

Both in the US and abroad, becoming a lawyer is a very worthy goal. Even people who live in countries like India and China travel all the way to the UK and the US for law degrees. Most notably, Mahatma Gandhi studied law at University College London Law School, way back in the late 1880s

President Obama and former President Bill Clinton (lawyer Presidents). It’s known that President Obama (Harvard law) had student debt. It’s unclear if President Clinton incurred student debt for his law degree at Yale.

In the US, a lot of Presidents have had law degrees, so do Senators and Congressmen/Congresswomen. It makes sense that some of the lawmakers of the country (Legislative branch) will be lawyers by profession. Needless to say, the judicial branch (the law interpreters and justice administrators)  is composed of lawyers. Given all this, it is not surprising that people in the Executive Branch (law enforcers) also tend to have law degrees. Many (obviously not all) of these people listed above come from wealthy families whose degrees were paid for by their parents.

But what if you don’t expect your parents to pay for your cushy law degree. How do you make a decision regarding pursuing a law degree in the United States then?  As far as international students are concerned, I would not recommend this pursuit if they intend to go back to their home countries. Law is country-specific and it doesn’t make sense to pursue the degree in a country where you will not be practicing it. The domestic US students should look at the employment outcomes and the cost of attendance. Remember, this is an additional 3-year degree in the US, post the undergrad, and any debt the students accumulate during law school will be in addition to their undergraduate debt. I recommend looking at the following metrics:

  1. Student Debt: A rule of thumb is that total student debt should not be > 1.5 times 1st year’s salary. Law school debt goes as high as $250,000 (if not more) and only a small percentage of graduates will be making more than $167,000 in their 1st year of work. A more conservative rule of thumb is for the student debt at the time of graduation to be less than the 1st year salary. How many of us can reasonably expect a 250K job after graduating from law school? I am not saying that this rule should be followed religiously. But this is a good indication of where your prospective law school lies on the debt/salary ratio continuum. To take an example, if the debt accumulated from your law program is $240,000 and the job you can score with this degree pays $60,000/year, the ratio is 4, which is a clear indication that on this career trajectory, you will have years and years of repaying the debt, with harsh financial opportunity costs.
  2. Job opportunities: If you want to make money from a law degree, there are two types of jobs- high paying big law-firm jobs or Federal judicial clerkships which lead to big law-firm jobs. Both are hard to get by. If you want to change the world and want to become a social justice/civil rights lawyer, there won’t be much money in it (President Obama practiced it and he shares his financial story in his memoirs). There is another path of pursuing a state and federal government job which is desirable because of both the nature of work and the Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. The nature of work is more desirable because it is in the Public interest even though it doesn’t pay big bucks. The money part could be offset by the Debt Forgiveness program, which means that you hold on to the job for at least 10 years and after 10 years of reduced rate loan payments, the rest of your student debt is forgiven.
  3. When and where to go then? Law Professor Paul Campos suggests the following and you can use this as a rough guideline based on what portion of the sticker price will you be paying.
    1. Paying the full price: To a handful of 3-6 top tier schools.
    2. At a significantly reduced price: 7-10 truly national schools.
    3. At no cost other than opportunity cost: Three dozen regional schools.

In conclusion, if you will be incurring debt for attending law school (aka your parents won’t be footing the bill), you will have to consider the metrics presented above seriously if you want to avoid harsh financial opportunity costs (remember, you can always go to law school without worrying about these metrics, if you can get into one and are willing to take on any amounts of debt, provided you don’t care about your long term financial well-being). On the other hand, if by virtue of the lottery of birth, you are in an advantageous position of not incurring student debt, your choices can be more flexible. You can even afford to become a public defender/prosecutor in that case without much worry, if that’s what floats your boat, without incurring harsh financial opportunity costs. 

Happy law school hunting!

Should I go to graduate school?


Graduate School is not for everyone! PhD is like a short term marriage with your advisor. MS is like a two year contract which reads- “yes, you could have been making a lot of money right now, but for now, bear with the student loan and negative cash flow”.

Then why go to graduate school and is it for you?

I was lucky enough to go to graduate school with full fellowship for my first year and was funded as a  teaching assistant in the following. I had enrolled myself in a PhD program but graduated with a Masters. Going to graduate school was one of the finest decisions of my life. I learnt a lot of technical skills (I got an MS in Electrical and Computer Engineering) and life skills (believe me, life is much tougher than undergrad). Here is how you could decide whether you should go for graduate school:

  • Glamour: don’t go to a graduate school just because you fancy to see yourself as a Doctor of Philosophy. For starters, you won’t be a real doctor and more importantly motivation will dry off soon if your basic premise was glamour.
  • Depth: do you like to get into depth of things? Or do you prefer to know about a lot of things but don’t like to get too deep into a topic. Graduate School means a lot of deep diving. So, go for it only if you have the temperament for deep diving.
  • Expertise: if you want to become a subject matter expert in a certain area, graduate school is a very meaningful path.
  • Research: if you are interested in research, you MUST go to graduate school. That’s the single most prominent path for research in America.
  • Duration and patience: getting a Masters can take anywhere between 1 and 3 years and getting a PhD after a bachelors can take from 4-10 years.


  • Finances: there are a lot of things to remember here. If you were fortunate like me, you will have full scholarship and you will be even paid a monthly stipend to take care of your living expenses. For a PhD program, it is very common to be fully funded. (fully funded would mean tuition and living expenses taken care of).  Not all Masters programs offer full funding. So, if you did not get fully-funded for a Masters program, you will have to analyze the return on investment in your Masters program. Usually, having a Masters helps you in getting a higher pay on graduation. But, you will be paying for tuition and living expenses and won’t be earning either. Of course, there should be job opportunities in your desired area of expertise in the first place. If there are jobs in the area, the decision is easier for people making less money in their jobs currently. For eg. all other things being equal, it is easier for an engineer working in India to decide to get a Masters over an engineer working in the US. An engineer working in the US might be already making a good salary hence her financial incentives will be lower to take a loan and get a Masters. An engineer in India does not have as much cash flow to lose on and hence she might decide to take a loan, get a Masters, get a job in the US and repay the loan back. Since I assumed all other things are equal; this includes the savings; which I assume are zero for both. It is not a surprise that you see a huge international student population in graduate schools.
  • Immigration: Graduate school is a path of immigration to the US as well. If you want to work in the US, you are more likely to get a job if you got your degree from here.  Since an undergraduate education in the US is extremely expensive, a lot of students get their undergraduate degrees in their home countries and come to the US for their graduate degrees. Post graduate school, they can work on OPT (F1-visa) and eventually H1B visa.
  • Necessity: in some fields like medicine and law, graduate school is almost necessary.
  • Switching careers: I think this is a very important reason for going to graduate school.  Often times, the only way you can switch careers is by going to graduate school. Eg. music major  moving to management by getting an MBA.
  • Career jump: this is the obvious one. If getting a graduate degree helps you jump ahead in your career by helping you get promoted to a role which you desire and which you will enjoy, it might be well worth it.

These bullet points might make it easier for you to decide if you should go to graduate school.