With an average annual tuition rate and fees of $49,095 at a private law school or $21,500 in in-state tuition and fees at a public law school, the last thing that most law school students want to do is bury more money into a bar exam course. However, the bar exam represents the last hurdle before being able to act as an attorney and begin your legal career.
Here are some considerations for budgeting for your bar exam preparation.
Think About Whether It’s Worth It to Study for the Bar Exam With a Course
Barbri’s current published rates for its bar exam course are $4,095 and $3,795. Kaplan’s live California bar exam course, at the time this post was written, is listed at $2,699 while the online course is listed at $1,999. While these courses represent the higher end of the spectrum, most bar review courses will run you a couple of grand. Additionally, you will still have to pay for the actual cost to take the exam, background processing fees, and your application.
So, with this information in hand, you might think that a simple way of saving more than $2,000 is to skip the bar exam course altogether.
However, it’s important to think about the true cost of the bar exam. Will failing the bar exam mean that your great first-year associate position will disintegrate? Will you have to take time off work to study for the second go-round?
Will you be relegated to performing paralegal duties since you aren’t licensed? Don’t think about the cost associated with a bar course in a vacuum; instead, really consider the drawbacks of not taking a course.
While it’s great if you’re a motivated self-starter, many law school students do require the additional assistance and structure of a bar prep course. Think through whether you will really be able to study for what many people believe is the hardest test in the world without an established bar review course.
Additionally, even if you do fail the bar exam on your first try, many prep courses will refund your money or let you take the course again for free or at a discounted rate. Consequently, you don’t have to feel like you’re sinking your money into a black hole.
After carefully weighing these factors, you might decide that shelling out a few thousand dollars is worth it to protect your first-year associate salary. Even if you have to take a short-term bar exam loan to pay for the course, this is usually worth it when you really consider what’s at stake. However, even if you go the bar prep route, you can still find ways to save. Here are some ways to make your investment a little less painful.
Compare Available Courses
There are several available bar exam prep courses, but they’re not all made equal. Fortunately, you can review some of the most popular bar prep options our site. This can give you a good idea of what each course offers, and their cost, so you can make a budget-friendly decision while also considering which course best suits your learning style.
Take an Online Course
When comparing different courses, also look closely at the price for an online option. There is usually a significant difference in the price between an online and live option. This is because live classes have additional expenses to cover, including in-person tutors and having to secure space for lectures. If you don’t need a live class and can maintain structure with an online version, skip the added expense of a live course.
Online courses often feature video and audio options that appeal to a more diverse group of learners. You can tap into these resources while you are exercising, running errands or commuting to your job.
Get Your Employer to Pay For You To Pass The Bar
If you’ve found your groove and have been placed with a firm, check with your employer if they’d be willing to cover the cost of your prep. Many competitive firms will provide this assistance if it means securing a good applicant to fill an in-demand practice area. Furthermore, some bar programs provide a discounted rate when an employer pays.
Be Strategic with Your Selection of Law School Classes
While your 1L year is probably set in stone by your law school, you can more strategically select your courses during your second and third years so that you take full courses on bar exam subjects and closer to the timing of the bar exam. At the very least, ask for outlines for some of these courses so that you have your bases covered.
Take a Law School Based Review
Many law schools offer a course that is part of the regular curriculum that helps students prepare for the bar. Consider taking a course like this as part of your regular coursework to better prepare. This course can typically be rolled in with your student loans since it may count as part of your required credit hours.
When you are a 1L or a 2L, make it a point to become friends with upperclassmen. In addition to being the best source for outlines and tips to get through law school, these individuals may have just doled out serious bucks for their bar prep courses and materials. Consequently, you may be able to borrow these from them or buy them at a discounted rate.
Additionally, some bar prep courses will offer piecemeal plans in which you spend a certain amount for the class itself and another amount for materials. This strategy can help you reduce the overall cost of your course.
While you don’t want to use really outdated study materials because the bar exam can change, books that are only one or two years old probably have the same content.
Check with Your Law School
Many law schools feel increasing pressure to help their students pass the bar exam. Hence, many have partnered with various bar exam prep companies and others to offer students greater access to resources.
Some services that may be offered through your law school for free or cheap include:
- Full courses
- Essay grading
- One sheets
Check with your career services department or the dean of your law school to see if any of these resources are available. And if you don’t have a plan set up, form a committee to suggest this to your law school. With early activism, you might be able to get a program set up in time for your 3L year.
Apply for a Bar Review Scholarship
Some bar prep course companies offer a scholarship for students to help supplement the cost of the course. These may be needs-based or based on other criteria. For example, Barbri offers a scholarship for students going into public interest law.
Additionally, many law schools have scholarship applications that help you apply to multiple scholarships that are available through the school even after you are enrolled and have your base financial aid package. Check with your law school and financial aid office for any opportunities along these lines.
Take Free Bar Prep Workshops
Many bar prep companies offer free workshops during the weekend or for a couple weeks during the summer. Attend these workshops and get as many resources as you can from them. Ultimately, if you do this consistently during your law school career, you will be able to amass a mini arsenal of helpful tools and information.
Ask the ‘Rents for Help
Don’t be embarrassed to ask for financial help! Hit up your parents, godparents, friends, and others for help paying for your bar exam materials. If you are expecting some gifts for graduation, spread the word around that you would like a payment made toward your bar review prep course or other materials.
Use Free Resources Online
Fortunately, there are many free resources to study for the bar exam on the web. You can use these to supplement your bar prep course or as part of your study plan if you have decided to go it alone. Here is a quick rundown of some available options:
- Free bar exam tests – You can check out older, retired bar exam test questions on the National Conference of Bar Examiners. You can also take some free sample tests here.
- Free sample questions – The National Conference of Bar Examiners publishes a list of sample MBE questions. Here is another great resource with state-specific information for sample questions. Additionally, you can sign up for a daily MBE question and answer that is delivered to your inbox. Also, check other law schools in your state for state-specific sample questions and resources.
- Free MPRE course – Kaplan offers a free MPRE review course.
- Free 1L and 2L online courses – Kaplan also offers free 1L and 2L courses that contain tons of study materials that can be reused for bar prep.
- Free podcasts – You can check out free podcasts on writing advice, tips on taking the bar exam and alternative ways to study for the bar exam.
- Free videos – Check YouTube for tons of free videos on bar exam preparation and subjects.
- Free study materials – You can also find a wealth of free study materials, such as this big picture analysis and group of one sheets from Brendan Conley.
Ultimately, this step might take some extra time, but it’s well worth it to get great resources at no cost.
Check Out Your Law Library
Your law library may be secretly hoarding a litany of free resources for bar preparation. Check online for topics. Also, check with the law librarian who will probably know the best sources of this often-requested information. You might be able to conjure up old practice bar exams for your state and explanations, essay questions, practice MBE questions, and other goodies. Plus, some law school students will donate their used books, materials, flashcards, board games, and tons of other items to their law school after passing the bar.
Look for a Bar Exam Discount
Try to track down a promo code for any online course purchase. Major test prep companies often have different phases where they charge different rates for the same packages. Try to track these promotions by checking our Bar exam promos codes often so that you can purchase them at an optimal time.
Become a Sales Rep for a Bar Prep Company
Major prep companies hire local law students to sell their courses to their peers. For example, Kaplan sales representatives earn credits for each course they sell that they can apply toward the payment of their own course. Then, for any additional sales, they earn commissions that they gain in the form of cash or gift cards.
Purchase Study Materials
For individuals skipping bar prep courses or those who are wanting to supplement their studies, Amazon is a great resource for used or new bar exam prep materials. You can also scout out a local book exchange or check with your law school’s bookstore for some lower-cost study options.
If you’ve exhausted the list above and still feel the budget crunch, it’s time to throw everything at the wall and hope something sticks. Are your law school’s bar passage rates abysmal? One law school responded to this problem by paying for a full bar prep course and gave students a $5,000 stipend. Maybe you can convince your law school to attack the problem in a similar fashion.
Do you have some talent that you can tap into temporarily to get the funds to pay for bar prep? For example, can you make websites for a couple of firms or area businesses to drum up funds to pay for your prep course or to supplement your income so you can take time off work? Think outside the box to come up with some other options to pay for your study materials or reduce your expenses.
Get Started Today
It’s never too early to start getting together your bar exam study schedule and budget plan! Be sure you check our site for the latest comparisons on bar prep courses and get ideas for studying for the bar on our blog.
Valerie Keene is an experienced lawyer and legal writer. Valerie’s litigation successes have included wins for cases involving contract disputes, real property disputes, and consumer issues. She has also assisted countless families with estate planning, guardianship issues, divorce and other family law matters. She provides clients with solid legal advice and representation.