As a law student, you start thinking about the bar exam your first day of law school. Professors sat us down on our first day and went line-by-line down the syllabus. They told us to do our reading, keep up with outlining, and find a good study group. Take practice exams to prepare for our finals but, most importantly, remember that the real final goal is passing that bar.
Each semester, I filled out my FAFSA and applied for my student loans. I received the cost of my tuition and books, as well as a modest living stipend. (My outrageous tuition costs are a post for another day.) Some semesters I took the entire amount, others I made a little extra money through internships and research assistant posts.
As I came up to my final semester, I had a decision to make. I needed to budget for my final semester, but also for the next six months after graduation. You see, folks, the bar exam is expensive. Here’s a breakdown of the costs:
Bar Application: $580
Laptop Fee: $125
Bar Prep Program: $2721.50 ( with a $250 refundable deposit)
Character Report: $300
* based on the February 2013 bar exam
Of course, you can forego the bar prep program and rely on your own study materials. You can handwrite the exam, instead of typing on your own laptop. But either way, you still need to come up with a pretty big chunk of change. You also need to plan to cover your own monthly expenses, as well as a growing food budget. I planned a lot of my meals from home, and tried to make my own coffee/tea, but there were many days that the stress and time restrictions led to a pricey meal. Fortunately, my family and friends gave me a lot of Starbucks and other gift cards for use during the bar, and I definitely appreciated them.
My friends and I also split a hotel suite during the bar. Again, not necessarily a necessity, but definitely a good idea.
Of course, about halfway through my last semester I started receiving emails from student loan leanders offering me post-grad bar loans. Extra loans? Really? At this point, I was willing to avoid more debt like the plague. Unfortunately, many of my fellow students did not. One friend took a $8,000 at 14%. Student loan lenders know that you are prepping for the bar, and that financial situations are getting desperate. I truly think these can be avoided by carefully planning and budgeting out the last few semesters of law school. One friend asked for donations to her bar fund as a graduation gift. Consider any and all alternate routes before heading in this direction.
In my case, I budgeted for my semester, and then took an extra $1500 at 6.8% in August. Along with some generous graduation money from my family, I was able to budget for five months after graduation.
Having a financial plan set before the bar is going to save you a lot of stress and worry during one of the most stressful events in your life.
Has anyone out there sat for the bar exam? How did you manage your bar finances?