Schools with the best debt-to-income ratios

Unless you’re a Mormon, Brigham Young University – J. Reuben Clark Law School in Provo, Utah may not be the first school that comes to mind when looking for a law school. But the law school boasts an honor that is becoming more important — it offers the lowest debt-to-income ratio in the nation.  

Graduates from BYU Law have a debt-to-income ratio at 0.76 percent, according to the 2018-2019 data from the Department of Education. On average, a graduate will earn $65,457 with approximately $49,710 in debt. 

“We are blessed with a sponsoring institution that keeps tuition low and with generous donors who support student scholarships,” said Lynette Rands, Dean of Communications at BYU Law. “Most of BYU Law's students enjoy scholarships ranging from one-quarter tuition to full tuition plus stipends," 

In 2020, the law school reported it had 99 JD graduates and 65 had borrowed during law school. The average debt of the 65 borrowers was $51,048.

The Department of Education data shows that only 11 law schools have a debt-to-income ratio under 1.00. Meanwhile, 17 law schools have debt-to-income ratios greater than 3.0.

“A good rule of thumb is that “manageable” debt loads are those where debt is about equal to expected income at graduation—i.e., a ratio of 1.00 or lower,” Derek Muller, Professor of Law, University of Iowa College of Law wrote in his blog about this topic. 

Not far behind BYU Law is Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. and Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law in Chicago, both with a debt-to-income of 0.78 percent. 

Cornell Law graduates will have just shy of $140,000 in debt but will earn close to $180,000, according to the 2018-2019 data.  

But Cornell Law says in 2020, the average debt dropped to $90,663 because some students graduated without any debt.

“Graduating with too much debt can limit a student’s career choices after graduation,” said Jens David Ohlin, Interim Dean and Professor of Law at Cornell.  “Luckily, at Cornell, we have radically lowered the amount of debt our graduates carry. This, combined with a generous loan-forgiveness program for those working in the public interest sector, gives our graduates greater flexibility when selecting a career path.”

Ohlin said the school is devoted to providing students with substantial recourses in financial aid and also career counseling. 

“This investment includes not just financial resources but also the human resources required to ensure that students succeed in their job searches,” Ohlin said. “For us, it is essential that our students and graduates achieve their diverse career goals, whatever they may be. We are immensely gratified that our graduates have secured employment in every sector, including law firms, clerkships, public interest organizations, government service, and the business world.”

At BYU Law, the school is working hard to improve employment outcomes to match its low tuition. 

"BYU Law School starts by recruiting the best students to its campus and hiring a world-class faculty and dedicated group of administrators to train them,” said Shannon Grandy, Assistant Dean for Career Development. “Our faculty and administrators know students by name and invest in their success. BYU Law also boasts a robust Career Development program.” 

The school pairs students with a career advisor for all three years of law school. Career advisors work down in the trenches with each student to develop an individualized plan to pursue employment opportunities tailored to that student's interests and skills. In addition, all first-year law students enroll in a professional development class that equips them with lifelong leadership and career-building skills.

“The training students receive helps them to increase in self-awareness, form a professional identity, create a professional network, explore and select career options, and continually seek feedback for ongoing growth in professional development," Grandy said.


School Debt-to-Income Ratio Median Debt Median Income
Brigham Young Univ. 0.76 $49,710 $65,457
Cornell Univ. 0.78 $139,926 $179,153
Northwestern Univ. 0.78 $138,065 $176,087
Stanford Univ. 0.80 $130,762 $163,869
Harvard Univ. 0.82 $141,190 $172,423
Duke Univ. 0.83 $139,961 $168,296
Univ. of Pennsylvania 0.84 $150,634 $179,672
Univ. of Virginia 0.90 $157,870 $175,653
Univ. of Chicago 0.90 $156,934 $173,847
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