Cost of Attendance Budget

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Cost of Attendance Budget

The cost of a legal education includes tuition and fees, room and board, books, and personal expenses. Each year, the University develops a standard budget that estimates an individual student’s educational expenses. These budgets govern the total amount of aid (the sum of scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study) that are available to a student in any given year.  Current Cost of Attendance Budgets are posted here.

Federal law defines the types of expenses that can be included in the Cost of Attendance Budget. These are direct education expenses, such as tuition and fees, and related expenses that make the student’s attendance possible. The federal government requires the university to use reasonable and realistic figures for student expense budgets that are based on average expenses for all enrolled students.

Students come to Duke Law School from a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and means. However, the student expense budget allows for a relatively simple student lifestyle. This lifestyle demands a responsible approach to living as a student. This means that, among other things, students who receive any kind of financial aid are expected to find shared housing that does not exceed the amount for rent and utilities that is allocated in the student expense budget.

Please remember that your Cost of Attendance Budget is meant to cover the entire nine months you are enrolled at Duke Law. Refunds from loans are distributed twice yearly; therefore, you must budget accordingly. Some students tend to spend freely when they receive their initial financial aid refund, only to find that they do not have enough money to be financially comfortable by the end of the term.


Living within the Budget

If you will be using financial aid to finance the cost of your attendance at Duke Law School, it is critical that you understand the student expense budget. The budget is set by the University to cover only the student’s education-related expenses including tuition, room and board, books, and transportation. You are able to borrow only up to the total amount of the student expense budget. In most cases, we cannot increase your budget to permit you to borrow more except for as the following items:

  • The one-time purchase of a personal computer
  • The cost of the Bar examination (examination only, not preparatory courses, etc.)
  • Loan fees

There are also special situations, such as out-of-pocket medical expenses and childcare, that may allow for a budget increase as well. Please see the section entitled “Special Situations” for detailed information.

Staying within the student expense budget will keep your debt as low as possible, thus preserving your options for employment and other opportunities after law school. Be sure to understand the various elements of your budget – for instance, if you decide to spend a little more on rent than is allocated, you will need to plan to save in other areas, such as transportation or miscellaneous expenses. A little advance planning will help you meet your financial obligations throughout the academic year.


Loan Refunds

Loan funds are not available prior to the start of the semester. Matriculating students should come prepared with money to pay for books, security deposit, first month’s rent, and living expenses.

Refunds will be distributed to students beginning the first day of class each term and are issued by direct deposit to your bank account. Please visit the Forms & Requests tab in DukeHub to add or manage your direct deposit information.

Students should track all loan applications with their lender to ensure that the applications were completed, signed and approved. Most lenders allow students to check the status of their loans online. Once the loan has been approved and disbursed, we encourage students to contact the Office of Financial Aid if they have not received a refund check or direct deposit notification within one week following the posting of the loan credit on their student account.


Items Not Covered by the Cost of Attendance Budget

Federal law governs allowable costs that may be included in the Cost of Attendance Budget. The cost of attendance is an estimate of that student’s educational expenses for the period of enrollment. There are many expense items that some students might assume can be included in the student expense budget that are not permitted. Some of the most common items that are not included in the budget are:

  • automobile lease or purchase
  • automobile repair
  • automobile insurance
  • financial support of a spouse or partner
  • interview and/or professional wardrobes
  • excessive rent expense (rent in excess of the amount allocated in the student expense budget)
  • consumer credit card debt

Students are advised to pay off all credit card debt before coming to law school. The Law School Office of Financial Aid cannot make allowances for credit card or other consumer debt.

While the cost of the Bar examination itself can be included in the Cost of Attendance Budget, most other expenses associated with the Bar examination may not be included in the Cost of Attendance Budget. However, most lenders offer private Bar Study loans to law students to assist with such things as paying for Bar preparation courses and living expenses associated with taking a bar exam after graduation. Some students also find it possible to cover this cost with summer employment while studying for the bar examination.


Special Situations

In some cases, students may have additional costs that are not accounted for in the Cost of Attendance Budget.  Students who would like to increase their budget, and thus their borrowing eligibility, should complete and submit a Budget Increase Request Form.

Medical Expenses

Financial assistance in the form of increased borrowing eligibility may be available to pay for “out-of-pocket” medical and dental expenses (expenses not covered by medical insurance) incurred during the current academic year.  Ineligible expenses include: cosmetic work, elective expenses, work that is desirable but not medically necessary or treatment that can reasonably be postponed until after graduation (for example, elective orthodontic work).
In all cases, documentation of cost and the necessity of treatment is required. 
The Office of Financial Aid cannot guarantee that Budget Increase Requests for such expenses will be approved.  Whenever possible, students should submit documentation of the expected costs in advance.

 All requests will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Students with a Family


Since financial aid is intended to cover only the educational expenses of students, spouses or partners are expected to provide for their own room, board, and personal expenses. Students may not use financial aid to replace and/or supplement a spouse or domestic partner’s wages.

Dependent Child Care Allowance

The budget can be increased for approved childcare expenses, based on amounts that are commesurate with the University's student survey. The Law School Office of Financial Aid must be provided a copy of the completed agreement with the daycare provider. Students receiving child support payments for dependent children will be allowed a pro-rated share of the dependent care allowance.