I compared how each LRAP paid out for an unmarried person making median public interest salaries for the first ten years of her career while using IBR to repay her loans.
I chose IBR for the analysis because I think the majority of PI-focused students are planning on using it, and I imagine more LRAPs will start incentivizing or requiring their recipients to use IBR (a few top schools with recently revamped LRAPs have already done so).
This analysis will therefore be less useful for people who do not plan on doing IBR. It's also worth mentioning that because of all the unpaid interest that accumulates while making IBR payments, IBR is often not worth doing unless you're prepared to commit ten years to public interest and take advantage of the public service loan forgiveness (PSLF).
I got the median salary numbers from the National Association for Law Placement:
Many LRAPs cover government work, but some don't, so I chose to focus on the salaries of lawyers listed as working in public interest organizations. For our analysis of a decade of median PI salaries, the table gives us values for years 1 and 5 ($41,000 and $53,815). For the median salary of a PI lawyer with 11-15 years of experience, I chose to peg that value to year 13. I then filled in the remaining years with proportional raises, so we end up with a lawyer making $41,000 her first year and $62,970 in her tenth. After that I calculated the amount she would owe on her loans each year in an IBR plan, and what portion of that amount each LRAP would cover.
All of that data accounts for the large block of figures on the right side of the tables below. On the left side you have the results: the average yearly LRAP award and the person's average monthly loan payment. I've broken the rankings up into US News tiers:
T17 & T1
T2 & T3/4
There are so many I'm sure I'll forget some. I guess the biggest one is that some LRAPs are more guaranteed than others. The top schools' programs are generally pretty safe. Many have language in their policies that indicates that as long as you have a qualifying job you will get $x amount of money according to your income. However, as you make your way further down the US News rankings, things become increasingly sketchier. Most lower ranked schools basically say, go ahead and apply and we'll try and divvy up whatever money we have as best we can. This is one reason why I broke up the ranking into tiers.
Many of the schools on this list do not guarantee their LRAPs.
Therefore, these figures often represent a best-case scenario--they're what you'll get assuming you meet all the eligibility requirements and the school is able to give you the maximum award. Some required a bit of guess-work and extrapolation. Virginia, for example, has announced their new LRAP will pay out 100% for a person making up to $55,000 (the "soft cap"), and then a sliding scale kicks in until the hard cap of $75,000. The problem is they haven't yet announced what exactly that sliding scale will look like. The best I could come up with was to use the scale from their old LRAP, which required the participant to contribute half her income above the soft cap.
I investigated every school that Equal Justice Works lists as having an LRAP, plus a couple I knew about that weren't on that list (UCLA and Texas). If a school is not listed in this analysis, it's probably due to one of the following factors:
- They don't have an LRAP.
- Their LRAP is not good enough to help someone making median PI salaries.
- Their method of calculating LRAP awards is vague, discretionary, not publicly available, etc.
- I overlooked them.
It's exceedingly likely that I mistakenly omitted someone or screwed up someone's calculations. Please correct me by posting in this thread or PM'ing me. Hopefully through collaboration we can get this thing pretty accurate and keep it useful for the next cycle of applicants.
I didn't mess around with adjusting for assets or dependents because come on. If someone wants to argue that adding those elements into the analysis will dramatically change the results and make this significantly more useful, feel free.
The final caveat is pretty obvious: this is a thumbnail sketch of how useful LRAPs are for a generic, imaginary person. The rankings are not to be interpreted too rigidly. No, I don't think anyone should turn down Yale for UCLA. That being said, I think we can see some legitimate tiers as far as LRAP quality, and I think that's useful.
Final final caveat: at the rate the top schools have been upgrading their LRAPs, I think it's likely that the whole T14 will have pretty comparable programs in the near future. Columbia and Chicago are both rumored to be in the process of updating theirs.
6/8/10: Added Duke's fantastic new LRAP. Adjusted Michigan's calculation. Thanks to paralegal and jh60405 for these corrections.
3/14/11: Updated Chicago, Emory and USC.
Links to the fine print
Northwestern (yes you can actually make money off their LRAP assuming your loans are forgiven by the feds after ten years)
Notre Dame (LinkRemoved)
Lewis and Clark
Penn St (LinkRemoved)
St. Thomas MN (LinkRemoved)