Why Quitting Law School Was The Best Financial Decision Of My Life

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Harvard. Dartmouth. Yale. Colombia. Oxford. Cambridge. Surely, you recognise these names? The most prestigious universities in the world. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I hear these names, scenes from Gossip Girl do loops in my brain.

There are three ways you can get accepted into universities of this caliber; rich parents, parents who already went to schools of this caliber, or good grades. I was the latter. I worked my whole adolescent life for acceptance, and eventually it paid off. I was accepted to one of the best universities in the UK to pursue a law degree (of course, I cannot tell you which one). It took me the best part of six years to work for my place there, and just over one year to quit it all.

This is why quitting Law school was the best financial decision of my life.

The Numbers

So, I need to paint you a clear picture, here. Especially because we’re all trained to think Law school = degree = perfect job = successful life. University is, as we all know, expensive. Actually, it’s heart-wrenchingly bank breaking. Before we begin to talk about my personal journey, let’s get these numbers out of the way (I’m going to round to even numbers for the pound-to-dollar conversions).

Firstly, university fees in the UK range from £3,000 (~$3,900) to just over £9,000 (~$11,700) per year. My fees were £12,000 (~$15,600) over the course of the three-year degree. A living expenses loan is needed, too, because as most of us recall, dorm rooms are pricey. Paying around £600 (~$782) a month for what seemed to be a less-than-single bed, a shower and a dirty carpet was painful. £600  x 9 months of school-year lodging = £5,400 (~$7,000) in dorm expenses alone. And of course, basic living costs are not accounted for here. My living cost me around £500 (~$650) per month which equalled £6000 (~$7,800) x 3 years = £18,000 (~$23,400).

The Grand Total: $4,500 x 3 years (for the law degree program) + $7,000 x 3 years (for lodging) + $23,400 (for general living expenses) = ~$58,300.

Now, I’m not going to spin you a little story about how I got wise and realised it would take me around 30 years to pay off my student loans and decided to get out while I could. NO. I very much tried to continue, unfortunately, and I just couldn’t handle it.

In this particular university, the competition was so overwhelming that my mind was constantly crowded. I knew if I couldn’t pass by degree with anything less than a 2:1 (a relatively high score), I would have no chance in securing a well-paid job in the legal sector. If you’re thinking: “That’s not true! I know so many people who have blah blah blah.” Ask them how they got their job in the legal field. They won’t say that the employers liked their personality paired with their exceptional grades. Oh no: those employed lucky few will say they knew somebody, and the employer only took their personality and exceptional grades into consideration because of the personal connection. It’s about WHO YOU KNOW.

I knew, in my heart and in my mind, that I could not compete. Beating the competition would mean the possibility of coming out on top. Was I really prepared to risk $58,300 on the outside possibility that I might get my dream job? Emotionally, it was too much. I just couldn’t afford to live in that costly uncertainty.

I worked in various different jobs throughout my time in university, and nothing seemed to cut it. Financially, I was digging myself deeper into student debt. I hadn’t learned to manage my time, so the recommended 40 hours of reading a week paired with 20 hours of work was too much for me.

I stuck it out for just over a year, but I reached the point in early 2014 where I knew I couldn’t continue. I knew if I carried on with my degree, I would come out $58,300 in debt without a guaranteed job. I knew, mathematically, how long that would take me to pay it off. That much debt hanging over me before I’d even begun my life! It’s different for everyone and I’m not saying university degrees are useless; I am just stating that, in my mind, the cost-benefit analysis didn’t work out.

I made the decision to quit. The only thing I had ever wanted to do was practice law, but I felt like my passion had been drowned in financial worry and insecurity. My confidence had dissipated so much that I didn’t even know who I was. Yes, it sounds cliché, but when you want something for so long and then one day wake up and realise you would rather do anything else than that thing, it changes you.

I quit. I changed cities, and I started from scratch.

Its been nearly two years since I made that decision, since I left the world that I worked so hard to be a part of. I am still in roughly $13,000 worth of student loan debt, but A) confronting this fact has furthered my financial education in itself, and B) Who is completely debt-free these days, eh?! I’ve moved around, searching for jobs, and I couldn’t find any meaningful work until I decided I should start something for myself.

I registered my first company, Culture Greens, in July of 2016. I specialise in the retail of health products and coffee. My writing is the main part of my work; thanks to the incredible online community surrounding small business and personal finance blogs, I can build relationships with people I’ve never met in person. What I really want to say is: sticking your way through something you hate to eventually reach something you “love” (at a great cost, emotionally and financially) is not always the best way. I learned that it was far, far better to do something that wasn’t going to take my whole life to pay off.

Holly Lloyd is 22 years old and currently spends most of her time writing for Culture Greens, her lifestyle and motivational blog. Culture Greens is also the name of her recently-registered company, so some of Holly’s posts are business-related. She loves to write honestly, tell stories, and throw in a little of that Bridget-Jones-Diary humor. 

Image via Unsplash

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  • Anonymous

    Just an fyi – “Colombia” is how you spell the country, not the university. As the fourth word in the entire essay, and punctuated by periods, I would hope for some spell check. I love TFD and I am an avid reader, but my respect for the site diminishes every time I see a silly spelling mistake that is solved by proof reading, and there have been quite a few lately. Just an average reader thought.

    • Tara

      This kind of error is especially egregious because this person is asking us to believe that she went to an Oxbridge school. Kind of hard to believe when the post is brimming with typos.

  • nicolacash

    This line stuck with me: “I knew if I carried on with my degree, I would come out $58,300 in debt without a guaranteed job. I knew, mathematically, how long that would take me to pay it off.”

    For me, I graduated undergrad (not even law school, which im sure ups the job liklihood) with $40k in debt, absolutely no job guarantee, with no idea how long it’d take me to pay off. You know what ended up happening? I got a job a month after graduation, and I’m currently on track to pay off half by debt by the end of only ONE year in repayment. I think if the author of this truly didn’t have a passion for the legal field (which it doesn’t sound like), then that should’ve been the only reason to quit – because if you work hard enough, you’ll be able to handle the debt in less time than you’d expect.

    • Summer

      I’m glad this scenario turned out to be your truth, but it isn’t reality for most people. The cliche “if you just work hard enough!!” mantra is not a one-size-fits-all solution. I also graduated from undergrad with $40k in debt (and I was 30 years old so I already had plenty of “real world” experience to go along with it). I worked full-time, 40 hours a week, while going to school full-time (12-15 credit hours depending upon the semester). Most people would probably agree that I “worked hard,” but that dedication hasn’t netted me a position that allows me to pay down my debt quickly.

      While it’s nice to see success stories like yours, it irks me to see comments like “if you work hard enough, you’ll be able to handle the debt in less time than you’d expect,” because it low-key implies that those of us who aren’t on track to pay off student loans early are just half-assing our way through the world, and it’s simply not true. Working hard does not automatically mean that your salary is going to reflect your commitment.

  • samurko

    I want to preface this by saying that i think its great that the author chose to write this candid piece about her experience. Nevertheless, I think there are several facts shes not mentioning. Firstly 58k total in debt from law school is not much at all comparatively speaking. The average cost of tuition for one school year from Yale, Harvard, and Columbia is 57k, 59k, and 63k respectively. That doesnt include the extra 20k or so each year on living expenses, books, random fees, etc. Additionally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average lawyer in 2015 made 115k a year. While 58k is still a sizable amount of debt, if you make the median salary, you should be able to pay that off in under 5 years or less if you live at or below your means – not 30…

    I think the author’s main issue is that law just wasnt for her and she is still figuring out who she is. Shes only 22 and spent so much time dedicated to law being her career choice without exploring other options (from what i gather from this post). Law is so attractive to a lot of college grads but it isnt all its cracked up to be (the number of applicants for law school and satisfaction among lawyers after graduation has been diminishing the past few years). My lawyer and law school friends all tell me, if you arent 100% sure you want to go to law school, know EXACTLY what you want to do, have the drive, and stamina, its not for you. Because even if you have all those things it can be a swift kick in the butt to only semi-like your job (if you can find one you like) and have 150k+ in debt.

    That being said, “Dream” jobs in law are still possible, they just come with a lot of sacrifice, a few years of not so great jobs, and heavy networking. Networking is key in literally every field. Having a name brand law school will help immensely but what you are paying for are those connections you make at such a prestigious school, not necessarily a more superb education.

    • Agree with this response, but the author is actually from the UK so the time/money investment that constitutes law school vs. outcomes are pretty different than the us figures you cite. That being said, it’s even more true in the us that you should only go to law school if you want to practice law. It’s alot like med school in terms of the huge investment of time and money and it’s not a lifestyle that’s actually fulfilling for most people. Seems like the author wasn’t cut out for it.

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