First-generation law students battle more debt and greater hardships than their peers: study

First-gen students make up 26% of law students across the US

First-generation law students battle more debt and greater hardships than their peers: study

First-generation law students face more challenges than those with at least one parent who has completed a college degree, according to a new study.

Data from the Law School Survey of Student Engagement reveals that first-gen law students rely on student loans to a greater extent than their classmates. Twenty-four percent of non-first-gen students anticipate graduating with no law school debt, compared to only 12% of first-gen students.

Less than one-quarter (23%) of non-first-gen students expect to graduate with more than $120,000 in student debt, compared to over one-third (35%) of first-gen students.

Data from the report, Focus on First-Generation Students, draws from the responses of over 13,000 law students at 75 law schools across the US that participated in the LSSSE survey in 2023. First-gen students comprise 26% of LSSSE respondents. 

Noteworthy findings from the report include:

  • First-gen students are more likely to be students of color, women, older students, and part-time students.
  • First-gen students are more likely to have familial obligations as caretakers for dependents living in their households. 44% of first-gen students spend time caring for dependents, compared to 33% of non-first-gen students.
  • First-gen students are both more likely to be employed during law school and to work more hours than non-first-gen students.
  • Despite greater competing external responsibilities, first-gen students also study more hours per week than their non-first-gen classmates.
  • First-gen students are less likely than others to participate in many common and desirable co-curricular activities. 37% of first-gen students report that they never participate in law school-sponsored activities, compared to 31% of non-first-gen students.

“It is a distinct pleasure to highlight first-gen students in this year’s LSSSE Annual Report,” said Meera E. Deo, director of LSSSE.  “Because their parents did not graduate from college, these students not only face unique challenges navigating legal education, but also exhibit tremendous grit and determination to achieve success. I hope our findings encourage law schools to provide even greater support to first-gen students on this path.”

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