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The Best Law Schools for Alumni Salary in 2022

Taylor Nichols

Written By: Taylor Nichols

Published: 6/9/2022

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Key Insights:

  • While the industry does put a lot of emphasis on prestige, Ivy League schools aren't the only options for earning top salaries after law school
  • JD graduates from these schools earn starting salaries higher than 95% of their peers
  • Two public universities, UVA Law and Berkeley Law, rank highly for alumni salary
  • Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Harvard, and USC all produce top-earning grads who owe less on average than their peers from comparable schools

College is a significant investment, especially for law students. Students may owe close to $200,000 (or more) at the most expensive universities when they finally earn their degree.

Law is an industry that puts a lot of emphasis on prestige, and many students feel immense pressure to get into the best schools. However, many do that without knowing which schools actually have the best outcomes for their students.

We analyzed alumni salaries one year after graduation to help students maximize their earning power with their degrees.

School Median Debt Debt Score Median Salary
Columbia University in the City of New York $188,253 98.02 $193,362
New York University $184,952* 98.07 $189,685
Northwestern University $135,060 72.5 $187,194
University of Pennsylvania $161,363 90.66 $186,571
University of Virginia $166,203 92.69 $185,710
Cornell University $139,926* 78.35 $185,15
Harvard University $137,424 74.63 $184,307
University of Chicago $169,731 93.94 $181,006
Georgetown University $166,026 92.62 $165,914
University of California - Berkeley $156,898 88.45 $160,390
Duke University $139,961* 78.38 $155,031
Stanford University $142,229 78.67 $151,574
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor $140,369 77.16 $146,285
Fordham University $146,463 81.89 $146,081
Vanderbilt University $133,283 70.85 $132,293
University of Southern California $132,495 70.13 $121,676

Source: College Scorecard

* Indicates median debt was pulled from an earlier data set

Law Schools with the Highest Starting Salaries for Graduates

At OnlineU, we use earnings data to evaluate how well colleges prepare graduates for high-paying careers in their industry. We give each program a Salary Score to show how alumni outcomes for that school compare to other graduates from the same programs. We also assign each school a Debt Score which shows how much alumni owe when they graduate compared to their peers from the same programs at other colleges. A high debt score indicates a school’s alumni have more debt than others, while a low score means graduates finish that college with less debt than their peers.

The law schools on our list have median alumni starting salaries in the top 5% for graduates who earned their Juris Doctor in 2017 and 2018. This list showcases some of the most prestigious law schools in the country, which may reflect the importance of prestige placed on universities in the legal profession. While it isn't always the case, it's clear that these universities have strong student outcomes to back up their reputation. However, our research shows there are less elite options that still offer top starting salaries for graduates.

Honorable Mentions

For students who are looking for slightly more affordable and accessible options that still lead to high salaries, there are a handful of prestigious schools that are a bit more widely available.

Vanderbilt University graduates still earn salaries in the 98th percentile but owe less than 30% of law graduates. Boston University also offers alumni earnings in the top 90%, but graduates walk away with less debt than 43% of law graduates.

Washington University in St. Louis is a particularly strong choice for salary-to-debt ratio and is slightly less competitive. The minimum GPA for the incoming class is 3.39 at WashU, and LSAT scores range between 160 and 170. The law school has an acceptance rate of 30%. However, what is most notable is its salary-to-debt ratio: Median alumni earnings are $90,605 in the first year, which is higher than 77% of law school graduates. However, WashU graduates also tend to finish college with under $100,000 in federal student loans, putting them in the bottom third of borrowers who earn their JD.

The Bottom Line

It's no secret that law school is expensive, and many students are dead set on making their investment count. Prospective law students can use these rankings to help them choose a school that will most likely result in high salaries after graduation. These earnings are also just in the first year, which means many of these students will see a bigger return on investment as they advance their careers.

Those determined to earn top salaries after college will likely have to take out a large amount in student loans and compete for highly coveted seats at these prestigious universities. However, there are a handful of slightly less competitive options where students still earn higher average salaries while borrowing less to go to school.

Choosing where to go to college should involve many factors, including but not limited to potential debt and salary. Students should also assess what programs and classes they're interested in, the law school faculty, who their peers will be at that school, and other factors to find a college that will offer them the best support on their way to becoming an attorney.


All salary data comes from the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard. Earnings are for graduates who earned their degrees in 2017 and 2018, with earnings measured in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Acceptance rates, GPAs, and LSAT scores were sourced from Public Legal, a product of the Internet Legal Research Group.

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