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Question about Boston cost of living

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One of the curiosities of the current federal educational loan system is that it allows graduate or professional school students who aren’t in default on such a loan to borrow the full cost of attendance at whatever school they’re attending, with the cost of attendance being determined exclusively by the school. The cost of attendance is tuition plus “reasonable” living expenses while the student is enrolled at least half time. In the case of ABA-accredited law schools, the ABA requires them to disclose what schools estimate reasonable living expenses are for the standard academic year, i.e., nine months.

Schools have two conflicting incentives in this regard. On the one hand, the higher a school estimates the cost of living, the more its students can borrow. On the other, the higher the estimate, the higher the total cost of attendance appears to be.

This mix of incentives leads to large differences in what schools in the same area estimate constitutes a reasonable nine-month COL budget for a law student. For example, here are the current nine-month COL estimates, rounded to the nearest $500, for the law schools in Boston. (Keep in mind that the figures below include an average of around $1,500 for books):

Boston University: $18,000

Boston College: $19,000 (I understand BC is in a suburb)

Northeastern: $19,500

Suffolk: $22,000

New England Law: $22,000

Harvard: $26,000

In other words, BU expects its law students to live in Boston on less than $2,000 per month, excluding book costs, while HLS budgets nearly 50% more for its students. How reasonable do these various estimates seem, given the current COL in the city? Law students are students, but they are also adults (the average age of an American law student is 26). What’s a realistic budget for a young adult in one of the capitals of the new gilded age in 2015?

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