There is an old saying that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. However, it has been my experience that law students preparing to take the bar exam can add one more certainty to this list, and that is that the cost of taking the bar exam will surprise you.
When it comes to navigating the bar exam process, if there is one aspect that law students would benefit by considering earlier, it is engaging in research and planning around the costs associated with this exam. Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School (‘AJMLS’) students are fortunate because one of the biggest costs associated with bar preparation is included in the cost of attendance, and the school through its partnership with Kaplan Bar Review helps students avoid what could be a three to four thousand dollar cost for a prep course. A student who chooses to utilize a different course should research the cost of that course and include it in planning a budget.
However, despite avoiding the costs associated with purchasing a preparation course, there are plenty of expenses associated with taking the test. Although the below is not all-inclusive (due to the ever-changing nature of fees and specific-state requirements), it should give you a pretty solid idea of what to expect.* Planning and budgeting in advance can help you to avoid plenty of stress down the road.
MPRE Registration: If you have read the associated materials on the AABS webpages, explored your specific jurisdictional requirements, or paid attention in Professional Responsibility class, then you know that successfully passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (the ‘MPRE’) administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (‘NCBE’) is one of the stepping stones you must traverse on your journey to becoming a licensed attorney in almost every jurisdiction.
This NCBE MPRE page provides you with overview information and links to additional information that you need to know about the test, including costs, dates, and what to expect. Specifically, if you visit the MPRE registration page, you will see that it currently costs $150 (as of January 1, 2023) just to register for the exam. You will also have to account for the costs of travel to and from a testing center.
Fortunately, Kaplan Bar Review and other companies offer free MPRE preparation courses, so you will not incur any additional expense in utilizing these highly recommended courses, and AABS can provide you with physical materials should you desire.
Total Recommended MPRE Budget Allocation: $175 (including costs and travel)
Character & Fitness Application: All states vary on this, so you should make sure to review your jurisdictional requirements, but we will examine Georgia to give you a sense of what to expect. You can visit the Georgia Character & Fitness (‘C&F’) page here for a basic overview of the process, but since we are concerned with fees there are a few important things to note. You will note that fingerprints, driving records, and criminal offenses are specifically demarcated, and the associated costs with each of these can vary depending on your circumstances. For most applicants, the cost of fingerprinting will be roughly $52, the cost of requesting a Georgia driving record will be $8, and the costs for submitting reports and court documents will vary depending on your specific circumstances.
The actual cost of fitness application (as well as associated deadlines) can be found here, and a law student who files before graduation in a timely manner will pay $450 (current as of January 1, 2023), plus a fee for using a credit card if you pay online. Pay special attention here, because an applicant who submits a late application will pay an additional $500.
Total Recommended Minimum C&F Budget: $530
Bar Application: This also varies state-to-state, and you should investigate according to your circumstances, but when it comes to Georgia the state utilizes a two-step process for bar applicants. After you have successfully been certified ‘fit,’ an applicant then must complete the bar application, and you can find additional information here. A quick review of the fees reveals that a law school student who timely files an application will incur expenses of $496 (with a $10 filing fee for using a credit card online). Again, time is of the essence here, and a late application will cost you an additional $500, so make sure to be on time. Depending on your undergraduate institution(s), you may incur fees associated with transcript submission, so it is recommended that you allocate $25 just to err on the side of caution.
Total Recommended Minimum Bar Application Budget: $531
Bar Exam Fees: Although this can vary by jurisdiction, in Georgia it will cost you $105 to type or write the bar exam. Yes, you read that correctly. Whether you choose to type your essays and MPTs or handwrite them, there is an expense associated with doing so. If you type using the exam software (recommended), you may also incur a slight credit card fee as well.
Total Recommended Minimum Bar Exam Fees: $105
Miscellaneous Items to Consider: Personally, I’m a big fan of eating and having a roof over my head, and planning in advance for grocery budgets and rent can save you a lot of worry and headaches during bar prep. If you can plan in advance to save ahead and be prepared, this can also decrease the amount of time that you have to work during the bar prep process. Working during bar prep is one of the biggest obstacles that students face during bar prep, as not only does working take away from the time you can dedicate to your studies, but it also contributes to exhaustion and increased levels of stress. Planning ahead can help you limit this, or at the least, to plan your studies around such, and removing the financial stress to the extent possible via forward-thinking can pay big dividends.
You also want to think about your travel to and from the bar exam during the days that you are engaged in the process. Many students like to stay at hotels close by in order to avoid the potential traffic issues or vehicle breakdowns, so deciding early if you want to stay nearby can help you avoid a surprise expense at the time of bar exam.
Total Recommended Minimum Miscellaneous Budget: Extremely Variable
When you add up the above items, you will likely be surprised that the minimum costs associated with taking the bar exam in Georgia as a first-time taker who applies before graduation is at least $1,341 (excluding miscellaneous costs). Although this will vary somewhat for each individual (and can vary significantly based on specific jurisdiction), having these potential costs in mind can help you plan ahead in terms of saving, loan utilization, and prevent some significant financial surprises as you prepare for bar exam success.
*Please note that the above is subject to change, and that respective requirements and fees vary by state. You should explore these costs directly by visiting the state bar website for your intended jurisdiction.