I think I can, if I'm understanding the rules right, but I was wondering if anyone had done this/could give advice.

I recently completed a JD. My dream in college was always to get a PhD in literature, but for several reasons, some good some bad, I chose to go for the JD instead (it isn't completely unrelated to my literature interests, so it isn't a total wash). I am working in the public sector after graduation, and will be paying down my JD loans using Public Loan Forgiveness, so when I sat down and thought about it I realized I might not have to abandon my PhD dream after all. After a year or two breather from school, I'd like to go back and start working towards a PhD, because if law school and working in the legal field has convinced me of one thing it is that literature (and hopefully a professorship) are where I will be truly happy.

As an overview of PLF: after 120 monthly payments made on my loans while working in the public sector (10 years) the government would forgive my federal loans (which make up 90% of my loans). I can pay income-based repayment while working towards PLF as well. I will never be able to pay my loans off on a gov salary otherwise, but 10 years and then they are forgiven is actually a pretty sweet deal.

Basically to qualify for PLF I have to be employed in a public sector job--generally government or a nonprofit--working full time, or two public sector jobs that combined mean at least 30 hours/wk. As most TA or RA positions for funded programs (MA or PhD) seem to be about 20 hours a week, doing 10 hours a week in another public position would, if I'm right, qualify me for public loan forgiveness. Probably I'd look at doing 10-15 hours of legal aid through a nonprofit or government agency to keep my legal skills up.

Has anyone done PLF while finishing a PhD? Is this dream possible, or am I crazy? I don't mind not making a lot of money--I never have, and am not making much $$ now. But I really want to go back to literature. I'm just hoping the JD won't have killed that dream for me. :/

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    I'd be extremely surprised if being a TA or RA at a public university counted as a public sector job. But to get a definitive answer, you'd need to ask whatever office or agency coordinates PLF. – user37208 Jun 3 '16 at 5:03
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    Working 20 hours per week as a TA or RA, being a full time graduate student and also working another job for 10 or more hours per week would be extremely difficult. – Brian Borchers Jun 3 '16 at 5:07
  • Note that many funded programs pay you through some combination of assistantship and fellowship. When you're funded by a fellowship, you might not be considered an employee, and then you wouldn't be eligible – ff524 Jun 3 '16 at 5:14
  • @user37208 it's not specific to public universities. If a TA/RA job is considered employment for purposes of this program, then private non-profit universities (i.e. almost all universities) are also eligible employers. – ff524 Jun 3 '16 at 5:16
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    @BrianBorchers: And, as I recently learned in another question, in some cases having another job might actually be forbidden. academia.stackexchange.com/questions/69600/… – Nate Eldredge Jun 3 '16 at 5:19

My understanding is that you can only participate in PSLF when you are required to make a payment; as at least a half-time graduate student, regardless of your employment at the time, you are not required to make a payment, so you cannot participate.

Source: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service#qualifying-payment

Student aid reps at your institution might be a better source for clarification on this; perhaps you can declare yourself not a student for the purpose of your undergraduate/JD loans, and begin making payments? However this would also prevent you from using your student status to limit interest accrual on some of your loans.

If you have friends in tax/financial law this might be a good time to call in a favor on a 5-minute consultation.

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