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Law School Residency Issues by State

Published July 2009, last updated June 2010

For anyone applying to a public law school, the topic of residency is one which is sure to come up. Almost every public law school has different tuition rates for in-state vs. out-of-state residents. Often, this can mean the difference between paying roughly $60,000 vs. nearly $150,000 for your JD-in other words, savings so wildly substantial that only a fool (or a private law school attendee) would not take a few minutes to do a little research on the residency requirements for that particular state. Additionally, in some cases, being a resident of the state in which your target law school is located can confer an admissions boost. In other cases, being a resident confers virtually no such boost whatsoever. Since 32 of the current top 60 law schools (including 3 of the vaunted Top-10) are public law schools, this is a matter of concern to virtually every applicant to top law schools.

What we have done in this article is break down issues of residency by state, listing every state which is home to a top 60 law school. States are classified according to whether residency is easy, pretty hard, or hard to establish. This article focuses upon states with law schools ranked amongst the top 60. While law schools outside of this band will not be specifically discussed herein, residency requirements are typically uniform for all of a state's law schools, so looking up information on the state in which you're interested (if it is found here) is still likely to be helpful. Because gaining residency is a very detailed and bureaucratic process, be sure to research and confirm the findings of this article. Make sure to properly follow all of the state’s requirements, for the great savings can be eliminated by a simple mistake. The states are broken down into categories based on the difficulty of establishing residency.

States that are EASY to establish residency: CA, CO, FL, KY, MO, NJ, UT
States that are PRETTY HARD to establish residency: AL, GA, IA, MN
States that are HARD to establish residency: AZ, IL, IN, MD, MI, NC, OH, TN, TX, VA, WA, WI


States that are EASY to establish residency

CALIFORNIA: California is home to five of the top 50 law schools, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Hastings, and UC Davis, and UC Irvine. The good news is that unlike some states, which make it notoriously difficult for students to achieve residency, California makes in-state tuition available to students in their second year. However, there are a few caveats. First of all, the individual petitioning for residency must reside continuously in the state of California for one year. This means no spending summers back home if home is not located within Golden State. You must have been in the state for one full year prior to the first day of classes, so arrive before classes start. Students must also furnish evidence that they intend to make CA their home for the long haul, including the signing of a "long term" lease, a CA income tax return, registering to vote in CA elections, getting a CA drivers license or state ID, and/or registering your car in California. Additionally, if your parents do not live in CA, then they cannot have claimed you as a dependent on their tax returns for the year prior to your petitioning for in-state tuition (the year in which you attend school). Residency is granted when these procedures are followed, making UC law schools cheaper in their final two years.

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COLORADO: The law school's website states quite clearly that nonresident students may petition for residency after 12 months of continuous living in the state of Colorado, and there do not appear to be any strings attached. Based on this description Colorado seems to be one of the more friendly states to out-of-state students who might wish to establish residency.

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FLORIDA: Obtaining residency in Florida by 2L is a relatively straightforward process for those who know what needs to be done and set out deliberately to do so right from the start. Living in Florida for 12 straight months without extended time out of the state and getting a Florida driver's license as early as possible should be enough to get the job done.

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KENTUCKY: Students who live in Kentucky for 12 months prior to classes are automatically considered residents, however even those who are initially classified as nonresidents can petition for residency as UK students. Their website just states that cases will be reviewed on a "case by case" basis, however it is safe to assume that doing the usual things – changing one's vehicle registration, paying state taxes, registering to vote, etc. – will help ensure success.

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MISSOURI: Students just need to live in Missouri for a year and change their relevant documents to Missouri and they can obtain residency after the first year.

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NEW JERSEY: Students must "domicile" in NJ for 12 months at least prior to the first day of class to become a resident with no exclusions for those attending school. However those who have not done so can still petition for residency (statistics are not given as to how many of these petitions are successful, but one must imagine that the standard moves--changing driver's license, voter registration, securing employment, etc--would be of service in this quest).

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UTAH: A person who establishes a domicile for 12 months can potentially apply for residency, however if their primary purpose for being in the state of Utah was to obtain an education, then one must do certain things in order to pull off a reclassification. First, you have to register your vehicle in the state of Utah at least 90 days prior to the start of classes. It is also necessary to furnish some kind of proof of employment in Utah for the 3 months prior to the start of classes, register to vote in Utah, and have your name on utility bills and a lease somewhere in Utah.

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States that are PRETTY HARD to establish residency


ALABAMA: Residency is a major factor in admissions decisions for 'Bama, but for out-of-state students who are admitted the law school's website does state that it is possible to obtain residency after the first year. This is a good sign as many other public schools' websites discourages applicants from considering this option. Conversely, however, Alabama does declare quite clearly that those in Alabama only to pursue an education will not be given residency, so in order to pull this off it will be crucial to shift all documents to Alabama and make a clear case that you intend to make the state your home for the long haul.

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GEORGIA: An important thing to bear in mind with Georgia residency is that there is not a set of ultimate guidelines, because Georgia state law puts the ultimate authority in residency decisions with the Board of Regents. A person must be a "bona fide" GA resident for 12 months before applying for residency, and they can help their case with proof of residency in the form of vehicle/voter registration, state income tax returns, etc. Also noteworthy is that the wording excludes from consideration those who are full-time students during that 12-month period, but not those who are part-time students.

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IOWA: Iowa is another state where it is difficult to petition for residency. In addition to "domiciling" for 12 months in the Hawkeye State, the University of Iowa's website states that "certain things have probative value" (in other words, no guarantees) to substantiate a claim to residency: Reliance upon Iowa resources for financial support, acceptance of an offer of permanent employment in Iowa. The website goes out of its way to explain that things which often pass for a commitment to residency in other states--paying state income taxes, voting in Iowa elections, registering one's vehicle in Iowa--will not be sufficient for purposes of gaining in-state tuition. Thus, it might be possible for an incoming 3L who has accepted a position with an Iowa-based firm to get residency for their final year, but that seems to be about it.

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MINNESOTA: Home of the well-regarded University of Minnesota Law School, Minnesota is another state where gaining residency can be difficult at first. They classify you as a resident initially if you have lived in the state for 12 months prior to the first day of classes and your "primary reason for living in Minnesota is not to go to school." Additionally, the university's website states quite plainly that a recent move to Minnesota combined with a transcript history showing coursework at out-of-state schools will likely result in an initial nonresident classification. Gaining in-state status is not easy, as the university's official residency policy states that if a student is initially classified as a nonresident, then that student "shall remain a nonresident throughout his or her presence as a student." Exceptions to this include residents of Wisconsin, the Dakotas, and Manitoba, with whom Minnesota has reciprocity agreements. As with Texas, students may appeal a nonresident classification, but, again as with Texas, the University does not publish success rates in this endeavor and one is led to believe they are not great.

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States that are HARD to establish residency


ARIZONA: It is difficult for students to become residents if they are initially classified as nonresidents, however if they have lived in Arizona for 12 school months, then it is possible. In Arizona, the presumption is that residency cannot be granted if one’s reason for being in Arizona is educational. There are a few exceptions however that are not found in other state universities. For example, Native American students from tribes such as the Navajo whose land is located in Arizona and another state are often typically given automatic residency.

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ILLINOIS: An initial residency decision is made based on whether or not the applicant has spent the past 12 months living in Illinois, however UIUC College of Law's website's "costs and tuition" page does clearly state that admitted students may petition for in-state residency. The decision is made by the university's Office of Admissions and Records. Unfortunately, this may be deceptive because on the Office and Admissions and Records (in other words, the folks who make the decision about whether or not your petition for residency actually gets granted) states that in order to be reclassified as an Illinois resident one must be a "bona fide" resident for 12 months; they go on to spell out why this is not good news for those hoping to get in-state tuition for 2L: Bona fide residency involves being gainfully employed and actually living in the state for one year, and taking other specific actions which link you to the state of Illinois. It also requires that you reside in Illinois primarily for reasons that are not related to receiving an education. However, the one bright spot here is that at UIUC, resident tuition is not all that much more inexpensive than nonresident tuition (as compared to other US public law schools): $31,262 a year vs. $39,282. In an interview with TLS Dean Pless said this about residency: “Residency is hard to change. You must be in Illinois for non-educational purposes, which is tough to prove once you are here for school. Students have been granted residency in the past by purchasing property in Illinois or marrying an Illinois resident who is paying taxes. If your parent lives in Illinois, you are considered a resident, even if you are independent of your parent, which is just the way the law is written.”

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INDIANA: In order to become a resident of Indiana, one must reside in the Hoosier State for 12 solid months prior to the 1st day of classes. Additionally, at no point in that 12 months can the would-be resident's main purpose for being in Indiana be to obtain an education. This makes it troubling for those who hope to get residency by 2L year. Important also to note is that, unlike many other states, marrying an Indiana resident and moving to Indiana does NOT confer resident status upon the nonresident spouse.

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MARYLAND: Those seeking in-state status must present "clear and convincing proof" of their being a true Maryland resident. Sadly, a fondness for crab cakes or being a Baltimore Oriole fan will not suffice in this regard. Unlike many states which require those who'd like to be residents to live in the state for 12 months prior to the start of classes, Maryland requires one to have an INTENT to "abandon" one's former state and make MD their new permanent home for 12 moths prior to the registration deadline for classes (not the first day of class). Ways one can prove this intent include: Showing a history of either employment in or financial dependence upon someone in the State of Maryland, registering for Selective Service as a resident of Maryland, vehicle registration, etc.

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MICHIGAN: Michigan, home of the perennial top ten law school located in Ann Arbor, is unfortunately one of the hardest states to attain residency in while attending law school. This blow is softened by the fact that the savings for in-state tuition is a lowly $3,000, or a mere 7% savings. This stems from the fact that the University of Michigan Law School is effectively run like a private school, with only about 2% of its funds coming from the state. The admissions boost of being a Michigan resident is also not that strong, for only 20% of accepted applicants must be Michigan residents, a much smaller number than UVA (40% VA residents), the University of Texas (65% of students in the law school must be Texas residents), and the University of North Carolina as discussed next.

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NORTH CAROLINA: In order to be classified as a North Carolina resident, one must have lived in NC for 12 months prior to the start of classes. Additionally, this may need to be even earlier because residency decisions are made at the time that applications are processed since the state requires that 75% of those admitted to UNC Law be North Carolina residents, a large admissions boost to in-state residents. Students may petition to chance their residency status after 1 year of living in the state, but they must fill out a 4 page residency questionnaire in its entirety before their petition will be considered.

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OHIO: A student may apply for residency after 12 months of continuous living in the state of Ohio, however their website does state that the board of regents consciously seeks to exclude those who are in the state primarily for purposes of getting an education. Nevertheless, the option is technically available to students who are willing to present evidence that they are inclined to stay in Ohio after graduation, but again they do not post success rates in this regard.

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TENNESSEE: Tennessee is less specific than most states about what constitutes a bona fide domicile. They simply state that those who wish to prove that they have established a domicile in the state of TN need to "submit any and all evidence" that they think will make their case.

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TEXAS: Texas residency is determined by having spent the previous 12 months before attending UT domiciled in the state of Texas. If you are a dependent on your parents’ tax returns, then they must meet Texas residency requirements as well. Students are either determined to be residents or non-residents at the time their application to UT Law is submitted. If they wish to change this status during their time at UT, then they must submit the "Residency Core Questions." This questionnaire will be reviewed by a Residency Officer and then either approved or denied. If you are denied, the decision can be appealed by writing a letter explaining why you feel you ought to be considered a resident of Texas. Despite these opportunities for law students to gain Texas residency, UT's website does not publish statistics regarding how many petitioners are successful and conventional wisdom seems to be that gaining TX residency is not very easy unless you spend a year in Texas before attending law school. Texas residents benefit from the requirement that 65% of students at UT School of Law) must hail from the Lone Star state.

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VIRGINIA: To be considered as a Virginia resident, you must live ("domicile" as they put it, meaning either you or your spouse owns property or has their name on the lease of a property in Virginia) within the State of Virginia for 12 months prior to the first day of classes for the semester in which you'd like to be getting in-state tuition. You must also demonstrate your intent to remain in Virginia by doing the usual things: Paying state income taxes in VA, getting a VA driver's license, etc. Being a Virginia resident also slightly boosts the likelihood of getting into University of Virginia, as 40% of admitted students must be Virginia residents. Those very focused on attending UVA may consider spending one year in D.C. and living in nearby Arlington, VA. William & Mary is also an excellent public law school in Virginia.

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WASHINGTON: Washington is another state where they do not grant residency to individuals in the state primarily for educational purposes. Thus in order to become a resident, they must establish a "bona fide" domicile for 12 months prior to the start of classes.

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WISCONSIN: Gaining residency in Wisconsin is no easy task, as is often the case with flagship universities such as UW-Madison that attract applicants from all over the nation. Even after living in the state of Wisconsin for more than 12 months, if the applicant's main purpose for being in the Cheese State is to get an education of any sort, then the petition for residency is likely to be denied.

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