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Escape Your State: Out-of-State Tuition and Residency Restrictions

By William Peacock, Esq. on July 22, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

California law schools have a problem. There are the upper-tier schools, such as Boalt Hall, Stanford, Davis, Irvine, and Hastings. These are worth attending. There are also a ton of mid-tier schools, such as Loyola, Santa Clara, and even McGeorge. These are also worth attending, though their sticker price begs the value question:

Is this school worth $100,000 or more in student loans? We all know how bad the job market is, both industry-wide and in California.

The solution, it seems, is consider fleeing California for a more affordable out-of-state alternative. After all, that whole go-where-you-want-to-work nonsense has limited application when you'll probably be unemployed (at least to start). And if you save $40 or $50,000 by moving to, say, Kansas, your long-term financial picture seems far less bleak, right?

Of course, there is that whole out-of-state tuition business. Most public schools, being state-funded, levy a tariff on other states' exported students. Often, the out-of-state tuition negates any benefit you'd receive from border-hopping. (Though California's in-state and private school prices are so high, even out-of-state tuition might be significantly cheaper. Boo us.)

If you want cheaper, preferably in-state tuition, this limits your options greatly: move a year early (not feasible, as you can't be sure that you'll be admitted to that dream school) or establish in-state residency while enrolled in school.

That's the rub. Every school, and every state, has its own set of rules. For example, the University of Wisconsin sets your residency at the time of enrollment. They don't care whether or not you want to be a life-long Wisconsinite. (Really, and who wouldn't? You're auto-admitted to the bar upon graduation. And Wisconsin has the Packers. And cheese. And funny accents. It's paradise.)

Conversely, a wee little school called Washburn Law in Topeka, Kansas will extend in-state tuition after six months. Kinda defeats the purpose of the in-state/out-of-state distinction, doesn't it?

We've linked to the University of Hawaii Manoa's Pre-Law spreadsheets before, and we'll do it again. Their residency information spreadsheet is a great place to start if you're curious about a school's policy.

When picking a school, the bottom line ($$$) should be the bottom line. You'll need to factor in scholarships, tuition, employment prospects, and only after all of that, the ranking, prestige, and lifestyle.

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