Is It Better to Apply to Law School as a Permanent Resident or a U.S. Citizen?

I've been reading and enjoying your book. However, I have one question. I am a minority student wanting to apply to one of the top law schools some time next year. I am currently a U.S. permanent resident who is eligible for U.S. citizenship. Should I apply for law school as a permanent resident or do I wait, become a U.S. citizen, then apply? In other words, which status gives me the upper edge regarding acceptance, scholarships, etc.

For admissions and scholarship purposes, applying as a permanent resident vs. a U.S. citizen shouldn't make any difference. You'll be asked to list your visa type on the application, but having a green card will only help you in that visa section, since law schools won't have to worry about your eligibility to work in the United States after you graduate. For your own career planning purposes, though, note that U.S. citizenship is required for most jobs with the federal government. (Individual state rules may differ.)

For loan purposes, as of this writing the Stafford loan application process lumps permanent residents and U.S. citizens together for eligibility, so I'm not aware of any differences on that front either.

You should be aware, though, that your eligibility to sit for the state bar (a requirement for you to practice law in a given U.S. state) might depend on citizenship. Every state has different rules for eligibility. The state where I've been admitted, California, does not have a citizenship requirement, but does require a social security number. Texas (I'm just checking another big state at random) does not have a citizenship requirement either, at least to sit for the bar exam. Other states may have different rules. In your case, it's worth contacting the state bar in the state or states where you are thinking of practicing law to confirm whether you are eligible for bar membership as a permanent resident. Of course, you may already have your citizenship by that point, but it's worth checking just to make sure in case your citizenship timeline changes for some reason.

Whenever it is that you do find yourself going through the citizenship ceremony, I'll be waving a little flag in spirit.

If any readers have additional information on the subject, please share in the comments.


Former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and a recovering lawyer, Anna Ivey founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process. You can read more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions, recently updated and available as an e-book, and find Anna on Twitter and Facebook.