Applying for Residency and its Hidden Rules


Photo Courtesy of Chronicle archives.

By Broderick Sterrett

Today I’m getting a gym membership, and no it’s not because I am getting over my “summer bod” issues. Believe it or not, this is because I want residency tuition rates. As an out-of-state student, I currently pay triple the tuition costs than my fellow native Utah peers do. Luckily, public state universities around the country offer in-state tuition rates after meeting certain residency standards. The University of Utah is no different. During my orientation seminar for out-of-state students, achieving residency was said to be very relaxed and simple. For such a simple process, then, I was surprised to learn all of the unspoken or buried rules that put my residency application in danger.

The Office of Admissions answered my questions on residency in more depth when I called recently, so I want to clarify that Admissions is not blocking access to this information. Anyone can call the office, dial ‘5’ and ask any residency related questions (unless it’s about a specific student, then FERPA intervenes) and receive information. But when I say that there are certain rules that are unspoken or buried, I stand by that statement in the sense that Office of Admissions does not openly advertise this information. For incoming out-of-state students and fellow residency applicants, this article is for you.

Winter Break

For those that don’t know already, out-of-state students (undergraduate and graduate alike) are only allowed to leave the state of Utah for at most 29 days out of the 12 continuous months prior to residency reclassification. This is no secret, it’s described in the Board of Regents policy R512 section 5.3 and again in the University’s Institutional Residency Policy Brochure. Exclusive to the brochure, it is made clear that holiday and school breaks are nonexempt from this rule. Factor in first-year out-of-state students that rely on campus housing, and then we start to have a problem. While housing is still available over fall and spring break, every out-of-state student dreads winter break when they must decide whether to pay an additional $200 to stay on campus or find other living accommodations for 23 days. The only option for many students, like myself, is to go back home and have those days begrudgingly pass by.

So far everything I’ve mentioned has been openly disclosed to those applying for residency (and housing) but this rule still merits the term unspoken — not because we don’t know the rule, we just aren’t supposed to talk about it.

I had an issue with this rule when I added two and two together to make a potential 23 days lost for out-of-state students from modest-to-low economic backgrounds. The fall semester ends and students now have to monitor their remaining six day allotment for the next eight months as if their financial future depended on it, which it does. That’s lost time better spent on spring or summer break with family and friends. Feeling civically responsible one afternoon, I decided to email the Office of Admissions about possibly amending this policy and explaining its negative consequences for out-of-state students without the means or time to secure alternative housing for almost a month.

The residency officer I began corresponding with discouraged my attempt to amend, citing that the Board of Regents were the only body that could adjust the policy and that the rule has been brought up in past meetings but “it is not going to be changed.” Following that disheartening response, I decided to clarify my position and intent. I was replied with a, “I understand where you are coming from,” but still, “there is nothing to be done about that.” With that, I tried my luck with the Board of Regents. I emailed them early March, it is now the end of June: no response.

This is what I mean by an unspoken rule. The resources to learn about the policy are available but engagement in a dialogue over the 29 days has been curtailed. The current policy puts out-of-state students at a disadvantage, especially those without the financial or familial resources to stay in Utah over the winter break. Now that I’ve been reduced to a handful of days, my summer is now dedicated to leaving a paper trail as wide as I can to prove residency.

Physical Presence

It is the responsibility of the students to provide adequate documentation of their physical presence in Utah for the continuous 12 months prior to residency reclassification. The semesters are practically a given because academic transcripts are automatically pulled and reviewed by the residency officers. Some students decide to take fall, spring and summer courses so that documenting physical presence is that much easier; however, not everyone chooses (or can afford) three consecutive semesters. The alternative is providing pay stubs from a Utah employer or a letter from the employer testifying to being present in Utah during employment. But what’s the third option? Or fourth? Or fifth? Well here they are because I could not find these other options without calling the Residency Office myself.

Banking statements. I had actually heard this a few times — orientation, other out-of-state students, and my call with Residency — but details on this third option do not exist otherwise. I checked all the resources the Residency Office provides to learn more about the residency reclassification process (R512 policy, Institutional Residency Policy Brochure, Utah State Law 53B-8-102 and the FAQ page) and found no information on how bank statements are reviewed. The answer is four days. If you plan to prove physical presence via bank statements, you must make purchases within at least four days intervals of each other. Once a week grocery shopping will not suffice, much to my dismay. Now the fact that such crucial information was not presently open is astonishing, but luckily there are more options.

Memberships. This is where the gym comes into play. Similar to providing bank records of consecutive purchases, students may also provide records of membership access. Check out a few books a week at your local library or hit the gym a few nights a week. As long as students can provide documentation of those check-ins/check-outs, they can prove physical presence that way. Religious activities count as well, for example Young Adults Night or Bible Study with the pastor. In those cases, students would have to provide written testimonies from their religious leader(s) that they have attended church services regularly and consistently. All of this wealth of information is nowhere to be found on the Office of Admissions website, instead, it is buried somewhere in school policy.

Profuse legal jargon aside, students deserve to know all the details and rules on residency reclassification. It is simple rules like these that if not followed correctly can force a student back home.

If you have questions of your own about the residency reclassification process, please contact the Office of Admissions at [email protected] or (801) 581-8761, option 5. If you have more to contribute to my list, please comment below. Thank you.

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