What Are the Requirements to Take the Bar Exam?

With the bar exam in your sights, you might be wondering if you can take the test. Even if you’re fully prepared to take the bar exam, not everyone can take it. Depending on your state, there are many requirements you need to meet before you sit for the test.

The good news is that the requirements are about what you would expect. In most states, you have to graduate from a law program and pass a background check. Still, some states might require residency or allow applicants to read the law. If you’re wondering if you can take the bar exam, you’re in the right place. We’re going to take you through everything you need to know about the bar exam requirements.

Education Requirements

First and foremost, most states require you to complete law school before you take the bar exam. There are many programs you can participate in, but we recommend enrolling in bar accredited universities. These schools give you the best chance to succeed, great networking tools, and the most options when it comes to bar acceptance.

Some states like Texas and Arizona will also allow you to sit for the bar if you’ve completed most of your credits, but most require a completed degree.

Reading the Law

While a law degree is the most common way to qualify to sit for the bar, some states offer other options. In the past, law wasn’t a cookie-cutter field with many requirements. People would study under professionals, in an apprentice-like relationship, until they were ready to practice law.

Reading the law is an apprenticeship program where students can learn the law under licensed attorneys or judges. Furthermore, people in this program have to spend a specific amount of hours being an apprentice before sitting for the exam.

To this day, there are a handful of states that allow you to “read the law” of law school isn’t for you. There aren’t many states that offer this program, but Virginia, California, Vermont, and Washington allow people to read the law.

Character Requirements

Before you sit for the bar, there is a background check. Every state has different rules, so it’s essential to check with your state’s guidelines. Typically, you’ll have to submit information about your previous debts and criminal records. For most applicants, there is no need to stress, and the process is harmless.


We’ll start with debts. Applicants have to disclose any debts and their credit records to the bar. If you’re in debt, there is no need to panic, as long as you have a positive relationship with your creditor and are attempting to make regular payments.

Most states are lenient with debt because most law students take out loans to complete expensive law programs. The bar is focused on whether or not an applicant has an arrangement with creditors, makes an effort to make payments, and avoids defaulting. So, even if your credit score is subpar, you’ll be fine.

Still, there are some debts that applicants can’t carry. For example, in Pennsylvania, applicants that default on student loans or fail to make child support payments are not eligible to sit for the exam. In most other cases you’ll be fine, but do your best to get your debts in order before you apply.

Criminal Record

Before you take the bar exam, you must pass a criminal background check, which looks at your criminal record. Any felonies or misdemeanors will be available for the bar to see, so make sure you’re honest on the application. Having a record in itself is not a barrier to taking the bar so long as you’ve served your sentence and are determined to be of good moral character, but if you don’t reveal all of your information, this will come back to haunt you later.

Residency Requirements

With the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), residency requirements are more lenient than ever. Typically, you don’t have to live in the state you’re looking to take the bar exam in. Feel free to take the Arizona bar if you live in New York, or vice versa. Still, we recommend taking the bar for the state you plan on residing or working in.

Still, some states require you to be a resident before you take the bar. These states include Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Arkansas. In these states, you have to live there for a specified period before taking the exam. Every state has different requirements, so make sure you reference your state’s rules before applying for the bar exam.

In Summary

No matter how much you want to take the bar exam, which we know you’re excited about, you need to meet the necessary criteria. Typically, you have to complete a law program, obtain your Juris Doctor, and pass a background check.

While some states have other rules, as long as you graduate from law school, there is a good chance you can sit for the bar.