How Can I Qualify for In-State Tuition?

Written by: Kristyn Pilgrim
Updated: 7/31/20

When planning for college, consider all the possible options you might have available to you. Public colleges and universities can be excellent places to get a top-notch education, but sometimes, your dream school is located in a different state from the one you reside in.

As you decide on which college to attend, the total cost is often a significant factor, and attending an out-of-state school can sometimes mean an increase in tuition expenses that you may face in student loans. In this article, you’ll learn how you might get around this tuition hike and better afford the optimal education you deserve.

Differences Between In-State and Out-of-State Tuition

State colleges and universities regularly charge different tuition rates for students who are state residents than for those who aren’t. At first glance, this might seem unfair since, regardless of where a student comes from, the education they receive should be the same. 

But the reason for the price difference is because public universities receive state tax revenue to help fund their operations, and state taxes are paid for by in-state residents. When you consider that in-state students (or their parents) have been funding the state schools the entire time they’ve been earning a living in that state, then it no longer seems unfair. 

If you have looked at different universities, you have probably noticed that the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition can be pretty significant. In fact, the average difference in cost between public, four-year, in-state and out-of-state tuition and fees for the 2019-2020 school year in the United States was $16,380. 

It’s worth noting that this difference only applies to public schools because private colleges and universities do not receive state funding (and this is why their tuition is often higher). 

State Residency Requirements

What determines your residency status can vary significantly from state to state. It isn’t a matter of just claiming to live there, and even though you will likely be setting up residence in a dorm in the state you attend college, this does not count as being a resident of that state. Residency is based on your permanent address.

The most common residency requirement is that you must maintain a permanent address in that state for 12 consecutive months prior to starting school to receive in-state tuition. However, some states have different length requirements. For example, Arkansas requires six months, and Alaska requires two years. 

In addition to establishing a continuous physical presence in the state, the following might also be required to establish residency:

  • Intent: You may need to provide some indication that you aren’t trying to establish residency for the sole purpose of getting better tuition rates. This may mean having a full-time job in the state, registering to vote in the state, etc. 
  • Financial independence: You may need to show that you support yourself and are not financially dependent on parents that live out-of-state. 
  • Age: Some states have age requirements, and you need to be a certain minimum age before you can claim to be a resident of a state different from that of your parents. In many states, the age is 18, but in some states, such as California, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, you have to be at least 24 years old. 

To find the exact requirements for the particular university you want to attend, visit the university’s website. Usually, on their admissions page, you will be able to find a link to the residency requirements. For example, to establish Oregon residency, the University of Oregon specifies the following on its website:

  • Student must have lived in Oregon for at least 12 months before the beginning of their starting term or when they made a residency case
  • Student financially depends on an Oregon resident or has financial independence
  • Student’s is in Oregon for something other than to obtain an education
  • Student’s financial resources are clear
  • Student shows various residency indicators (such as owning a home, permanent employment, or payment of income taxes)

How to Prove Residency

A big part of establishing residency is providing proof. Again, what constitutes proof can vary from state to state. Also, while the rules of what constitutes residency are usually determined by the state government, the university’s admissions office is usually responsible for making any final decisions based on the documentation you provide.

Types of documentation that may be requested as proof of residency or proof of needing certain residency requirements include:

  • An affidavit (often a form provided by the university) in which you declare how you meet the residency requirements.
  • Pay stubs from employment in the state that date back far enough
  • Tax returns from the state
  • Voter registration showing that you have registered to vote in the state
  • Lease or rental agreement proving residency
  • Utility bills sent to your in-state residence
  • In-state vehicle registration and/or license

Again, you will want to refer to the university’s requirements to know what they require specifically, but this is an idea of the type of documentation that is most commonly requested.

Can I Take a Gap Year to Qualify?

Since the primary requirement in most states is that you maintain permanent residence there for at least a year, then you might consider taking a gap year – a year-long break – to establish residency in the state your school is located in.

You can either wait a year to apply or, if you are accepted, defer enrollment for a year as you attempt to establish residency.

Make sure that you aren’t just renting a room in-state during that time. You will need to establish yourself as a full-fledged resident. This means getting a job, a bank account, registering to vote, and changing your driver’s license. You want a complete paper trail showing that you plan on staying. 

If you are under the age of 24, you might face additional hurdles since colleges and universities often still consider you to be financially tied to your parents and are inclined to assume your state of residence to be the same as theirs. Make sure you are aware of any age restrictions on residency requirements, as well. 

In-State Tuition Via Exchange or Reciprocity

In many situations, it is possible to attend an out-of-state school for in-state tuition rates by making use of reciprocity agreements or exchange programs. These are great because they don’t require you to jump through any hoops to change your residency at all. 

If the out-of-state school you want to attend is in a neighboring state, check and see if they have a reciprocity agreement. Many offer in-state or reduced tuition rates for students from nearby states. The “reciprocity” part of this agreement means that universities in both your state and the neighboring state agree to allow students to attend schools in either state for the same rate.

Several regional exchange programs also allow students to attend universities in their region at in-state tuition rates for certain qualifying majors or degree programs. Among these exchange programs are:

  • Western Undergraduate Exchange: This is for students who are residents of 16 western states, as well as Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
  • Academic Common Market: For students who live in 15 southern states, this allows them to choose from more than 1,900 undergraduate and graduate programs at out-of-state institutions at in-state tuition rates.  
  • New England Regional Student Program: 82 public colleges and universities in New England offer out-of-state tuition breaks for certain programs for students who are residents of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. 
  • Midwest Student Exchange Program: Through this program, public institutions agree to charge out-of-state students in the Midwest no more than 150% of in-state tuition. There are even private institutions that offer a 10% discount through this program. 

Other Exceptions and Waivers

Depending on your situation, there may be other ways for you to receive in-state tuition at an out-of-state school without having to establish residency. Out-of-state tuition waivers may be available to students or dependent students of those who are or have:

  • Active duty military personnel stationed in the state
  • Veterans of the military
  • University faculty or staff
  • In-state school teachers
  • Legacies, or children of alumni
  • Participated in an in-state 529 college savings plan
  • Received certain scholarships
  • Married to an in-state resident

Contact your school’s admissions department to see if there are other similar exceptions for which you may qualify.

Planning and Paying for College

The team at College Finance wants to help you make the best financial decisions when it comes to your education. A degree from the right college can help you achieve your dreams, but it’s important that it doesn’t also leave you saddled with debt. 

Learn more about how to plan for college, including applying for financial aid, finding scholarships, and making smart decisions about loans.