How to qualify for in-state tuition at an out-of-state college

Get ready to jump through quite a few hoops.

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The difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition at public universities was around $16,000 during the 2018–2019 school year, according to a College Board study. If you’re looking to qualify for that lower price tag, you’ll need to prove you intend to be a permanent resident of the state long after you graduate.

What do I need to do to qualify for in-state tuition?

To qualify for in-state tuition, you’ll need to establish residency. While the process can take anywhere from six months to two years, you typically need to:

Live in the state

To get in-state tuition, you’ll need to live and work in the state where you want to attend college. Most states require you to live in state for at least 12 months — consecutively. You likely won’t be able to go home for summer breaks, and taking long vacations out of state could potentially disqualify you.

You can prove residency by taking some of the following actions:

  • Rent or own a home
  • Open a bank account in the state
  • Register to vote in the state
  • Transfer important documents to your new address
  • Obtain a driver’s license or state ID
  • Work and file taxes in the state

Prove intent

You must prove your intent is to live in the state long term, not just for your education. You can do this by joining local civic groups, professional organizations and clubs. Getting a new driver’s license and registering to vote are also smart moves. Some states may even allow you to write a letter that explains your intent to live and work as a resident after you graduate.

Have financial independence

States differ on what they consider financial independence, but it usually involves students filing their own taxes. Some states allow you to be claimed as a dependent and will still consider you financially independent if you pay for the majority of your schooling yourself, while others may not grant in-state tuition if you receive financial help.

If you’re an older student or file your taxes as an independent, you may not have to worry about this step. Still, you’ll want to contact your school of choice to make sure your status as an independent qualifies you for in-state tuition.

How else can I save money on an out-of-state school?

If you’re not able to make the move and cover the expenses of living independently for a year just to get in-state tuition, there are a few things you can do to reduce the cost of attending school as an out-of-state student:

  • Look into regional reciprocity agreements. Depending on where you live, you may qualify for reduced out-of-state tuition — or even in-state tuition — by looking into a regional reciprocity agreement. These are facilitated by the New England Board of Higher Education, the Southern Regional Education Board, the Midwest Student Exchange Program and the Western Undergraduate Exchange.
  • Apply for a tuition waiver. Schools may offer some out-of-state students a tuition waiver that grants them in-state tuition without having to establish residency. However, these are rare, and you may not be eligible if you don’t meet specific criteria.
  • Find scholarships and grants. Some schools offer institutional scholarships and grants specifically for out-of-state students. In addition, you may be able to supplement your financial aid with scholarships and grants from outside sources.

8 tips for applying to college out of state

Bottom line

Qualifying for in-state tuition isn’t difficult, but you’ll have to be willing to make a few sacrifices. That begins with moving to the state at least six months before you plan on enrolling in school. And taking steps to stay there after you graduate.

You can learn more about how to pay for college with our guide to student loans.

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