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8 tips for applying to college out of state

How to get around the high tuition costs and find the right school away from home.

Generally, going to college in your home state is a better deal since you can qualify for in-state tuition and more scholarships as a resident. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay close to home for the next four years. There are multiple ways to get around that high out-of-state tuition and find a school you really vibe with.

1. Research state reciprocity and exchange agreements

Some groups of states have agreements to offer discounted out-of-state tuition to residents of other participating states. Typically, you pay between 100% and 175% of in-state tuition at public schools, though you can often get a discount at private schools as well. These are also known as reciprocity agreements, tuition break programs or exchange programs.

Generally, these agreements are regional, so they won’t help you move across the country. And not all schools participate, so make sure yours does by visiting the exchange’s website or contacting your school’s financial aid office before applying.

Popular reciprocity and exchange programs

AgreementStatesPercentage of in-state tuitionAverage annual savingsWebsite
New England Regional Student Program (RSP) Tuition Break
  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
Up to 175%$8,200
Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE)
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • South Dakota
  • US Pacific Territories and Freely Associated States
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Wyoming
Up to 150%$9,400
Midwest Student Exchange Program
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Wisconsin
150%$500 to $5,000
Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Academic Common Market
  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
100%Not available

Some states also have individual reciprocity programs with nearby states and universities. Check with your state’s department of education for more details on which programs might be available to you.

2. Apply for a tuition waiver

Some public universities like UT Austin and Florida State University (FSU) offer tuition waivers for high-performing or low-income students from another state to pay in-state tuition — or close to it. Sometimes the amount you pay depends on your GPA or your state of residence.

Often, schools automatically consider out-of-state students for these scholarships so you might not have to fill out any extra forms to apply. However, others might require an application. Contact your school’s financial aid office for more details.

Veterans and military families often pay in-state tuition

According to the GI Bill, schools are required to charge in-state tuition prices to qualified veterans regardless of their state of residency. Some schools also extend this benefit to military families. You can learn more about the GI Bill with our guide to financial aid for veterans.

However, different schools have different policies for how this program works. Your school’s financial aid office should be able to tell you if you’re eligible for a tuition waiver for your service.

3. Establish residency

Not in a rush to go to school? You can also qualify for lower in-state tuition at public schools by moving to and working in the state where you want to go to college. Generally, you need to live in the state for at least one year before you can qualify for in-state tuition, though that alone is often not enough.

To qualify for in-state tuition in most cases, you must also give up residency in your previous state — changing your driver’s license is a start. You also need to be completely independent from your parents unless they move with you — meaning you’re entirely responsible for paying for college. You can typically find information about residency requirements through your school’s admissions office or your state’s department of education.
How to establish residency to qualify for in-state tuition

4. Apply to a school where you have legacy

Some public universities offer in-state tuition to students whose parents or other relatives attended the school. Often, these programs come with additional requirements: You might need to have a high GPA or score in the top percentiles on the SAT and ACT to qualify. You also typically need to stay enrolled full time and in good academic standing to remain eligible.

Have your alumnus parent reach out to the school’s alumni association for more details on the legacy program or get in touch yourself — you might be able to get them to put in a good word for you with admissions.

5. Apply for merit- and need-based scholarships

Sometimes you can make up for the cost of going to school out of state by applying for merit- and need-based scholarships. While public schools tend to offer more options to residents, many also offer funding regardless of where you live.

You can also look into scholarships available to residents of your home state — some don’t require you to attend an in-state school to qualify. And if you’re from a big city or county, you might be eligible for even more local scholarships, despite going to school in another state.

6. Visit the college fairs and open houses

College fairs and open houses are where you get to learn about schools that haven’t been filtered by Google’s algorithm or best-of series editors. There’s a chance you’ll find a school that’s a good match for you that you might not have otherwise heard of. You may also be able to find schools that offer scholarships you can qualify for that are potentially cheaper than attending a school in your state.

Go prepared by making a list of questions about features you care about the most — be it a certain department, discipline or extracurricular activity.

7. Consider the on-campus social life

Moving to a new state often means you have to build your family away from home. If you have the opportunity to visit the school before applying, do so. If not, look into the kinds of social activities it has both on and off campus. Are there any clubs you might want to join? Events or jobs in the area that you might want be interested in?

Also, contact the admissions office and alumni association to get in touch with current and former students. Go in with questions about areas that interest you. And ask about what surprised them most when they moved to campus — this can help you get a better idea of what your experience will really be like.

8. Spend extra time on the application

Schools — especially public universities — often give preference to students who are residents. Getting admitted as an out-of-state student might be more challenging, especially if you need financial aid to help cover the cost.

If you have limited time to spend on college applications, give out-of-state schools priority. Don’t leave your essays to the last minute and reach out to your guidance counselor as well as the school’s admissions office if you have any questions. Double-check everything and have a friend, parent or teacher go over it with you to be sure you aren’t overlooking any mistakes.

Bottom line

Going to school in another state can make for an intense college experience. It’s not quite as easy to visit your family when you get homesick or bored of your meal plan. It can also be more expensive if you attend a state school — unless you find the right kind of funding.

You can learn more about how to pay for school by reading our guide to student loans.

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Anna Serio was a lead editor at Finder, specializing in consumer and business financing. A trusted lending expert and former certified commercial loan officer, Anna's written and edited more than 1,000 articles on Finder to help Americans strengthen their financial literacy. Her expertise and analysis on personal, student, business and car loans has been featured in publications like Business Insider, CNBC and Nasdaq, and has appeared on NBC and KADN. Anna holds an MA in Middle Eastern studies from the American University of Beirut and a BA in Creative Writing from Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, CUNY. See full bio

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