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In-State Tuition
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How to Score In-State Tuition at an Out-of-State School

Prospective college students looking to score in-state tuition to an out-of-state school are having to get more creative than ever.

Gone are the days when you could use a grandparent’s address or move to the school’s state prior to enrollment to take advantage of much lower in-state tuition. Most state schools have tightly closed residency loopholes, leading out-of-state residents to pay top dollar to attend.

The average in-state tuition at a public school is $10,116, according to U.S. News and World Report, versus $22,577 in out-of-state tuition. But that split can be even wider depending on the individual school, especially high-ranked and popular universities, and additional financial aid.

In-state students will pay about $35,335 at UCLA while out-of-state students are charged $65,089, a difference of 84%. At the University of Texas, in-state students will pay $28,442 compared to $56,304 for out-of-state tuition, a 98% difference. And at the University of Michigan in-state tuition is $8,597 and out-of-state is $27,233, a difference of 216%.

“I think a lot of parents have this notion of higher education being this ivory tower mindset of educating America’s youth and providing for the common good and building an educated citizenry and all that — which is a true point,” said Brock Jolly, a financial advisor and founder of The College Funding Coach“However, colleges are also big business and, in many ways, colleges don’t want to create loopholes for families to be able to qualify for in-state tuition unnecessarily.”

But there might be ways to score in-state tuition cost to an out-of-state school that can save you tens of thousands of dollars in college tuition.

Have a Parent Living Out of State

Family connections used to be the go-to way to qualify for in-state tuition, whether it was a grandparent or a cousin or an aunt or uncle. But now there is really only one way to take advantage of your family’s address for residency requirements — a parent living in the same state as the school.

Students also can’t move “in-state”and claim residency for a public college if they are still a dependent of their parents on their taxes and their parents reside out-of-state. The Department of Education has ruled that you have to be fully independent to be able to claim an in-state residency when moving to that state. And that threshold is typically age 24 or in graduate school. Most schools now have in-state tuition requirements listed on their websites.

“You have to check the boxes,” he said. “It’s not as simple as physical presence in that state.”

Take Advantage of Reciprocity Agreements 

“This is where a student in one state goes to an out-of-state, state school in a state that has a reciprocity agreement with your home state,” Jolly said.

For example, Jolly’s home state of Virginia participates in an educational agreement between states called the Academic Common Market, which is comprised of 15 states primarily in the southeast. Under this reciprocity agreement, a Virginia student can attend an out-of-state school and apply for in-state tuition at any of the state schools in the market as long as their major is not available in their home state. 

So while it is unlikely to get you in-state tuition for an education or accounting degree, he said, you will have better luck if you are aiming for a specialized major such as marine biology.

There are three other reciprocity agreement markets in addition to the Academic Common Market that serve different areas of the country. They are

Some areas also have individual reciprocity agreements with each other to reduce tuition rates.

“If you live in certain counties or in some places, certain states, you may have a tuition discount agreement with the next state over,” Jolly said.

Find Great Schools with Wider Range of In-State Tuition Exceptions

There are many public universities across the country that are more likely to offer in-state tuition to certain students to be able to boost their own statistics, such as being able to say they have students from all 50 states.

“That’s an easy thing, say for UCLA and Dartmouth and Michigan and the University of Texas,” Jolly said. “It’s a more difficult thing for the University of North Dakota, Mississippi State, West Virginia University, and plenty of others.”

If you are a student from a state that might not be well represented at a particular out-of-state-school, it may help not only with finances but also with admissions as a non-resident, he added.

“It’s all driven by rankings data,” Jolly said, so that schools can boast about their student population.

This can also work to a student’s advantage if they have certain stand-out academic or sports achievements that a school may be looking for.

The University of Oklahoma, for example, offers extremely deep discounts for national merit scholar finalists, even those from out of state.

Be Flexible and Consider Your Home State Options

Many undergraduate students and their parents come in with their hearts and mind set on a particular school or strong opinions on public versus private schools.

But they can save more money college costs and have a better experience by considering all of their options and different states, even if it’s not a Top 10 school.

“There’s a myriad factors that go into this discussion,” he said. “A big part of that is what does your child want to study?”

If the student wants to study something offered at most colleges and universities, such as English major, they should definitely be looking at their in-state options.

And if they have their heart set on an out-of-state school and are planning on getting a graduate degree, consider going to an in-state school for undergrad to save money and then apply to your dream college for grad school.

There are a few other exceptions for discounts at out-of-state schools that are worth a mention. 

They include:

  • Legacy scholarships. Students who had a parent or grandparent graduate from that university may be offered deep discounts. In some cases, the out-of-state fee is waived for legacy students.
  • Having stand out grades in high school. Many schools will offer merit discounts to out-of-state students with top grades.
  • Military service. Many schools will offer in-state tuition rates to various military and veterans groups.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the interview subjects are not necessarily those of Earnest.

Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.