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How to Get in-State Tuition as an Out-of-State Student

Public colleges and universities are some of the most affordable options for students. After all, individual states fund in-state institutions in their states so that they are affordable for residents. In-state tuition can be quite a bit more affordable than out-of-state tuition.

However, what if you want to attend a public college as an out-of-state student—is there a way that you can pay in-state tuition?

Yes, there are! In fact, there are three majors ways that students can access in-state tuition as an out-of-state student:

  • Establish residency in another state
  • Tuition exchange programs
  • Apply for non-resident tuition scholarships

All of these options will give students opportunities for discounted, in-state tuition rates. In the following article, we’ll talk about how much money students can save with in-state tuition and how to qualify as an in-state student. Let’s get started!

Also see: What’s the difference between a public and private university?

How much can students save with in-state tuition?

In-state tuition can lead to some serious savings for students. According to a 2022-2023 research report from the College Board, the average in-state tuition was $10,940, while the average out-of-state tuition was $28,240, a difference of over $17,000.

Over four years of college, this amounts to over $68,000! Of course, tuition at individual public colleges and universities will vary and this will only apply to public institutions. Private colleges and universities will charge the same tuition regardless of residency. In case you were curious, the same research report from the College Board found that average private college tuition was $39,400 in 2022-2023.

Let’s take a look at this example from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

North Carolina ResidentsOut-of-state Residents
Tuition & Fees$8,998$37,558
Housing & Meals$12,254$12,254
Direct Costs$21,254$49, 812

Source: UNC-Chapel Hill (2022-2023)

While the “housing & meals” cost is the same, the in-state tuition for North Carolina residents is roughly 4x less than out-of-state tuition. In fact, lower tuition for in-state residents is true for colleges across the country.

UNC-Chapel Hill is not alone in offering in-state students a great deal on tuition. If you are looking to save some serious money, you should absolutely consider attending college as an in-state student.

Establish residency in another state

The most straight-forward way to get in-state tuition is to simply establish residency in another state.

There are two big factors that colleges will use to determine whether you are eligible for in-state residency:

  • Have you lived in the state as your primary residence? (usually for at least 12 months)
  • Do you plan on making the state your permanent home? (aside from simply attending college)

Every state will have its own set of rules surrounding the establishment of residency and some states are stricter than others. If you have questions, you should absolutely reach out to the college in question or consult the appropriate state office that deals with residency.

Residency when a student’s parents are divorced

If a student’s parents are divorced and live in different states, the state residency can be based on the state residency of either parent. Note that some states may limit this to the parent who has legal custody of the student. 

Regional tuition exchange programs

Tuition exchange programs allow out-of-state students to attend colleges in their region at a discounted price or an in-state tuition rate. Note that these tuition exchange programs are not always for public institutions–some of them include private institutions too.

Top regional tuition exchange programs:

  • Midwest Student Exchange
  • New England Regional Student Program
  • Professional Student Exchange Program
  • Regional Contract Program
  • Southern Regional Education Board Academic Common Market
  • Western Undergraduate Exchange
  • Western Regional Graduate Program

Midwest Student Exchange

The Midwest Student Exchange is open to students from Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. Through this program, public institutions agree to charge students no more than 150% of the in-state tuition rate and private schools offer a 10% discount.

Some institutions may have caps on the number of students that can take part in this, as well as restrictions on programs.

New England Regional Student Program

The New England Regional Student Program is open to students in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. This program supports both graduate and undergraduate students who attend public institutions to study approved programs.

Professional Student Exchange Program

The Professional Student Exchange Program is open to students in Alaska, Arizona, Commonwealth of the North Mariana Islands, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming who are majoring in specific out-of-state health care professional programs.

Regional Contract Program

The Regional Contract Program is open to students in Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina who are pursuing degrees in dentistry, medicine, optometry, osteopathic medicine, podiatry and veterinary medicine.

Southern Regional Education Board Academic Common Market

The Southern Regional Education Board Academic Common Market is open to students in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia who study an approved academic program.

Western Undergraduate Exchange

The Western Undergraduate Exchange is open to students in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming who study an approved undergraduate program.

Western Regional Graduate Program

The Western Regional Graduate Program is open to students in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming who study an approved graduate program.

Other state agreements

Some states may also have tuition reciprocity programs that allow students to access in-state tuition rates at out-of-state schools. For example, the states of Colorado and New Mexico have had a tuition reciprocity agreement since 1985.

Apply for non-resident tuition scholarships

If you can’t establish residency and the tuition exchange programs are not an option, you can look into specific scholarships that will offer students in-state tuition rates (regardless of their residency).

Generally, these scholarships are merit awards open to strong academic students. Some colleges may also offer special scholarships to students who are legacies (they have a family member–usually a parent or grandparent–who attended the college).

Oftentimes these scholarships are referred to as “nonresident tuition waivers”. These scholarships can typically be combined with need-based financial aid through the FAFSA and the CSS Profile!

Non-Resident Tuition Scholarships

University of Arkansas

Colorado State University

University of Michigan-Dearborn

Mississippi State University

University of Missouri

Northern Arizona University

University of South Carolina

Texas A&M

Utah State University

West Virginia University

Additional resources

As you apply to college, it’s important to have a few affordable options to ensure that you end up at a school you can afford. Our guide on how many colleges to apply to can help out. We can also help you balance your applications between reach, safety, and match schools. It’s also good to make sure you understand the definition of a financial safety school and how to pick your school when the time comes. 

Additionally, once you gain admission to a school, you’ll receive a financial aid award letter. Ensure you know how to interpret these letters accurately and learn how to write an appeal letter if the award is not enough. Good luck on your application process and make sure to check out our free scholarship search tool to help fund your education!

Related: How to get scholarships for out-of-state students

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • In-state tuition can offer a steep discount to paying for college tuition
  • While establishing residency in a new state is an option for accessing in-state tuition, this can be a difficult process and may not be worthwhile
  • The best options for students who want to attend college out-of-state and who want to save money on in-state tuition is to take advantage of a tuition exchange program or apply to a college that has special scholarships for non-residents
Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions about how to get in-state tuition as an out-of-state student

Why is in-state tuition so much cheaper?

Public universities and colleges receive funding from their state through tax dollars that are paid by the residents of that state. It’s because of those tax dollars that those who live in the state get a reduced tuition rate. Those who come from out of state do not contribute to those taxes and pay a higher tuition rate to compensate for the cost of their education.  

What is the easiest state to get residency in?

Each state will have their own rules about how to gain residency, which means some will be easier to gain residency in than others. However, be careful pursuing school in a certain state just because it is easier to gain residency there than in others. You should strive to find the right school and program for you first, financial details will follow. Remember, there are lots of ways to pay for school!

What are the harder states to get residency in?

Again, just as you should not necessarily choose a state for how easy it is to become a resident in, don’t rule out states by how hard they are to gain residency in either. Try talking with professionals at the schools you want to attend. There are sometimes exceptions for students who would like to gain residency, that aren’t available to regular people who may just want to move to that state and gain residency.