4 Ways for Out-of-State Students to Get In-State Tuition

So you just got into this fantastic college that makes your parents sigh with relief. There's just one catch—you're an out-of-state student, and the tuition that you have to pay makes you cringe every time you look at the long line of digits. If you cry a little inside just thinking about what could've been if your parents had just picked a different state to live in, you've come to the right place. Check out these four ways to get in-state tuition even when you're from out of state!

1. Ask colleges in neighboring states for reduced tuition

Neighbors help neighbors out, even when it comes to college tuition. If you've been accepted to a college in a neighboring state, it's worth a try to call the college's financial aid office and see if the college provides lower tuition costs for students who live in neighboring states or who live close to the state border.

If you're lucky, your neighbor might really know how to lend a helping hand! According to Mark Kantrowitz, student financial aid expert and senior vice president of financial aid help website Edvisors, in-state tuition can be as little as a third of out-of-state tuition. That's a lot of savings!

2. Look for a regional exchange program

Regional exchange programs also act like friendly neighbors, but on a much larger scale. They're financial aid programs that reduce out-of-state tuition for students attending school in a certain region.

"Sometimes a group of nearby states enter into agreements where students in adjacent states can get in-state tuition rates," Kantrowitz says. "Sometimes this is restricted to academic programs and majors that are not available in the student's home state."

Programs that waive the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition for students who qualify include the National Student Exchange, Academic Common Market, Midwest Student Exchange Program, the New England Board of Higher Education and Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

Pay close attention to the programs' deadlines, guidelines about eligible major choices, academic requirements and capacity limits, because they can differ for each program! With a little research, you'll be saving big bucks in no time.

3. Establish residency

If you want to get in-state tuition for a certain college, why not just become a resident? While it's notoriously difficult to establish residency for tuition reduction purposes, it's certainly possible. If you are fully dedicated and play your cards right, you could end up qualifying as an in-state student through establishing residency. Just make sure that it truly makes sense for you, especially when it comes to saving money, because moving can be a huge expense and commitment.

"In-state tuition isn't for just anybody who wants it," says Jake Wells, founder of In-State Angels, which offers articles, resources, products and services related to learning about and earning in-state tuition. "After all, who wouldn't prefer paying 60 percent less or so for the same education by earning in-state tuition? If a person simply moves to a new state just to attend college, that doesn't cut it." 

In order to not seem like the person who's obviously moving to get in-state tuition, there are basics to consider: According to Kantrowitz, most states require an in-state student to be a state resident for at least 12 continuous months prior to enrollment, and for others, it’s 24 months. In addition, if you're a dependent student, your custodial parent also has to reside in the state.

But then things can get a bit more complicated. In-state residency requires first and foremost a true intent to become a permanent resident of a new state, according to Wells. This entails establishing ties to the new state, like opening a local bank account, severing ties to the former state and establishing a varying degree of financial independence (demonstrated through tax independence from parents who live in the state, employment, loans, etc.) depending on the state and university in question.  

"The college will want to see a preponderance of evidence that the student is indeed a state resident, and for purposes other than just qualifying for in-state tuition," Kantrowitz says. "A student is more likely to qualify for in-state tuition if the student (or parent, if the student is a dependent student) moved to the state for a job; has strong ties to family living in the state; pays taxes as a state resident; gets a library card in the state; gets a state driver's license in the state; registers his/her cars in the state; votes in the state; graduated from a high school in the state [and], if the student/parent has hunting and fishing licenses, gets them in the state, etc."

Remember that every state has its own rules and regulations, and every college within each state has its own interpretations, so it's necessary to do research—and tons of it.

"The College Board has a good list of each state’s residency requirements," says Ryan Luse, an independent education consultant at Suzanne Luse and Associates. "FinAid.org is also a good resource to find out about a specific state’s methods. I also recommend always checking the college’s website, although sometimes information about the cost and residency for tuition purposes can be a bit of a scavenger hunt, as colleges tend to sometimes hide the financial details."

This FinAid webpage has the links to individual state residency requirements for every state. Make sure you know exactly what to do to establish residency and you have ample proof along the way. Even then, there can be a lot of pitfalls. According to Wells, common mistakes include misunderstanding fundamental requirements, failing to adhere to deadlines, trivializing certain parts of the process that seem non-essential and failing to officially document things like employment, loans, savings and income. At some schools, the petition including all evidence and documentation of your in-state status can be upwards of 300 pages.

"If it were a piece of cake, then there wouldn't be around 2 million out-of-state college students," Wells says. "In general, it's an intensive and paperwork-heavy process commonly spanning over a year or more. It's a process that you either take seriously and do 100 percent, or you might as well not even try—doing a halfway job is a waste of time."

Nevertheless, if you're fully dedicated and have researched, strategized and documented like crazy, you might just be able to make this all work and finally gain that hard-to-obtain status of in-state student.

 4. You or your parents work for the college, state or government

It would be a miracle if your parents had the power to suddenly change jobs on a whim, but if your parents just so happen to work as state employees, faculty or staff at a college, members of the military, law enforcement or firefighters, you may be able to receive a tuition waiver or tuition remission.

"Most states have exceptions in their state residency rules for veterans," Kantrowitz says. "There are also exceptions, depending on the state, for children of first responders (police, fire, EMT), especially those who died in the line of duty."

So while a lot of the programs are based on geography, there are others that are linked to employment as well. It wouldn't hurt to do some research, and who knows? Maybe your parent might just be the answer to your tuition headaches.

With a lot of research and determination, you'll be on your way to lowering your tuition! It won't be easy, but if you put the hard work into it, it’ll be worth it.