Everyone knows that attending a public college or university on an in-state basis is one of the best ways to get a quality secondary education for a relatively reasonable price.
But if your dream school is a public school in another state, that doesn’t mean you’re stuck paying out-of-state tuition.
There are several ways to snag in-state tuition at your school of choice:
1. Establish residency
The obvious way to get in-state tuition is to live in the state of the school you plan to attend. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a resident in the strictest sense.
If your parents are divorced and live in different states, you may be able to establish residency by using your other parent’s address to apply to school. The same could be true of a grandparent or close relative.
You may also be able to establish residency where your school is located after you’ve attended school for a certain period of time.
Students in the City University of New York (CUNY) system, for example, are eligible to apply for in-state tuition after they have lived in New York for one year and one day and can demonstrate intent to stay.
Another way you may be able to establish residency is to take a gap year or take classes part-time for a year in the state where you want to attend school. Note that you'll need to do this for one year prior to when you'll be seeking in-state tuition.
Make sure that however you choose to establish yourself in your new state, you create a paper trail to back up your residency. Setting up a bank account and utilities in your name and registering to vote are good ways to show you aren't just passing through and you plan to put down roots in the state.
2. Explore reciprocity agreements or regional exchange programs with nearby states
Several regions have exchange programs set up with other states in the region that offer discounts to all college students residing in those states. These include:
- New England Board of Higher Education
- Southern Regional Education Board’s Academic Common Market
- Midwest Student Exchange Program
- Western Interstate Commision for Higher Education’s Student Exchange Programs
Some states have forged agreements with neighboring states that allow students to get in-state tuition at any public school in either state.
For instance, Wisconsin and Minnesota have a tuition reciprocity agreement, which means students from either state can get in-state tuition at public schools in both states. Minnesota also has similar agreements with South and North Dakota as well as Manitoba in Canada.
Even individual schools in states that don’t participate in an exchange program sometimes offer in-state tuition, scholarships, or will reduce the out-of-state tuition for qualifying students from neighboring states.
The University of Arkansas offers a scholarship for students from surrounding states who meet requirements for GPA and standardized test scores. Georgia Southern University offers lowered tuition to any student from neighboring Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina and Alabama.
3. Look into legacy scholarships from the school your parent attended
If your parent or parents attended a university outside of your current state, you might want to see if extra funds are available to help you continue the family trend.
For example, The University of Missouri’s Black and Gold scholarship awards in-state tuition to out-of-state students who are the child of a Missouri grad and maintain good grades.
See also: How Much is the Average College Tuition?
4. Earn the grades
Don’t make the mistake of determining whether you can afford a school based on just the initial price tag.
Students with exceptional grades who apply for schools on an out-of-state basis sometimes find that their grades have qualified them for scholarships large enough to negate the tuition increase for out-of-state students.
5. Take advantage of your parent’s job
Military brats take note: children of military parents might be able to get in-state tuition because of a parent's service. Policies vary by school, so contact each school you’re considering to find out if that could be an option for you.
And armed forces members aren’t the only ones who can get this deal. Some schools even offer in-state tuition to first responders and educators. Doing some preliminary research about school policies could mean big savings down the road.
Check with your school
Regardless of your chosen method for trying to reduce your tuition bill, make sure you check with your school's financial aid and bursar's office to confirm what policies are in place.
The rules for in-state vs. out-of-state tuition can be very strict and you don't want to rely on a discount that won't be available. You could end up stuck with a bill that's much higher than you can handle.
And if none of these strategies are right for you, it may be time to give your in-state schools a second chance. Public schools in every state offer a solid degree in fields like education, engineering, nursing and other common career paths.
Go in person to check out state schools that fit your budget. You may find there’s actually a lot more to like than just the affordable price tag.
Learn more about state-based financial aid.