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How to Get In-State Tuition Prices at an Out-of-State College

Suzanne Shaffer

It’s common knowledge that public universities in your state offer students the most affordable option when it comes to a college education. In addition, the pandemic has certainly played a part in keeping students closer to home.

However, as Covid restrictions are lifted and colleges move toward normalcy, your student may choose to attend a college further away from home.

That could present a financial dilemma if your student wants to attend one of the many out-of-state public universities where you aren’t a resident. Be prepared to pay a higher price than in-state residents.

If you can’t find a good public university option in your state and your student wants to attend one in another state, don’t despair. Here are six options to consider.

1. Establish In-State Residency

Establishing residency in the state of the college your student wants to attend could be an option. However, there are guidelines you will need to follow:

  • Generally, students must establish residency for 12 months prior to enrolling.
  • Students need to provide proof of residency: driver’s license, voter registration, car registration.
  • Colleges screen students for relocation purposes and students must demonstrate financial independence.
  • If parents claim the student as a dependent on taxes, the student is considered a resident of the state the parents file in.
  • A student of divorced parents might qualify for residency in both states depending on where the financial support comes from.

These are basic guidelines. If you are considering this option, check with the college to verify residency requirements.

One exception to residency rules would be if one or both parents are in the military. Many universities will offer a tuition waiver that allows the student to qualify for in-state rates.

2. Find Universities with Low Out-of-State Sticker Prices

Many schools in less populated areas are eager to attract students and willing to offer reduced rates to out-of-state students. At some of these schools, the tuition will be comparable to some of the high in-state colleges and universities. Schools like University of Virginia and University of Michigan have high in-state tuition rates. It might be cheaper to attend a college out-of-state at a low-priced university if your state has high priced public universities.

In addition, if your student is applying to out-of-state public schools, financial aid might come in the form of non-resident merit scholarships or tuition discounts reducing the cost you will pay.

3. Find Schools that Offer In-State Rates to Attract Students

When my daughter was applying out of state, we found this out quickly. Since she was a good student with a high GPA and other academic achievements, some colleges offered her merit scholarships and tuition waivers because she was applying to an eastern college with very few Texans in their student population.

The University of Alabama, for instance, will award students with a high GPA and good standardized test scores a $20,000 annual scholarship which will offset the out-of-state costs. Texas A&M University will waive non-resident tuition if your student is awarded an institutional scholarship of at least $4,000.

If your student is an average student, don’t despair. Colleges are still looking for out-of-state residents to diversify their student population. Oklahoma State University will give non-residents $10,000 a year if they score 24 on the ACT or 1190 on the SAT and have a 3.0 GPA. Some colleges waive out-of-state fees for students who meet minimal qualifications, such as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette that awards out-of-state tuition waivers to students with ACT scores of 20 or SAT scores of at least 1030, and GPAs of at least 2.5.

Scour the college websites and search for these accommodations for out-of-state students if your student has their heart set on attending a public university out of state.

4. Look for State Reciprocity Agreements

Sometimes states have flexible residency requirements for students who live near state lines and want to attend college in a nearby state.

Minnesota holds a reciprocity agreement with several neighboring states: Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, plus a community college in Iowa and the Canadian province of Manitoba. This agreement reduces nonresident tuition for students to attend their public universities.

Colorado and New Mexico have an agreement that offers students of those states in-state tuition when they cross state lines. Texas offers nonresident tuition waivers to students from Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma. New Mexico has an agreement with Colorado and Arizona. Ohio provides in-state tuition to students who reside in a contiguous state.

5. Take Advantage of Exchange Programs

There are also exchange programs which provide reduced or in-state tuition for some or all states in a geographic region. In some instances, there are certain requirements, such as minimum GPA or test scores, and/or you must be pursuing an eligible degree.

Academic Common Market (South)

This exchange stipulates the degree you want to pursue must not be available in your home state. Only select colleges in the states listed participate, and those that do may set their own GPA and test score requirements. It is crucial to understand that you are locked into the specific program of study if you decide to use this tuition discount. If your student switches, they will be charged full out-of-state tuition.

Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP) (Midwest)

Similar to the other exchange programs, not every college participates, and each college sets its own admission guidelines regarding academic performance and what specific degrees would merit the discount.

New England Regional Student Program (Northeast)

Students must be in an approved program or area of study; many colleges only allow eligibility if the student’s degree is not offered in their home state. There are over 1,200 eligible graduate and undergraduate degree programs at the 82 participating schools.

Southern Regional Education Board’s Regional Contract Program (South)

Qualified students may pursue professional health degrees at participating out-of-state universities — paying in-state tuition at public institutions and reduced tuition at private ones. Students in participating states can earn degrees in dentistry, optometry, osteopathic medicine, podiatry and veterinary medicine.

Western Undergraduate Exchange (West)

The Western Undergraduate Exchange allows students to attend a college/university in the member states. Students can choose from hundreds of undergraduate programs outside their home state and pay no more than 150 percent of that institution’s resident tuition rate which is a substantial savings. Full nonresident college-tuition rates may exceed 300 percent of resident rates.

There is also a National Student Exchange which provides discounted tuition at more than 150 colleges, including colleges in all 50 states.

6. Consider Legacy Scholarships

Many colleges offer discounted rates if your student is a legacy student, often waiving non-resident tuition charges. For instance, Boise State has an Alumni Legacy Scholarship that covers the cost of in-state tuition and fees. The applicant must have a parent or grandparent who graduated and is a member of the alumni association and must also meet GPA and standardized test score requirements.

Qualifications and requirements vary among colleges and may change each year. Do your research because many schools are going test-optional and adjusting their scholarships accordingly.

Evaluate Your Options

Ultimately, you and your student need to do your own research if you want to pay in-state tuition at an out-of-state college. Maybe there’s a school you initially ruled out because you thought it was too expensive to attend out of state. Check on the college website and research the state’s higher education website for reciprocity agreements. If you have questions, call the financial aid or admissions office for clarification. Attending an out-of-state public university may be within your financial reach.

Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been featured in print and online on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, U.S. News College, TeenLife, Smart College Visit, Road2College and more.
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