In-State vs. Out-of-State Status
Your choice of a college or university will affect the course of your future, not just for the next few years, but also for the rest of your life. In the short-term, you’ll need to consider factors like the quality of the school’s academic resources, the availability of certain programs or majors, and the proximity of the school to your home. For the long-term, you’ll want to think about factors like the cost of your education and the value of your degree in your chosen field.
One of the most important decisions you’ll make is choosing between a state school and a private institution. Many state universities have academic reputations that rival the most prestigious private colleges, but because they’re subsidized by public funds, state universities are considerably less expensive for students who qualify as residents. But what if you want to attend a state school as a non-resident? You might find that the cost of out-of-state tuition at a public university is just as high — if not higher — than many private institutions.
Why Is State Residency Important?
Cost is one of the biggest considerations for students entering college today. With the costs of tuition and other college-related expenses on the rise, the number of young people borrowing money to complete their education is also increasing. The amount of money you need to borrow depends largely on whether you choose a public or private institution. The Public Policy Institute of California reports that students attending state schools borrow significantly less money than those attending private non-profit or private for-profit institutions.
In order to take advantage of the financial benefits of attending a state school, you must be a state resident. Residents can qualify for substantially lower tuition rates, as well as state-based educational grants, scholarships, or loans. State residency requirements are designed to give in-state students the first opportunity to use public funds for their education. Otherwise, these resources could be depleted by students residing in the state just to go to college.
For the purpose of attending a state school, residency rules are often established by the state’s board of education. In some cases, these requirements are left up to the school’s Board of Regents. The best way to verify your specific requirements is to check with the Department of Admissions at the state college or university you want to attend. The school will be the final authority on determining your in-state or out-of-state status.
What Is In-State Status?
In-state status means that you or one of your parents (if you are a dependent) have established residency according to the laws of a particular state. The states vary in their residency requirements. Most states require that you live in that state for a certain amount of time — ranging from six months to two years — before the first day of classes. However, some states, like Tennessee, do not require that you or your parents have lived in the state for any specific amount of time before establishing residency. If your parents are divorced or separated, the parent you live with most of the time must meet the residency requirements.
For students who are financially independent, the residency requirements may be different. As an independent student, you may need to have lived in the state for a longer period of time than a dependent minor, for example. You may also need to meet additional requirements, such as a minimum age of 18, 19, or 21.
- Having a job in that state
- Having a state driver’s license
- Having a checking or savings account at a state-based bank
- Buying a home in that state
- Being a member of local community organizations
- Having a library card
The more evidence you have of your residency, the greater your chances of achieving in-state status. Once you’ve submitted your documents and your application for residency, you may be required to sign a legal document stating that your information is true and correct.
Students who move to another state for the purpose of attending school are considered to be non-residents unless they intend to settle in that state after graduation. The penalties for falsifying residency information can be severe. For instance, at the University of Nebraska, students who are caught falsifying their residency information face suspension or even expulsion. They may also be required to pay back the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition.
Can My Status Change While I’m in School?
In most cases, students who come from out of state to attend a state school are considered non-residents for the duration of their enrollment. Even if you meet the durational requirements for residency by living in a state for a certain period of time, you are still classified as an out-of-state student for tuition purposes if your primary purpose is to attend school.
Your status might change if you take steps to establish a permanent home in your state, such as buying a house or securing a job in that state before graduation. In cases like these, your school will determine whether you’re eligible for in-state status.
- My chances of being accepted at a school? Traditionally, admission to state schools has been highly competitive, and state residents have been given priority in the admissions process. But these days, notes The New York Times, many states are actively recruiting out-of-state students to increase the diversity of their population and to boost their income.
- The costs of my education? Attending a state school as a resident can definitely cut the cost of your education. Students at publicly subsidized schools have lower tuition fees and graduate, on average, with less student loan debt than students at private colleges.
- Other college-related costs? Students who attend college in their home state can save a lot of money on travel costs when visiting family. Living at home while you’re attending a state school can cut your expenses — such as food, housing, and transportation — considerably.
- Financial aid and student loans? Many states offer grants, loans, and scholarships based on merit to their residents. Students with in-state status can save money not only by taking advantage of public tuition, but also by qualifying for state-based financial aid. Student Financial Aid Services notes that nearly $10 billion in state funds were allocated to state residents in 2012 to 2013 alone.
How Can I Save Money as an Out-of-State Student?
Higher tuition costs shouldn’t necessarily discourage you from attending an out-of-state university. There are a lot of advantages to going out of state for college, such as experiencing a new culture, establishing independence, and taking advantage of special programs. In some states, like North Carolina and California, admission to public universities is very difficult for out-of-state students. But regional programs and reciprocity agreements are making tuition more affordable for students who don’t want to attend school in the region where they reside.
The New England Board of Higher Education, for example, sponsors the New England Regional Student Program to cut the costs of out-of-state tuition for residents of this region. Students who live in one of six New England States can attend schools in states within the area at a discount. To qualify, they must enroll in a program or major that is not available at a public institution in their own state. Other regions of the country also offer Regional Student Programs, including:
- The Academic Common Market: A program for students of the southern states who want to pursue a major that isn’t offered in their home state.
- The Midwest Student Exchange Program. Students in the midwestern states can qualify for this regional program. Several private institutions also participate in this program, offering tuition discounts to students who live in the Midwest.
- The Western Undergraduate Exchange: A regional program for students in the western states. According to U.S. News & World Report, students participating in this program can save up to $7,500 per year on out-of-state tuition costs. Each state varies in its requirements for this program.
These reciprocity agreements make it easier for students to achieve their academic goals without taking on a large burden of student debt.
Making the Right Choice
The cost of tuition is only one of the factors to consider when you’re choosing a college but it happens to be one of the most important criteria. In 2012, the average college graduate had accumulated over $29,000 in student loans, according to the Project on Student Debt. Saving money on tuition will leave you free to build a new life and pursue your dreams after college. As you plan for your future, think carefully about how your residency status can affect the costs of your education.