Guidelines for obtaining in-state tuition rates (or the next best thing)
If your student longs to attend (or is already enrolled at) an out-of-state public university, you surely find yourself asking, “How can we reduce this bill? Is there a legitimate way for out-of-staters to qualify for in-state tuition?”
Good news. There are ways to bring out-of-state tuition down to a more manageable level. Take the case of a resourceful student named Aubrey (who happens to be my sister). Our parents were prepared to finance her education up to the amount of tuition at a public in-state university. However, she’d set her heart on an out-of-state school, so she started investigating. Traditional strategies of affording out-of-state schools include scholarships, work-study, and loans, but Aubrey found a different path. It lowered the cost so much that in the end her dream school was less expensive than staying in state.
How did Aubrey do it? At a college night presentation, she heard about the Western Undergraduate Exchange, an arrangement that reduces tuition costs for eligible students from the participating states. Wisely, she read the fine print and acted fast. “Each university in the WUE only has a limited number of spots,” our mother recalled. Aubrey submitted her application in time to grab a WUE spot at her school of choice.
Through research, timely action, and careful attention to the state-by-state rules, any family can take advantage of opportunities to decrease a student’s tuition costs at an out-of-state university. Here are the most important things to know.
1: Exchanges and Scholarships
If your student can’t find her area of academic interest at an in-state school, you may be in luck. Groups of states come together to ensure access to the relevant instruction. If your state participates in one of these exchanges, your student can qualify for tuition rates reduced generally to 1.5 times the in-state rate — a substantial savings. Fine print: this usually only applies when the academic major is not offered at any in-state school, and limited spots may be available. (Read more about academic common markets here.)
Some state schools offer scholarship opportunities to students in neighboring states or any student with special skills or talents. Neighboring states may also make exceptions for students living near the borders. Many states vie for National Merit Finalists and Semi-Finalists! Check the specific university website and talk to a financial aid officer for school-specific information.
If your student’s dream school doesn’t offer these options, she may be able to make up the difference in outside scholarships (learn more about finding scholarships here).
2: Establishing Residency
The guidelines vary by state and are subject to the state’s interpretation of the proofs you provide. In general, as you research regulations, be attentive to:
Relationship to parents or guardians
If your student is a dependent, you would have to move to the state yourself to establish her residency. What does it take for her to establish residency on her own? It’s easy if she’s over a certain age (21–24 in most states), married, or previously legally emancipated. Otherwise, she has to satisfy the state-by-state requirements. Again, these vary by state, but mainly involve your student proving that she is financially independent. Most states define financial independence as meaning that a student is not receiving any substantial financial support from you, including college savings accounts.
Length and limitations on what is considered acceptable demonstration of living in the state (domicile)
While length is generally clear (usually 12 months), take note that, in most cases, time spent living in the state while attending the university does not count toward residency. If your student wants to move to the state and work for a year to establish residency, she may be allowed to take classes part time — clarify this with the institution.
Proofs of Residency
Build up that paper trail! A full-time job, taxes filed in the state, obtaining a driver’s license, and registering a car in the state help. Also, owning a home (or signing a long-term lease), having a bank account, or writing sworn statements of intent to stay in the state can help support your student’s case.
Your student can talk to the university if she’s unsure whether she’s meeting all the requirements. Her school will appreciate her effort to follow the rules.
Exceptions exist for cases such as: students who are (or whose parents are) in the military, students whose parents are alumni, or children of law enforcement officers or firefighters killed in the line of duty. This varies by state so be sure to check to see if your student might qualify.
Other recent articles by Evanne Montoya:
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