You got the acceptance letter you’ve been hoping for, and the news is good. You got in! The only downside? You’re an out-of-state student, and that means paying out-of-state tuition. Establishing residency for the sole purpose of decreasing your tuition as an in-state student is notoriously difficult, but not impossible.
Qualifying for in-state tuition can mean significant savings. According to the College Board , the average out-of-state tuition in the 2018 to 2019 school year was $26,290, whereas for the average in-state tuition the same year was $10,230.
Each state has their own requirements for establishing residency. Requirements can also vary based on the university, which can add confusion to the process. Here are some of the general requirements that states and universities usually require to determine residency:
• Physical Presence. Most states need you to be a resident for 12 consecutive months before you qualify for in-state tuition. The time to establish residency could be more or less, depending on the state.
• Intent. Students must prove that they are living in a state for more reasons than just attending school.
• Financial Independence. Typically, students must prove they are financially independent in some way.
Tips for Establishing Residency
Establishing residency can be difficult, but with these tips and a little legwork, you may figure out how to become a resident of the state of your choosing, and as a result, possibly reduce your tuition bill.
Consider Relocation…Like Yesterday
Since most states require you to be a resident for 12 consecutive months , it makes sense to relocate as soon as you can. If you are currently enrolled in a school, and are hoping to establish residency, this could mean spending your summers on-campus or at the very least in that state.
You’ll generally have to cut ties to your home state too. This means things like changing voter registration, renting or buying property, and paying income taxes in your new state.
Boost Your Reasons for Moving
You’ll need to prove the reason you moved to the state wasn’t solely for getting in-state tuition (even if it was).
There are a few things you can do to help prove intent:
• get a new driver’s license
• register a vehicle
• get a state hunting and/or fishing license
• open a local bank account
• get a local library card
On the other hand, having any of these things in your old state may make it more difficult to establish residency in your new state.
You May Have to Distance Yourself from Your Parents
One of the requirements for establishing residency is financial independence. This can make establishing residency extremely difficult for students between the ages of 18 and 22 who are planning on heading to college right after high school. Becoming an independent student before the age of 24 is challenging, both logistically and emotionally.
You may become an independent student before then if:
• you are married
• you are a veteran
• you have dependents of your own
• you are legally emancipated or a minor
If you are a dependent student, it’s worth weighing the pros and cons of establishing residency on your own. It could mean delaying graduation and paying for college without any help from your family, which would eliminate the option of including them as co-signers on your student loans.
Alternatives to Establishing Residency
Establishing residency in a new state isn’t always the only option for getting in-state tuition. For some students, it can pay to go to school close to home—even if it’s out of their home state. Some states participate in regional reciprocity agreements that let students attend colleges in bordering states at a discount.
Here are a few examples:
New England Regional Student Program
Run by the New England Board of Higher Education, this program allows New England residents to enroll in out-of-state New England public colleges and universities at a discount. To be eligible for the program, students must enroll in an approved major that is not offered by the public colleges and universities in their home state.
This program includes six states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
Midwest Student Exchange Program
Through the MSEP, public institutions agree to charge students no more than 150% of the in-state resident tuition rate for specific programs. Some private colleges and universities offer a 10% reduction on their tuition rates.
Participating states include: Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. You can use its database to find colleges and universities participating in the program.
Southern Regional Education Board’s Academic Common Market
This program is similar to the New England Regional Student Program. It provides tuition-savings to students in the 15 SREB states who are interested in pursuing degrees that are not offered by their in-state institutions. Students are able to enroll in out-of-state institutions that offer their degree program, but they pay the in-state tuition rate.
Participating states include: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. You can use its database to find participating institutions.
Western Undergraduate Exchange
The Western Undergraduate Exchange is open to students from any of the 16 states that participate in the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). The program allows students to enroll as nonresidents in more than 160 participating public colleges and universities and pay 150% (or less) of the enrolling school’s resident tuition.
Participating states and territories include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, U.S. Pacific Territories and Freely Associated States, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
Exceptions for Students without Residency
Sometimes, residency rules are waived or made more lenient for students with special circumstances, including, but not limited to:
• children of military personnel
• family members of teachers or university employees
There is no single database of these exceptions, so if you think you may qualify for one, check with the colleges you are interested in to see whether there are any exceptions and how you can apply for them.
Dealing with Student Loans after Graduation
Even if you’re able to establish residency in a new state and qualify for in-state tuition, you still may need to get student loans to finance your education. If that’s the case, you’ll need to craft a student loan repayment plan when you graduate.
If you have a few student loans, it may be worth considering student loan refinancing, which allows you to take out a new loan with a new interest rate.
When you refinance, lenders will review your credit history, earning potential, and employment history to determine your new rate. With your new degree and a new job, you could stand to significantly lower your interest rate, especially if you took the opportunity to build your credit while you were a student.
A lower interest rate means you’ll spend less money over the life of the loan—depending on the length of your loan term, of course. If you have federal loans, it’s worth noting you’ll lose eligibility for federal repayment plans or protections like deferment or forbearance. To find out how your loans could be improved by refinancing, take a look at our student loan refinance calculator.
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