Focus on In-State Tuition Rates

College can be costly. One of the best ways to save on this major expense is to attend a public college or state university located in your state, or in a neighboring state.

Focus on In-State Tuition Rates

It also may be possible to take advantage of certain regional tuition discounts in order to attend a school in a neighboring state while still paying lower in-state rates. Taking advantage of state or regional college tuition discounts can dramatically reduce the cost of attending a reputable college or university and, ultimately, reduce your student loan burden. Read on to find out how going to school in-state can save you money and improve your educational experience.

What are in-state tuition rates?

In-state tuition refers to the discounted cost of college for students attending a public college or state university in their home state. The phrase “in-state” inherently refers to public colleges and state universities that receive public funding.

In-state rates rarely refer to private colleges—neither private non-profit, nor for-profit. Typically, students will pay the same tuition rate to attend a private college or university regardless of their state of residence.

Is it better to go to college in- or out-of-state?

Attending a public or state college in your home state is more affordable. Public colleges and state universities offer steep tuition discounts to state residents. Still, whether it is better or not to attend college in-state will largely depend on what you seek from your college experience. There are several factors that should weigh into this decision:

Lower Cost

One of the strongest arguments in favor of attending college in-state is the lower cost for state residents. According to U.S. News & World Report, “In-state tuition and fees at public universities cost more than $12,000 less compared with out-of-state rates for the 2017-2018 school year, according to data submitted to U.S. News in an annual survey.”

Students who are concerned about cost, or the challenge of repaying student loans after leaving school, should consider in-state public college options first. This offers you one of the very best ways to lower the overall cost of a college degree.

For more on controlling costs, check out our Guide to the Cost of College.

Proximity to Home

Cost isn’t the only factor you’ll want to consider before choosing an in-state college. You should also consider your school’s location relative to home. Do you anticipate traveling home only for holidays and vacations, or will you be back every other Friday with a basket of laundry? Are you hoping to stay in close contact with friends and family during the weekends or will you plan to immerse yourself in all the opportunities for socializing that your campus has to offer?

The answers to these questions will help you determine whether you should stay close to home or venture cross-country. There’s no right or wrong answer to any of these questions. It’s all about the college experience you want. Consider how frequently you expect to visit home and factor this into your decision.

Staying in-state leaves you with the flexibility to visit home as often as you’d like. Traveling cross-country for school may limit your opportunities and raise the cost of returning home.

Geographical Desires

If you live in Kansas and you’re looking for a school where you can ski on the weekends, you’ll probably have to leave your home state. The same is true if you live in downtown Detroit and you’re looking for warm, sunny beaches. Your geographical desires must factor into your decision.

Are you interested in the hustle and flow of a big city university? The sprawling, open space of a rural college? The serenity of a verdant campus tucked into a mountain valley?

Is it possible to get the experience you desire in your home state (or in a nearby state that shares a regional agreement with your state)? The answer to this question should play a part in your decision to stay in-state or seek a college education elsewhere.

Why is an in-state college so much cheaper than attending an out-of-state college?

Students who attend college in-state will pay much lower tuition than out-of-state residents. This is because in-state residents have already helped to fund public colleges and universities in their state through tax contributions. The lower tuition rate is the state’s way of repaying those contributions. In a sense, one of the strongest arguments in favor of attending college in-state is that your family’s tax dollars have already helped to fund your institution. That makes this one of the best ways to get your money’s worth out of both college and your tax dollars!

Are there other advantages to attending college in-state?

The lower tuition price-tag isn’t the only benefit of staying close to home. You’ll also have more flexibility when it comes to shaping your college experience and saving money on incidentals.

For instance:

  • Lower Travel Costs: Staying close to home means it costs less to hop in your car or hitch a bus back home for a family dinner, a visit with old friends, or an appointment with the family doctor.
  • Housing Options: Staying closer to home also gives you the freedom to choose on-campus living or commuting from home. If cost is a factor, you could save a fortune by avoiding the cost of campus housing. You would also save on additional campus-related fees and meal plan expenses.
  • Blended Learning: Attending college close to home may allow you to balance both in-person and online courses. By living at home and commuting to classes, you may be able to incorporate remote classes into your schedule. This means even more savings on travel and parking.
  • Ongoing Flexibility: In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, remote learning has taken on even greater importance. There is an increasingly clear value in being able to move seamlessly between in-person and remote college experiences. Because of the closer proximity of home, those who attend college in-state may find it easier to transition between in-campus and online experiences as conditions dictate.

How can I get in-state tuition rates?

The short and obvious answer is that you need to be a resident of the state where you are attending college. But how long must you have been a resident? And how can you prove your residency status?

The threshold may vary from one state to another, but in most cases, you or your parent/guardian must be able to prove residency for somewhere between 1 and 2 years prior to enrollment. This means that you or your family must be able to demonstrate tenancy or home ownership in the state.

In addition to proving your address, you would likely need to present additional documentation verifying your state residency. This could include a state driver’s license or non-driver ID; voter registration; evidence of in-state employment, etc. If you have only recently moved to the state where you plan to attend college, take steps right away to obtain these state-specific documents. This will help ease the process of proving your eligibility for in-state tuition rates.

You should also know that you would be eligible to apply for in-state tuition rates for every year that you enroll at your public college or state university. So while you may not qualify for in-state rates during your first two years in college, establishing residency—especially through property ownership—could make you eligible for in-state rates during subsequent semesters.

So if you do plan to attend a public university, and you are able to procure your own property in place of on-campus housing, the investment could ultimately save you thousands each year on tuition.

What are regional college tuition discounts?

There is one other way to enjoy in-state rates while attending school beyond your state’s borders. A number of states have entered into regional agreements with neighboring and nearby states allowing students to access discounted tuition rates by remaining within the region. Each region is governed by its own agreement. Take a look at these agreements to see if you can access a discount while attending school in a nearby state:

  • Midwest Student Exchange: For student residents of Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin.
  • New England Student Exchange: For student residents of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.
  • Academic Common Market: For student residents of Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.
  • Regional Contract Program: For professional health degree candidates residing in the Southern region.
  • Western Undergraduate Exchange: For student residents of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
  • Western Regional Graduate Program: For graduate residents of Western states.
  • The Professional Student Exchange: For healthcare professional candidates residing in Western states.

You can also look for tuition discounts by reaching out to your university, or checking with your state.

How can I save money while attending college out-of-state?

If you feel that your best college options are out-of-state, and you do not have access to a regional tuition discount, you’ll likely want to explore other ways of saving on the cost of college. You have a few options.

Fill Out Your FAFSA!

First and foremost, be sure that you’re taking advantage of all student aid options for which you are eligible. Fill out your FAFSA every year to determine your eligibility for certain kinds of student aid. If you can demonstrate financial need, you may qualify for subsidized student loans, which do not begin accruing interest until you are no longer enrolled in school; or for need-based grants, which never need to be repaid.

To learn more, check out our Focus on FAFSA or take a look at our Focus on Federal Student Grants.

Research Scholarships

Scholarships are another source of funding that you won’t have to repay after college. This is important if you plan to attend school out-of-state. Plan to research scholarship opportunities and look for ways to offset the cost of your tuition. Scholarships come in a wide range of categories including athletic, merit-based, religious, career-based, etc. Some scholarships may simply be available to the qualifying candidate who writes a compelling essay. The important thing to remember is that it doesn’t cost anything to apply for a scholarship. (If it does cost something, it’s probably a scam.) In other words, apply for as many relevant scholarships as you can find.

To get started on your search, check out our Guide to Scholarships for College.

Contact Your University

Reach out to the Financial Aid office at your intended college or university to find out if your school offers any financial aid or scholarship programs for which you might qualify. Many colleges offer need-based grants and merit-based scholarships to qualifying students regardless of federal aid eligibility or state of residency.

In-state vs. out-of-state—What’s best for you?

By now it should be clear that the best option for you is the one that meets your personal combination of financial, academic, and practical needs. The choice will be different for every student.

However, the one thing that all students have in common is access to more affordable tuition through in-state public college attendance.

To learn about other ways of saving, check out our Guide to the Cost of College.