Guide to State Residency
When planning to apply and pay for college, U.S. students should explore the academic offerings at publicly supported universities and colleges in their home state. If they qualify for in-state tuition (and admission) as a state resident, they can obtain a first-class education at very reasonable rates. Attending a public institution in another state usually adds a nonresident tuition surcharge that can amount to thousands of dollars each year. Click on the states listed below to check that state's requirements in PDF format. Requires Adobe Reader (latest version recommended).
If you have a question about any institutional links or wish to send updated information, please contact the International Education Office.
- Assignment: Keep Current on Changes in Admission and Tuition Policy, by Bob Laird
- Understanding the requirements for each state
- Tips for U.S. military families
Frequently Asked Questions
- How does a prospective student know if a state college or university will charge "in-state" tuition?
- What does a family need to do to prove state residency?
- Why do public institutions make a distinction between in-state and out-of-state students?
- How do students find regional tuition waivers?
- Are there special requirements for U.S. citizens living abroad?
How does a prospective student know if a state college or university will charge "in-state" tuition?
In the United States, public higher education institutions use "state residency" (the place of a student's permanent home) as the key factor to judge eligibility. This difference can mean thousands of dollars in annual fees. The College Board publishes the" Guide to State Residency Requirements: Policy and Practice at U.S. Public Colleges and Universities" to inform students, parents, counselors and others about changes in the determination of residency for tuition purposes at state-supported higher education institutions. State boards and institutions revise or refine their policies periodically, usually as a result of a state legislature enacting new laws. This could affect timeframes for domicile requirements, application of specific waivers, or interpretation of standards for financial independence. Be sure to check with the specific institution where the admission application is being sent to get the most accurate information about qualifying for in-state tuition rates.
What does a family need to do to prove state residency?
There are two key rules to remember about review of residency status for tuition purposes: 1) actions speak louder than words, and 2) the devil is in the detail. The information a student presents in his/her admission application is analyzed by the state institution to determine residency. The burden is often on the applicant (or parent) to document eligibility for in-state preferential status: most state statutes require proof of legal residence over a period of time (usually one year before admission) and intent of on-going domicile. For self-supporting college-age adults seeking to change their state of domicile, many states also need evidence of financial independence and a commitment to make one's permanent home in the state. If a student tries to take advantage of residency benefits in two states at the same time (for tuition or any other purpose), any newly acquired resident status may be revoked.
Why do public institutions make a distinction between in-state and out-of-state students?
Higher education in the United States is now big business—a major export commodity—but state-supported institutions must favor their home state tax-paying customers. For guidance counselors worldwide who wonder why their most promising students are offered attractive scholarships to private American colleges but face out-of-state tuition surcharges from state institutions, here is the answer: there is no national education authority in the U.S. like in other countries.
The creation and maintenance of public institutions of higher education and university systems in the fifty states are financed first and foremost by each state's citizens through the payment of taxes. States seek to provide educational opportunity to their residents at an appropriate cost, recognizing that a well-educated electorate helps the state economy to grow and supports improved social and cultural amenities. Relatively few state colleges and universities get any significant amount of operating expenses from fundraising or outside development or endowments, as do the private institutions. Obviously, state legislatures and boards do not want their residents to assume the financial burden of educating persons whose presence in the state is not intended to be permanent, except in very specific situations (merit scholarships, for example). Thus, the nonresident tuition rate is born.
How do students find regional tuition waivers?
The Academic Common Market for southern states, the New England Regional Student Program, and various student exchange programs of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) are available for US students resident in these geographic areas who are looking for academic programs not available at their home state institutions. These reciprocal exchange programs have been developed by the states as a cost-effective means of meeting specific educational needs.
Other states may also have programs that offer reduced tuition to neighboring state residents, such as the Midwest Student Exchange Program with Kansas, Missouri, Michigan and Nebraska. District of Columbia high school graduates may now benefit from a federal tuition assistance grant program to attend public institutions nationwide at in-state tuition levels, as well as DC-area private institutions at reduced rates.
- Academic Common Market (ACM)
- Regional Contract Program (RCP)
- Southern Regional Education Board
- 592 10th St. N.W.
- Atlanta, GA 30318
- Tel: (404) 875-9211
- New England Board of Higher Education
- New England Regional Student Program (RSP)
- 45 Temple Place
- Boston, MA 02111
- Tel.: (617) 357-9620
- Fax: (617) 338-1577
- Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE)
- Student Exchange Programs (WUE, WRGP, PSEP)
- P.O. Box 9752 Boulder, CO 80301-9752
- Tel: (303) 541-0210
- Fax: (303) 541-0291
Are there special requirements for U.S. citizens living abroad?
U.S. citizens currently living abroad who seek admission to a public university in a state where their family has existing ties may be eligible for in-state tuition. If the student and/or student's family own real property in that state, are registered to vote there, file a resident income tax return, hold a state driver's license or motor vehicle registration, and can demonstrate prior residence of at least 12 months, he or she may qualify for state residency for tuition purposes. Such cases are determined individually.