Attending an out-of-state college appeals to many students. Some people want to live in a new place. Others look out of state because it also opens up hundreds more options so students can choose a school that matches their future plans. In most states, nonresident undergraduates make up about 30 percent of the student population.

However, the average tuition and fees for the 2022-2023 school year is $17,290 higher at out-of-state schools than at in-state schools. These costs mean that students often need ways to make the cost more affordable. If you plan to attend school outside of your home state, you can potentially save money through the following methods.

Apply for a tuition reciprocity agreement

Tuition reciprocity agreements, or tuition exchange programs, allow students to attend an out-of-state college within their region without paying out-of-state tuition. Eligibility requirements vary from agreement to agreement. Some programs require certain majors or a certain GPA, and spots may be limited, so those wanting to apply need to do so early.

Here’s a rundown of the larger programs offered:

  • Academic Common Market: Residents of Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia can receive discounts in those states.
  • Midwest Student Exchange Program: Students in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wisconsin are charged no more than 150 percent of in-state tuition rates for specific programs within those states and are eligible for a 10 percent rate discount at private institutions.
  • New England Regional Student Program: Residents of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont can attend schools in any one of those states at a discount. Students must enroll in an approved major or program not offered by their home state.
  • Regional Contract Program: Students in Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina may pay in-state tuition (or reduced tuition at private universities) for professional health degrees.
  • Western Undergraduate Exchange: Students in 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 will pay no more than 150 percent of a school’s in-state tuition at colleges in one of those states.

To find out if your region offers a tuition reciprocity agreement, use the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) resource page or contact your state’s education agency.

Some higher education institutions have also established agreements with out-of-state counties that allow students enrolled in qualifying programs to get in-state tuition. For example, residents of some counties in Kentucky who are enrolled in specific programs are eligible to receive in-state tuition at the University of Cincinnati. Check with your school’s financial aid office to see what tuition reciprocity agreements are available.

Look into state residency details

If you plan to move permanently to the state where you attend college, you may be able to establish residency to get in-state tuition.

Residency requirements hinge on whether you’re a dependent or independent student. Dependent students generally must have at least one parent who has been a state resident for at least 12 months before the student enrolls in college in that state, though this time requirement varies by state.

Independent students typically must be state residents or have a spouse who is a resident for at least a year before classes begin. These timelines and additional age requirements vary by state.

To to be granted residency status, you may have to prove:

  • State involvement: Involvement in the community through community service groups and membership in business or social groups.
  • Documents establishing residency intent: A state driver’s license, a state-based voter registration card or federal income tax returns with an in-state address.

You’ll also need to limit your connections to another state. Having a driver’s license, a mortgage, voter registration or even a library card in another state could make it difficult to change residency status.

Ask about institutional scholarships and tuition waivers

Even if you don’t qualify for in-state tuition, you may be able to bring down your out-of-state tuition costs by asking your financial aid office about scholarship and tuition waiver opportunities.

Some schools offer legacy scholarships for out-of-state students whose parents are alumni of the school or reduced tuition rates for academic high achievers. These types of awards are specifically awarded to out-of-state students to alleviate the cost of out-of-state tuition.

For example, the University of Alabama awards automatic merit scholarships to out-of-state freshmen with high GPAs and standardized test scores. Out-of-state freshmen with a GPA of at least 3.0 and a 27 ACT or 1260 SAT score can earn anywhere from $6,000 to $28,000 a year.

Tuition waivers are similar to scholarships — they lower your overall tuition charges — but are typically granted only to students with financial need. For these, you’ll need to work directly with your financial aid office.

Apply for external scholarships

Outside your school’s scholarship opportunities, you can find hundreds of niche scholarships that may align with your experience or interests. Private scholarships likely won’t provide as much funding as institutional scholarships, but stacking multiple scholarships together can bring down your cost significantly.

Using a scholarship search engine can help you find scholarships within your wheelhouse. These search engines allow you to filter results, bookmark opportunities and track application statuses.

Use federal student aid

The U.S. Department of Education distributes federal financial aid based on the information you put on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). After you fill out the FAFSA and are accepted to colleges, you will get a financial aid award letter detailing your total aid package.

Students can receive grants, like the Pell Grant, or qualify for the federal work-study program to reduce out-of-pocket costs.

Paying for out-of-state college using student loans

Out-of-state schools can cost tens of thousands of dollars each year. You may still be on the hook for some of those expenses even after using scholarships, reciprocity agreements and federal aid. If you can’t afford the rest of your tuition out of pocket, student loans can cover any remaining gaps.

Unlike the aid described above, student loans need to be repaid with interest. These loans can come from either the federal government or private lenders. While federal student loans have unique benefits that make them the best first step for borrowers, they have yearly loan limits. These limits are often sufficient for in-state tuition costs, but they may not be enough if you’re attending an out-of-state college. In this case, you may have to supplement with private loans, which rarely have loan limits but may require a co-signer.

Before taking out a student loan, calculate what you’d need to borrow for an out-of-state school versus an in-state one. It may not be worth it to borrow tens of thousands of dollars for an out-of-state school and have that debt follow you for a decade or more if an in-state school saves you money. Before deciding, use a student loan calculator to estimate your total charges.

Bottom line

In-state public schools are usually less expensive than out-of-state options, but funding options are available for out-of-state schools. Explore all your options, and contact each school’s financial aid office to see if it can provide any advice.

Frequently asked questions

  • Yes, it’s worth considering schools where you don’t qualify for in-state tuition. The price may be higher, but it could be worth paying for the right degree program or college experience. It’s up to you to weigh the cost against the benefits you expect to receive.
  • Each state sets the rules for how DACA recipients get treated. Some states, like California and New York, offer full access to in-state tuition and financial aid. Others, like Massachusetts, offer some benefits, like in-state tuition, but limited or no aid.A few, including Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, bar all undocumented students from public universities but may allow DACA students.
  • Depending on your goals, life situation, and the school’s policy, delaying college to establish residency may make sense. You can often establish residency within a year, so taking a year off to move, gain work experience and build up your savings can be a good idea if you’re set on a specific school in a different state.