To take advantage of in-state tuition, some students take the drastic step of moving to the state in which their desired college or university is located.
When this strategy works, it can save you tens of thousands of dollars. But be forewarned: it’s not as easy as you might think.
Over the past decade or so, many schools have tightened up their residency policies and gotten much stricter about who qualifies for in-state tuition.
Although a lot of schools may be fairly lenient about this matter, generally speaking, that’s not the case with top-tier public schools and in-demand private schools that charge out-of-state tuition to non-residents.
If you or your family are considering moving — perhaps for a parent’s job, but also to score a low-rate tuition deal — there are three main questions you need to ask and get answered from the school of your choice.
What is the precise definition of a resident, as well as a non-resident for tuition purposes?
What documentation is required to prove residency?
Are non-resident tuition waivers available, and if so what is the eligibility criteria to receive them?
If you’re a dependent student, realize that it’s not enough for you to move on your own.
You must typically have at least one parent also move to the state where your school is located. That parent usually has to have resided in the state for a year or more before you enroll in college, in order for you to get resident tuition.
As I described in College Secrets, college residency rules vary across the country.
For example, the residency requirement is only six months in Arkansas, but it’s 24 months in Alaska. Tennessee has no specific length of time that it mandates for residency, while certain schools, like Clark College in the state of Washington, offer non-resident tuition waivers that give the exact same benefits you’d get by moving and becoming an in-state resident.
Document Everything to Avoid Problems
But some institutions may deny you resident tuition if it seems you only recently relocated, or that you did so for the sole purpose of getting a break on tuition.
For the best possible chance at proving residency, plan on showing documentation that proves you (and a parent) moved to the state at least a year or more prior to your initial enrollment date.
The documentation can be anything that demonstrates that you have established legal domicile or that you intend to maintain permanent residency, and aren’t merely a temporary resident.
So a home purchase, rental agreements or housing lease may aid you — particularly if you can show that you’ve been living in the residence, not just using it as a second home or vacation property.
Doing other things like voting, filing a state tax return in the new state, or transferring your car registration from your old state to the new one will also bolster your case. Just having serious social, civic or professional ties in the local community can help establish bona fide residency as well.
All of these things can pave the way to you being declared a resident and saving many thousands of dollars by forgoing payment of out-of-state tuition.
Finally, if you’re a teen or young adult who is thinking about relocating to another state and being declared as an independent student, check with a school’s guidelines first before making any move.
Regardless of your level of independence, certain institutions consider you to be a dependent of your parents until you reach a certain age, most often between 19 and 24. Some students may be able to prove otherwise; but recognize that doing so is usually an arduous process.
To learn more about what’s required in different parts of the country, check out the college financial aid website Finaid.org, which has handy links to state residency rules at various institutions.