How to Maximize Financial Aid for Out-of-State Colleges

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Brian O'Connell

By Brian O'Connell

February 12, 2019

If you’re a student or family member looking for a better financial deal from an out-of-state college, there are a few rules of the road you’re going to need to follow.

First, know that colleges do indeed aggressively charge higher prices for academic entrance to state colleges and universities, when dealing with out-of-state and international students.

There is a good reason for that.

Public colleges rely on state taxes to largely fund their operations. Consequently, public colleges and universities believe in-state students should get a better deal than out-of-state students given that their families are paying the freight, tax-wise, for in-state colleges.

In-State Students Get a Better Tuition Break than Out-of-State Students

The data shows that in-state students really do get a better deal from state universities compared to out-of-state students

Take the University of Massachusetts and its flagship campus in Amherst, Massachusetts.

According to university figures, the undergraduate 2018-2019 estimated tuition and fees at University of Massachusetts-Amherst is $15,864 for in-state and $34,800 for out-of-state students. Out-of-state students pay more than double in-state students.

That’s obviously a sweeter financial deal for incoming students from Boston than it would be for kids down the road several hundred miles in the Bronx.

Save More for an Out-of-State Public College

One solution is to save more if your child will enroll at an out-of-state public college or university. To save about a third of future college costs, you’ll need to save about $250 per month from birth for an in-state public college and $450 per month (almost double) for an out-of-state public college, for a child born this year.

Suppose you’ve been saving for an in-state public college all along, but you did not learn about your child’s interest in an out-of-state public college until they started high school this year. Then you’ll need to save about an additional $500 per month to catch up by the time they matriculate.

Finding Good Deals for Out-of-State Students

The good news? There are effective, proven ways for out-of-state students and their families to curb the costs for attending schools in other states.

Deploy these strategies to cut your out-of-state college tuition bill:

Move in-state

The single easiest and most effective way to avoid out-of-state tuition costs is to move to the state where the student wants to attend college. This can be easier or harder depending on which state you’re dealing with, but in general, if the student and parent reside in a state for one-to-two full years prior to enrollment, you’ll likely be recognized as a state resident and pay in-state tuition rates.

Generally, if the student is a dependent student, the parent must move to the state along with the student. If the student is independent, only the student needs to relocate. The family must show, through a preponderance of evidence, that the family moved to the state for a reason other than cheaper in-state tuition. It helps if the student graduated from an in-state high school.

Beware of organizations that provide a fake local address for the student. That’s fraud and can put you in legal jeopardy.

Get state-certified

Your task of proving you’re a state resident becomes easier if you can get a state driver’s license, voter registration, or auto registration tag or document. You may need to prove you’re living in the state, via an in-state bank account or by simply providing your rental payment receipt, utility bill, pay stub or cell phone bill, as long as it has your in-state home address on it.

Your state may need you to prove you’ve lived in the state for a full year before granting you a license. So, the sooner you can move to your college-linked state, the easier it is to get state-certified with a driver’s license or other proof of residency.

Get an out-of-state scholarship

One path to a more affordable out-of-state tuition bill is by applying for one of the abundant out-of-state scholarships. There are likely more out-of-state scholarships than you think, as colleges and universities like to offer them to out-of-state students to get them on campus, and add more geographical diversity to the college experience.

For instance, the University of Arkansas offers several academic scholarships for out-of-state students who hail from neighboring states.

Check with your college of choice and see what kind of out-of-scholarship deals it offers.

Get good grades and earn merit aid

Plenty of state colleges and universities offer merit aid to incoming students with high grade-point averages or who ace their college admissions tests. For instance, Mississippi State will waive out-of-state tuition mandates for students with great grades, as will North Carolina State.

Again, check with your intended college or university and ask about merit-based aid and tuition discounts. After all, colleges love high academic achievers so chances are, merit aid is available.

Look for “reciprocity” tuition deals

Neighboring U.S. states often band together and offer tuition deals to each other. For example, public colleges and universities in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, and Wisconsin offer each other so-called “reciprocity” in-state tuition rates to families in those neighboring states. (This is known as the Midwest Student Exchange.)

Additionally, the New England Board of Higher Education has a similar program, called the Regional Student Program. It includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, and enables students from these New England states to go to a public college or university in nearby New England states for a discounted rate, saving students and families thousands of dollars annually.

Check with your school of choice and see if there isn’t a tuition reciprocity opportunity in your state. These discount tuition deals aren’t always apparent in the major college search tools.

It Can’t Hurt to Ask

These aren’t the only ways you can earn a discounted tuition rate at an out-of-school college or university, but they’re at the top of the list. Contact your college or university to see what tuition cost breaks are available to you, as an out-of-state student. With thousands of dollars in savings on the line, it really can’t hurt to ask.

A good place to start:

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