How to Afford Out-of-State College Tuition

how to pay out of state college tuitionAre Out-of-State Colleges Too Expensive to Consider? Think again – maybe not!

Written by: Steve Wynne of Student Choice

At First Glance

You live in Massachusetts, but your dream school is University of Virginia: Thomas Jefferson; Corinthian columns, killer tailgating.  What to do?  Going to college out-of-state is just too expensive for most students, right?  Or…is it?  The fact is, public and private colleges that are out-of-state for you may actually look upon your application a bit more favorably and can help you manage what have traditionally been more expensive out-of-state costs.



As you search for a college you think will best suit you and where you believe you have a good chance of being accepted for admission – one issue always pops up.  Do I leave home and experience newfound independence at an out-of-state school, or stay closer to home in-state and have the benefits of family and friends closer by?

Personally, I think every high school senior should think about including at least one out-of-state school in their search.  Why?  After all, in-state colleges usually have a lower cost of attendance.  But a student’s primary focus when considering a school should be fit.  Ask yourself what college offers you the best learning environment, the best setting – city, town, or more rural – where you know you can best succeed?  That question should be answered without considering in-state or out-of-state.  Every student should consider an out-of-state college to experience personal growth, see new parts of the country and avail themselves of programs and specialties only offered at certain schools.


Set Yourself Apart

Of course, for some students, staying in-state is a necessity for personal or financial reasons.  But if it is ONLY because of financial reasons – here’s some good news.  Being an out-of-state applicant can be to your advantage.  Many colleges want students from all across the country – it’s part of what can make you a unique applicant.  So be an informed consumer – know all your strengths and what you as a potential incoming freshman will bring to your chosen schools.

One very good way is to discover how much merit and financial aid can realistically be offered to you.  College Navigator – – is one of the best resources.  It has historical data on all US schools, tuition and financial aid, including the types and dollar amounts of aid that have historically been awarded to in-state and out-of-state students.  Use the search tool entering your school’s name – and then comparative shop among those schools!


State Tuition Exchange Programs

Once you have completed the FASFA, started the financial aid process, been accepted and received your award letters – begin a frank, honest discussion of your financial resources with the financial aid offices at each of the out-of-state schools where you have been accepted.

Many states have tuition exchange programs – where states have collaborated together to offer in-state tuition rates to students within their “common market.” There are four such markets in existence:

  • New England Regional Student Program – New England Board of Higher Education: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
  • Midwest Student Exchange Program – Midwestern Higher Education Compact: Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and North Dakota.
  • Student Exchange Program – Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
  • Southern Regional Education Board Academic Common Market: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

In addition to these programs, many schools will make cost of attendance exceptions.  There may be scholarships and tuition waivers to convince top-performing students to attend school out-of-state – awarded for academic or athletic excellence. Idaho State offers nonresident tuition waivers, reserved for students with an un-weighted grade point average of 3.75 or above.  If your parents are in the military for example, but you are out-of-state, many schools will waive residency requirements. Some schools will waive residency requirements if parents are policemen, firemen or teachers.  ALWAYS ask at the financial aid office.


Tuition Discounting

The most variable way colleges can reduce the cost of attendance is through tuition discounting.  Each college has an official discount rate – defined as “the share of gross undergraduate tuition and fee revenue given back to students in scholarships, fellowships, and other grants.”  What that means is that the published cost of attendance amount is “discounted.”  It is similar to airline discounts – but on a much larger scale!  If you asked everyone on your next flight what they paid for their tickets, you’d get lots of different answers.  Some passengers will have paid more and some will have paid less than you did.  It’s the same for incoming college freshman.  If you ask a group what they paid – especially at a private, nonprofit, four-year college – you’d get lots of different answers.


Here’s why…

Private, nonprofit colleges (with very few exceptions) know they would not fill their classrooms and dorms if they charged the full tuition and fees to all incoming students. Students would simply choose to attend less expensive in-state schools. Naturally a private college would love to be able to charge and collect the published tuition from everyone – but they know there aren’t enough students who are able and willing to pay that amount.  So private, nonprofit colleges cut the price and call it a scholarship or grant.  Often the scholarship or grant is merely a discount to get the price down to a level the market will bear. Indeed, at some private colleges, everyone gets some discount.

Public four-year colleges typically have much lower costs of attendance than private schools, so they do not discount as heavily.  But many still do – primarily for out-of-state students.  Out-of-state students face higher charges than in-state residents, and many schools have different financial aid policies for in-state and out-of-state students – so there can be flexibility.

Colleges use tuition discounting for other purposes beyond trying to increase enrollment – it may be because students have greater financial need, to make up for state aid that has been reduced or eliminated, or to shape their class by making attractive offers to students they would particularly like to enroll.


So in Conclusion

Always ask the financial aid office if there is anything that can be done for an out-of-state student to offset the cost of attendance – the answer more times than not will be “Yes!”  But be sure to have done some homework of your own – at least know if the school you are considering is a private or public nonprofit college.


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  • US News and World Reports, “Get In-State Tuition at Out-of-State Colleges,” Kelsey Sheehy, June 10, 2013.
  • Bankrate Inc. Financial Publishing, “How to Reduce Out-of-State Tuition Costs,” Christina Couch, February 28, 2013
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Tuition Discounts Rise Again, But Their Effectiveness Lags,” Lawrence Biemiller, April 5, 2012
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Is Tuition Discounting Broken?” Beckie Supiano, April 12, 2012
  • College Board, “Tuition Discounting-Institutional Aid Patters,” Sandy Baum, Lucie Lapovsky, Jennifer Ma,  2010.

2 thoughts on “How to Afford Out-of-State College Tuition

  1. Pingback: Real Heroes – College and Beyond – CNN Hero of the Year | Student Choice Blog

  2. The University of Southern Mississippi (of Ray Guy, Jimmy Buffet and Brett Favre fame) may waive out of state tuition if your ACT scores are 24+, you have 3.25+ HS GPA and been involved in clubs, sports etc. They have a good Business school, great Polymer Science Engineering program, very good Liberal Arts program, good Criminal Justice Program and good Engineering Technology program to name a few. You need to have interest early, seek information for exact details on “Presidential,” “Honors,” “Regional” and “Leadership” scholarships from the Admissions Office.

    Editor note: many college offer similar benefits, so don’t forget to check with your college or prospective college to see for which benefits you may be eligible.

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