How to Decide If Establishing Residency for In-State Tuition Is Worth the Hassle

in-state tuition

As a California native attending Arizona State University (ASU), I quickly gave up on the prospect of in-state tuition. Applying to establish residency was too much to handle, and I wasn’t ready to call Arizona home.

But that decision cost me thousands of dollars.

In fact, out-of-state tuition for four-year, public schools like ASU cost $23,890 on average. That’s $14,480 more than it does for in-state tuition, according to The College Board.

Establishing residency was no small task when I was in school, and it still isn’t. It can take up to a year (or two) after your move.

Here are pros and cons to consider if you want to establish in-state residency to avoid the high cost of college.

How to establish residency for in-state tuition

The first step toward establishing residency in your school’s state is to get a handle on your school’s requirements. Many schools make their criteria accessible online, either through the registrar’s office, bursar, or financial aid website. If you can’t find yours, consult FinAid.org’s list.

Schools typically take cues from their respective state’s Board of Regents. But schools within the same state might interpret directions differently.

Most of all, they’re concerned with your domicile. This is a fancy word defining your physical presence in a state and your intent to stay. Schools want to ensure your in-state residency will continue after you’ve received your diploma.

Not all states are as welcoming to applicants. In-State Angels, which helps students with the application process, offers this useful map. It shows how difficult it is to become a resident in each state.

In-state residency map

Image credit: In-State Angels

A dependent student applying for residency at ASU, for example, must prove that:

  • They are domiciled in Arizona
  • Their mom or dad is domiciled in Arizona
  • Their Arizona-domiciled parent claims them as a dependent on state and federal tax forms

The student’s parent would also need to complete an affidavit like this one.

Independent students in tougher-to-apply states like Arizona would have to clear an even higher bar, proving their financial independence. At ASU and schools around the country, there are also petitions for military members and veterans, Native Americans, and spouses of domiciled residents.

Documents you need to establish in-state residency

No matter your status, you could be expected to provide documents as part of your application. Typical documents you might need include:

  • Voter registration card
  • Driver’s license and vehicle registration
  • Local bank account statement
  • State income tax returns
  • Declaration of Domicile from the county clerk

Even seemingly trivial pieces of paper, like a library card or hunting or fishing license, can help prove your residency and intent to live in the state long term.

Some states and their schools are laxer. A Northwestern Oklahoma State University nonresident undergraduate, for example, could have their out-of-state tuition waived by maintaining a 2.0-or-better grade point average. In another case, a Texas A&M nonresident student could qualify for in-state tuition by earning $1,000 in scholarships.

3 pros of applying for in-state residency

Like any university-related application process, there are fees to pay, deadlines to hit, and a response to wait for in the mail. Here are some pros and cons to see if the effort is worth your time.

1. If you qualify, you can save serious money

It might seem obvious, but the biggest benefit of applying for residency in your school’s state is the savings.

In-state students can save an average of $14,480 per year in tuition. Across four years, that amounts to $57,920.

That’s not just money saved either. It could mean fewer loans to fill the gap in your cost of attendance. It could mean more time spent worrying about your final exams and less about how to afford the books for your classes.

2. You can ask for help qualifying

Your school is the judge and the jury of your petition to reclassify for in-state residency, and there might not be much leniency. Take solace in the fact that you can receive lawyer-like advice from a service like In-State Angels.

The company guarantees consultations for applications to as many 699 schools. It takes on clients trying to attend 150 of them. There are initial fees, but In-State Angels won’t really hit your wallet until your residency application is approved. It will ask for 10 to 15 percent of your savings after scoring you in-state tuition.

Applying for residency is something you can perform on your own. But if you prefer to leave the fine print to trained eyes, In-State Angels is a nice option.

3. If you don’t qualify now, you can work toward qualifying later

Because many states require that you live in a state for six, 12 or 24 months before applying for residency, you might find yourself considering a gap year.

Putting off your education for 12 months or more might not be ideal. But the time away from campus could allow you to find a job, set up your new home, and put yourself in the best possible position for a lower tuition cost.

You could also use your year away to join AmeriCorps. In addition to receiving a financial award for your education, you can petition your school for residency after completing your AmeriCorps volunteering experience.

3 cons of applying for in-state residency

Say you genuinely want to move to the state your school is in. Many schools will require you to live in the state for between six months and two years before you qualify for in-state tuition.

Unfortunately, you can’t use your dorm room as your physical address to qualify. That can make applying for in-state tuition difficult for many students.

Consider these other caveats before chasing in-state tuition.

1. In-state residency is not guaranteed

Even after going through stacks of paperwork and moving from one state to another, securing in-state status is not a sure thing.

This is because schools review your application based on evolving state requirements and make a unilateral decision. The appeals process will also be handled by the same group of people who could deny you in the first place.

Small details could also disqualify you from the process. At a Colorada university, for example, your request for residency could be denied if you have a co-signed student loan.

No matter your new home state and school, ensure you have every detail covered in the application process.

2. You might have to give back some financial aid

Changing your status as a student could force you to give back financial aid, particularly if you earned it from another state.

If you’re a New York City native moving to Boston, for example, you might have to give up any grant aid you received from New York before Massachusetts can adopt you as its own. Your school might also cancel or change the aid it promised on your initial award letter as a result of your new residency and lower tuition costs.

Keep this in mind when calculating the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition. A University of Massachusetts Amherst student, for example, could save close to $17,000 per academic year on in-state tuition ($14,596) versus out-of-state ($31,420). But those savings might actually be lower considering this caveat.

3. You’ll have to cut ties with your home state

Moving out of your home state isn’t just about leaving old friends. Consider what else you might be giving up. You’d lose your local voting privileges, for example.

There could also be other significant financial effects of switching states. Moving to a city with no state or municipal income taxes could be a big win. But what if you’re moving to attend school in California?

One workaround to keep your home state: If you want to attend a neighboring state’s school, consider regional tuition exchange programs, one of a bunch of ways to pay less in tuition.

The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, for example, teams up with 15 states, including Arizona and California, to deliver reduced tuition costs to out-of-state students.

Saving money with in-state tuition

Gaining in-state residency so you can pay less in tuition is a great way to avoid large amounts of student loans. But this option isn’t possible for everyone.

Examine your eligibility. If you’re not able to meet your school’s requirements, see if online scholarship tools can help you better afford your cost of attendance.

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