In-State 101: Crash Course Guide How To Get In-State Tuition

Read on to learn the basics and core concepts every student and parent needs to know on how to get in-state tuition at out-of-state colleges.


What is in-state tuition?

Most public universities have non-resident tuition rates much higher than in-state resident tuition rates.  Each state sets its own rules governing in-state residency for tuition purposes and each university interprets those rules differently.  This means that qualifying for in-state tuition in one college does not necessarily mean you’d qualify in another college in the same state.

How To Get In-State Tuition Overview

The spirit of the tuition classification rules centers on the idea that residents deserve in-state tuition because they have a history of paying taxes that support the state’s higher-education costs.  An out-of-state college student must convince the state and the university that they deserve in-state status.  This is accomplished through proving Domicile and some degree of Financial Independence (depending entirely on the university in question).  The process typically takes a little over a year, and the complexity varies depending on the demographic of the student:

  • Students who are over age 22, married, have dependents or are graduate students – It is usually easier for these students to prove financial independence or financial independence may not be required which simplifies the process.
  • Financially independent teenage undergraduate students – These students have the most difficulty proving their financial independence, and must be extremely careful to understand and comply with the unique requirements of the university.

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Domicile means more than just having a physical address in the state.  Two important concepts of domicile are physical presence and intent.

1) Physical Presence

Most schools require that you live in the state for at least one year, meaning that you have a true fixed permanent home.  If you intend to live in university housing during the school year and move back in with your parents each summer: that would likely disqualify you from claiming domicile.  Wondering how to get in-state tuition without living in the state?  You don’t.

2) Intent

Intent refers to your present and future intention of remaining in the state.  The presumption is that you are in the state solely or primarily to attend school.  It is up to you to overcome that presumption.  You need to provide objective and subjective evidence of your intent to become a good and long-standing citizen of the new state:

  • Objective Evidence

    Documentation proving that you have severed ties to your old state and established ties to your new state. For example, have you relinquished your driver’s license in your old state and received one in your new state?  Do you rent or own property in the state?  Do you have a local job and file taxes in the state (if required)?

  • Subjective Evidence

    Why you have chosen this particular state over all others. A personal statement can be useful in providing subjective evidence.  Remember, it is up to you to overcome the presumption that you are in the state temporarily.  If you are planning to attend school then return to your former state the moment you graduate, then you do not overcome this presumption.  On the other hand, have you decided to move to this state for more than just a great college?  Perhaps it offers the things you consider important for your lifestyle – art scene, recreational opportunities, nightlife, safe neighborhoods, great job opportunities in your chosen field, good public schools for raising a family, weather you enjoy?  If yes, then that goes toward overcoming the presumption.

Financial Independence

How to get in-state tuition with financial independence demonstrated by little girl counting coins

Proving financial independence is usually the crux of the process to receive in-state tuition.  Varying degrees of financial independence are required depending on the university in question.  In almost all cases, tax independence is required (that is, the student may not be claimed as a dependent on anyone else’s tax return).  Colleges differ in how they define “financial support” and what they allow or disallow.  Some require students to be 100% self-supporting; others allow 50%.  Some universities allow for financial support from parents up to a certain percentage; others will reject the application if any money is received from parents or anyone.  What’s the most important tip we can offer on how to get in-state tuition?  The more independent you are, the more adult you are, the more self-supporting you are…the better.

It is extremely important to understand your school’s expectations and rules.  You also should expect to provide a complete financial disclosure, including proof of the origin of any support received.

See also Domicile

Most Viable Routes How To Get In-State Tuition

Viable routes how to get in-state tuition show by 3 roads diverging

First off, it totally depends on 1) the specific university’s rules 2) the student’s unique situation.  Since it typically takes over a year to qualify for in-state residency, those who know exactly what to do, formulate a clear plan, execute soundly, and are able to prove everything are among those who are successful.  Importantly, knowing exactly how to get in-state tuition…that isn’t enough, a big part of the process is consistency and follow-through.  A lot of people know how to be healthy for example, yet many still fall short.

Trying to figure out how to get in-state tuition as you go is the sure recipe of how to NOT get in-state tuition.  Some students elect to take a year-off from school (a gap-year) in order to qualify but that may or may not be necessary.  Whatever you do, you cannot afford to spend a year or more in vain thinking you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing only to find out you’re not after it’s too late.


How to get in-state tuition concept definitions represented by dictionary image

Here are some helpful terms you should become familiar with.

Petition for In-State Residency Classification:

The formal document you submit to the university cataloging your eligibility for in-state status is typically called a petition for in-state residency or something similar.  A petition usually includes the petition form plus all supporting documentation.  Full petitions can get lengthy; In-State Angels has prepared multiple petitions in excess of 300 pages.  The fattest petition In-State Angels ever prepared was in over 400 pages including all documentation.

Domicile Period:

The domicile period is the period of time, usually one-year, when you are proving your residency.  It starts on the domicile date, i.e. the first day of the domicile period.  The domicile date is typically no later than one-year prior to the first day of classes for which you’re hoping to earn in-state tuition.  The day you earn in-state tuition is your in-state target date.  For example, say you are shooting for in-state tuition by Fall 2016 and the first day of classes for Fall 2016 term is August 20, 2016…that would mean your in-state target date is August 20, 2016 and your domicile date is August 20, 2015.

So…to earn in-state tuition requires proof of compliance with all financial and domicile requirements for the period of time between your domicile date and in-state target date.  Please note that some universities require you to repeat a second domicile period in order to maintain your in-state status (otherwise you lose it after one year of benefit).

Universities in Arkansas (and a handful of random other universities) have only a 6-month domicile period.

Some states and universities have 2-year domicile periods prior to being able to qualify for in-state status.  Most notably, this includes major universities in Arizona as well as the University of California System Universities (but not the California State University System).  Over 95% of universities have a 1-year domicile period by In-State Angels’ estimation.


A gap-year is a domicile period of one year characterized by no university attendance…and that means none.  Not even a summer class, not even community college, not even an online class.  In lieu of school, a gap-year is also typically characterized by full-time employment and near- if not total-self-sufficiency.  A gap-year can be taken by taking a year-off from school or by deferring one’s enrollment a year.  The latter may require re-applying and being accepted to the school again although many universities have handy deferment programs.

Those special students willing and able to successfully complete a gap-year are well-positioned to earn in-state status almost anywhere they want; however, they are at risk of not keeping in-state status past one-year depending on the university in question’s financial requirements, annual re-submission requirements (if any), and random auditing practices.  You really can’t take anything for granted when it comes to getting and keeping in-state status.

Harsh Gap-Year:

A harsh-gap year is a term coined by In-State Angels to refer to an especially difficult gap-year requiring that a person additionally not even apply to any university in a new state during or before the domicile period.  This effectively stalls a person’s ability to attend a university for 1.5 to 2 years after moving to the new state.  Moreover, this makes in-state basically impossible for anyone who has already applied or attended (i.e. a university freshman couldn’t simply take a year-off from school).

A few harsh gap-year universities exist but, in In-State Angels’ opinion, such a requirement is in opposition to federal laws allowing for free inter-state movement.  University of Vermont-Burlington currently gets away with this but there are many reasons why this is perhaps justifiable there and only there due to the university’s unique situation.

Special Cases

There are special circumstances that could allow you to bypass the one year domicile period; however, these are rare:

  • Military:

    If you or a parent is stationed in the new-state, often you would qualify for instant in-state tuition upon petitioning

  • Employment transferred:

    If you or a parent is transferred to work in the new state in connection with a state economic-incentive program (rare), often you would qualify for instant in-state tuition upon petitioning.

Figuring out how to get in-state tuition if you have these special circumstances is much more straightforward; however, it’s very easy to overlook what seems like perhaps an automatic process (it’s not automatic!) only to end up still paying out-of-state tuition.


Recent legislation has made it possible for many veterans to get in-state tuition in any state; however, the rules are not universal, i.e. every state interprets and implements the rules differently.

Major questions to consider are:

  • must you be in a state for 1 year or is in-state tuition effective immediately?
  • Can you switch states, if so when and how?
  • Will your spouse/dependents qualify for in-state tuition through you?
  • Do you also qualify for other college subsidies regularly available to other state residents?

Recommended article by STATELINE August 19, 2014: Veterans to Get In-State Tuition in Any State

International Students

In order to earn in-state residency for tuition purposes, you must have the present ability to remain in the USA permanently.  That being the case, most international students are unfortunately out of luck.  While an F-1 Visa (educational Visa) won’t help, a Green Card or US dual-citizenship will!  But remember, a Green Card or USA Dual Citizenship only affords you the opportunity to get started working toward in-state residency so there’s still much work to be done to qualify as an in-state resident.

Undocumented Immigrants

Due to the highly volatile and politicized nature of this issue, In-State Angels does not advise on this topic.

How To Get In-State Tuition as a Graduate Student

Graduate students are usually (but not always) allowed to bypass the financial independence aspects of demonstrating in-state residency; however, they are still subject to the domicile components.  Like undergrads, the exact rules for grad students earning in-state tuition are unique at each college and NEVER should someone just assume that being a student for a year somehow entitles them to in-state status, it doesn’t!  Deliberate  steps are required to demonstrate a true commitment to the state and if such a commitment is lacking, then there is no point in wasting time pursuing something undeserved.

How To Get In-State Tuition as a Medical Student

Most medical schools tend to be private but for the relatively few public medical schools that exist: in-state vs. out-of-state tuition for medical students can be exorbitant, upwards of $50,000 per year at some schools.  Residency also factors hugely into a person’s acceptance into medical schools who greatly favor in-state residents.  At public medical school where the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition is large, the process is typically more intensive than many students expect and with so much money at stake, it makes sense to get all the help you can.  The cost of In-State Angels guaranteeing your results pails in comparison to the cost of failure.

How To Get In-State Tuition as a Veterinary Student

Similarly to medical schools, veterinary schools are mostly private; however, for the public vet schools that do exist, the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition can be striking.  Like medical schools, veterinary schools also favor in-state residents when it comes to admission so being a resident of your ideal state raises the likelihood that you will get into the vet school in that dream state.  The heavy day-to-day schedule while in vet school may make earning in-state tuition prohibitive for some but the rules vary for every state and every school so it behooves you to figure out whether you are good candidate for in-state residency or not.

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