Along the winding path toward in-state tuition, unseen perils lurk. An affordable college education awaits…but this sweet prize is a long way off. Mis-steps could mean starting over, wasted years, squandered tuition dollars.
Seeming shortcuts are pitfalls. Assumptions are man-eaters. Hubris is endemic. Unasked and unanswered questions stalk you and ignorance, feigned or real, will not save you.
Sure, get a new in-state driver’s license, update your address with institutions like banks, register to vote, do taxes, etc. But there are more fundamental questions you may have overlooked. You think you know the way; you may know much, but it’s what you don’t know that hurts you.
In-state is all or nothing so getting a lot of things right is great but simply not enough. What about the lesser-known requirements peculiar to your university? How do you reconcile the illogical and contradictory? Are you focusing on the small things at the expense of the big things? Are you doing it the right way beyond reproach? Are you guessing and crossing your fingers? How confident are you?
Never confuse confidence with correctness, here are 8 areas that are easily overlooked and can disqualify you from earning in-state tuition:
Can you even be enrolled as a student during the domicile period?
Some colleges you can go to school full-time while establishing residency like UNLV. Others put a cap on the number of credits you are allowed to take while proving your in-state eligibility, e.g. 8 credits max per term at University of Oregon-Eugene. Even more strict is Indiana University-Bloomington, where taking even 1 credit-hour at any institution of higher education in Indiana irrevocably brands you as being in Indiana solely for educational purposes and therefore disqualifies you from in-state status.
For your college, is there a set number of days you’re allowed to be absent from the state during your domicile period or is it more qualitative? Maybe the college allows a maximum of 30 days absence, but does that mean aggregate or refers to one continuous period? Arizona State University-Tucson for example allows 30 continuous days of absence while Utah State University-Logan allows 30 days total.
Is summer outside the state ok? What if you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or family emergency? Some schools don’t care what your reasons are, others are more sympathetic, how about your college?
Want to live in the dorms? Some schools allow for students to live in the dorms during their domicile period, whereas others forbid it. At the University of South Carolina-Columbia for example, residing in the dorms (as is required for freshman) during the domicile period is a disqualifying factor; you are not able to use a dorm address as proof of South Carolina residence. Even if during your year stay in the dorms you had a separate lease off-campus and were paying rent, it still would not matter.
In general, your financials are the single most important part of the residency process for earning in-state tuition, and the rules vary drastically from college to college. On the lenient side are universities that allow for funds to be received from others; on the strict side are schools that require 100% self-support by the student like University of Colorado-Boulder.
What about an inheritance received due to the death of an immediate family member? Well some schools would consider that money to be the money of someone else (since the student did not earn it themselves) and any use of it would be disqualifying.
What about trust funds and 529’s—do those count as self-support or no? That totally depends on the college too.
Having a student loan that is co-signed is not allowed by some schools like Colorado State University-Fort Collins, whereas some schools are totally fine with it like University of Connecticut, while other more nit-picky colleges are only OK if the co-signer is a non-parent like several universities in Virginia.
Is in-state employment required? Are there requirements for hours worked per week and/or annual income earned? At the University of Texas-Austin for example, you better be gainfully employed working 20 hours/week and making no less than $10,000 per year. Sometimes no employment is technically required (but even a little bit is always better than nothing) and sometimes full-time employment is required.
Oftentimes there is an essay portion of an application for in-state resident status where the student must ‘tell their story’ about why they moved to the state, why they deserve in-state status, what their future plans are, etc.
Here’s a sure-fire way to shoot yourself in the foot…“I moved to this awesome state that I now call home because it has the best college for my major. I plan to live here my entire college career and am even thinking about doing grad school too. Living here will well prepare me for my extended world travels upon graduation where I’ll be homeless but at home everywhere.”
If that’s true, then so be it but save your time and don’t even attempt to prove you deserve in-state tuition—you don’t. States are looking for adults who have a long-term intent to become a permanent resident and who move to the state not solely or primarily for educational pursuits, but instead are re-locating to their new home.
Universities each have their own sets of hard dates relating to your proving in-state worthiness. The domicile date (the date when your typically one-year in-state clock starts ticking) is different at every college. There are also dates and sometimes grace periods by which certain items must be proven as complete: e.g. the issue date on your new in-state driver’s license, date of registration as an in-state voter, etc. Not only that, but total length of domicile periods can vary as well; most colleges adhere to a 1-year domicile period like Montana State University-Bozeman, a few have a short 6-month domicile period such as University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, while others effectively have a 2-year domicile period like University of California-Berkeley.
9) You Are Not Alone
Although you may feel alone in the wilderness without a legible map or reliable guide, there are professional in-state sherpas standing by to show you the way to in-state status. Please peruse the In-State Angels website and consider the many solutions available to help you get where you want to be.