How to Establish Residency for In-State Tuition for College

According to a recent survey of high school students, the chances of going to college sank from 71% down to 53% in the last eight months. Many respondents said college costs too much.

One of the steps that students may take to bring down the cost of attendance is to go to public schools, whose sticker prices are always easier on the pocket than the sticker prices of private ones.

Alas, in many cases, it seems like the best public schools are always in other states.

This is when the benefit of setting up residency in another state for college comes in.

If the public school of your dreams is somewhere else, being a resident of that state will let you enjoy in-state tuition. The requirements vary from state to state, but there are some general steps.

Most policies to establish residency for in-state tuition for college first require the main purpose for moving to the state must to be for reasons besides in-state tuition eligibility. Second, the minimum period of time, usually 12 months, of being a resident must be met.

Map of California

Understanding In-State College Tuition and Residency

In-state tuition is the cost of attending a college or university within your home state, typically lower than out-of-state tuition.

Out-of-state tuition applies to students attending a school outside of their home state and usually has a higher cost.

The primary reason for this difference is to provide a financial incentive for residents to attend college within their state.

State Residency Requirements

Requirements to establish residency and qualify for in-state tuition vary widely by state and university.

Generally, you need to establish a physical presence in the state and an intent to make it your primary residence. Some common requirements are:

  • Living in the state for a certain period, usually 12 months
  • Paying state income taxes
  • Obtaining a state driver’s license or ID card
  • Registering to vote in the state

How Colleges Determine Residency

Each college has its policies for assessing residency, but they often focus on the length of time you have lived in the state and your intent to make it your primary residence. Colleges may require documentation like a driver’s license, voter registration card, vehicle registration, income tax returns, or local bank account statements.

What Makes You a Resident of a State for College

Generally, being a resident of a state for college depends on living in the state as your primary residence for at least 12 months. This could involve renting or purchasing a property, working in the state, or conducting other daily activities that show your intent to make it your home.

How Long Does It Take to Be Considered a Resident of a State for College

Most colleges require you to live in the state as your primary residence for at least 12 months to be considered a resident for in-state tuition purposes. However, this varies by state and institution, so always check the specific requirements of the college you are considering.

Can You Establish Residency While Attending College

Establishing residency while attending college can be challenging, especially for dependent students. Independent students might have more flexibility, but it’s crucial to review your chosen college’s residency requirements and consult an advisor for guidance.

Can You Claim Residency in Two States for College

Claiming residency in two states for college purposes is generally not allowed. Colleges expect you to have a single primary residence, and claiming residency in multiple states could lead to complications or loss of eligibility. Focus on establishing residency in the state where you plan to attend college.

Do Private Schools Have In-State and Out-Of-State Tuition?

Private schools, unlike their public counterparts, do not get funding from the state government.

Because of a lack of state funding, these private institutions do not have in-state and out-of-state tuition options.

They have the same tuition rate for all the students, regardless of their residence.

Many private schools participate in financial aid programs to make tuition affordable. Some offer need- and merit-based scholarships, while others provide only one of the two.

Either way, on average, going to a public school is still cheaper than going to a private school. And to make going to a public school more affordable, you can live in the state where it’s in to benefit from in-state tuition.

Is a College Student Considered a Resident of a State?

Just because a student is going to a school in a particular state doesn’t mean that he or she is a resident of that state. The student may go to that school. However, he or she will have to pay out-of-state tuition rates unless residency is set up, usually a year prior to registration.

If My Parents Move Out of State, Will I Have to Pay Out-Of-State Tuition?

Some states allow the student to retain residency and thus pay for in-state tuition rates for a continuous period of enrollment after his or her parents move out of state.

On the other hand, some states allow the students to retain residency and pay in-state tuition rates for a limited time period.

Map of Massachusetts

9 Ways to Establish State Residency for College In-State Tuition

Below are some of the steps on how to become a resident of another state for college. All of them can demonstrate your intent to stay, which can work to your utmost advantage if you are after enjoying in-state tuition.

Again, it’s a must that you show that you do want to live in the state and not just enjoy affordable post-secondary education.

While checking them out, please bear in mind that state residency requirements differ from state to state.

In a few, you will learn a variety of them, so keep on reading if your budget allows you to go to college by paying in-state tuition rates only.

Keep in mind that the things mentioned above will apply only if you are a dependent student.

Without further ado, let’s check out some of the things that can help make you eligible for in-state tuition:

1. Set up a business

Many entrepreneurs don’t start their money-making ventures until having a bachelor’s degree. This is why it can be challenging for someone fresh from high school to build his or her own empire.

It’s because of this why many colleges see young students with businesses as more experienced.

Having more experience in generating money, needless to say, can give you an advantage in the college admissions process.

If you want to run a business and earn a college degree paying in-state tuition rates, it’s a wonderful idea to set up a business in the state where the public school you would like to attend is in.

Just keep in mind that starting a business is just as challenging as running it. You will have to carry out the necessary steps when opening a business, such as registering and getting federal and state tax IDs.

2. Obtain an existing business

Besides starting a business from scratch, you may also get your hands on an already existing business in the state to become a resident and enjoy cheaper in-state tuition.

This can be done by buying a business or acquiring it from someone, such as a relative or friend.

No matter the case, it will be an easier way to set up residency for the sake of paying in-state tuition rates as you no longer have to deal with the various challenges of building a business from the ground up.

If you can afford to buy a business, it’s very much possible that you can afford out-of-state college tuition rates, too.

However, being budget-minded is one of the character traits of successful business owners.

Do you want your business to flourish? Then it’s a must that you are smart about spending money.

get job for tuition

3. Get a full-time job

Rather than having your own business, you can also work for someone who owns a business in the state if you want to prove that you are serious about staying (by paying state taxes) and not just to be eligible for in-state tuition.

What’s so nice about having a full-time job is that it can boost your chances of getting admitted into a public school.

As a matter of fact, putting your employment status in your application, although not a requirement, is looked upon in a positive way by college admissions officers!

However, it’s not easy juggling a job and college.

Do you want to keep your full-time job while earning a college degree?

Then consider applying to a public school that offers night or online classes.

4. Obtain a professional license

Do you have some sort of prior training or post-secondary education that allows you to apply for a professional license in the state where you plan to move to?

You can use this to your advantage to become a state resident and enjoy in-state tuition rates after a year (or as required by the law) of physical presence in the state.

Whether you are a massage therapist who can help fend off muscle tension or an optician who can help restore 20/20 vision, you can become a professional in the state by applying for a license to render service.

By the way, working can make you eligible for college credits for work experience, if available. It can help you complete college faster and save even more money getting your hands on a degree.

5. Register a driver’s license

Fret not if there’s no professional license that you can obtain. That’s because you can become a resident of another state for college just by applying for a driver’s license in that state.

But since you can only have one driver’s license at a time, which would be good to use throughout the US for as long as it’s valid, you will have to cancel your driver’s license in your current state.

That’s great news — registering a new driver’s license will show you are serious about being a permanent resident.

Besides getting a driver’s license, there are a couple of other things that you may do to help speed up the establishment of your residency. First, you may register a car in the state. Second, you may obtain auto insurance in the state.

6. Marry a resident

Tying the knot with someone who is a resident of the state where the public school of your dream is in is another way to qualify for in-state tuition rates.

However, you will have to be 18 years of age to marry without parental consent, except in Nevada, where you will have to be 19 years old. Some fresh high school graduates are only 17 years old. If you’re one of them, you may exchange vows for as long as you have parental consent.


But just because someone is living in the state doesn’t mean right away that the person is a resident, and that marrying him or her will turn you into a resident.

To be eligible for in-state tuition for being married to a resident, you will have to prove your spouse’s residency. Of course, you will also have to show a copy of your marriage certificate.

7. Buy a home in the state

Nothing can convince a public school’s registrar, the one who often determines whether or not a student qualifies for in-state tuition, more than you living in a house in the state that you or your family owns.

Before we proceed to the next step to take on how to become a resident of another state for college, let’s differentiate domicile and residence. Many people often interchange them. However, they are two different things.

A domicile is a permanent home. A residence, on the other hand, is a temporary home. You can have many residences but only one domicile. In terms of setting up residency, no matter for enjoying in-state tuition or any other purpose, eligibility will be based on domicile and not residence.

8. Finish high school in the state

The majority of students start thinking about their college years while still in high school.

Are you still in your secondary education, and already you are wondering how you could pay in-state tuition to stay within budget while earning a degree?

Then attend and graduate from a high school in the state where your dream public school is.

While you’re at it, consider taking college preparatory classes, if available.

Colleges will accept the credits you will earn from completing honors or AP or IB classes.

Paired with in-state tuition, you could finish your post-secondary education cheaper and also faster than anyone else, including those that didn’t take college preparatory classes in high school.

9. Register to vote

When it comes to voting, it’s all about residency. This is why becoming a voter in the state that houses the public school you would like to attend while paying in-tuition rates can help make going to college cheaper.

Since people vote based on where they live, nothing can ascertain the fact that you are a resident and thus eligible for in-state tuition more than being a voter in that state.

Do not despair if you are younger than 18 years old. One-third of the states allow 17-year-old kids to partake in primary elections.

This is for as long as they will turn 18 years of age on or before election day. Some of these states are Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Utah, and Virginia.

tuition fees

Regional Tuition Exchange Programs

One way to potentially reduce your out-of-state tuition costs is by taking advantage of regional tuition exchange programs. These programs offer discounted tuition rates or even in-state tuition prices at participating institutions for residents of certain states or regions.

Western Undergraduate Exchange

The Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) enables residents of 16 western states and territories in the U.S. to enroll as nonresidents in over 160 public institutions while only paying 150% (or less) of the enrolling institution’s resident tuition rate. This program saves students an average of $10,895 each year on nonresident tuition costs.

Midwest Student Exchange Program

For those in the Midwest, the Midwest Student Exchange Program is an option to explore. Similar to the WUE, this program allows students from participating states to attend college at reduced tuition rates in other member states. Further details can be found by researching the specific program in your state or desired school.

New England Regional Student Program

The New England Regional Student Program allows New England residents to enroll in public colleges and universities in other New England states at discounted rates. Students are eligible when they enroll in an approved major not offered by public colleges and universities in their home state.

Southern Regional Education Board

For students in the southern region of the United States, the Southern Regional Education Board offers the Academic Common Market program. This program allows eligible students to attend public colleges and universities in member states at in-state tuition rates, provided they enroll in an approved program not available in their home state.

By researching and considering these regional tuition exchange programs, you may find opportunities to significantly reduce your tuition costs while attending an out-of-state institution. Keep in mind the criteria and eligibility requirements vary for each program, so make sure to review the details carefully.

Read more about those programs in the “425 Colleges Charging In-State Tuition for Out-of-State Applicants” article.

Residency Requirements by State for College

In this section, we will discuss residency requirements for in-state tuition in specific states. It is important to note that these requirements may vary by state and university.


You must be physically present in California for at least 366 days prior to the residency determination date (usually the first day of classes) and intend to make California your permanent home.

Proof of California residency can be established through voter registration, obtaining a driver’s license or state ID, and taking other steps to demonstrate intent.

For a complete guide, visit the University of California residency site.


In Arizona, you must be physically present for at least 12 months before the semester begins, with an intent to make Arizona your primary residence. Evidence might include voter registration, a driver’s license or state ID, and payment of state taxes.

Further documentation may be required. Consult your university or college for detailed information.

New Mexico

You must physically reside in New Mexico for 12 months immediately preceding the term in which you request resident classification. Demonstrating intent to make New Mexico your permanent home is crucial, and registering to vote or obtaining a state driver’s license can help support your claim.


In Vermont, the requirements are similar to other states. You must live in Vermont for at least 12 consecutive months and demonstrate Vermont as your permanent domicile. The University of Vermont’s residency page provides more detailed information on how to establish residency.


Michigan requires you to be physically present for at least six months before applying for residency. Demonstrating an intent to make Michigan your permanent home is necessary through actions like registering to vote, obtaining a driver’s license, and filing state taxes.


Residency requirements in Nevada include living in the state for 12 months prior to the beginning of classes and establishing intent to make Nevada your permanent residency. This can be done through voter registration, obtaining a driver’s license, and paying state taxes.

Detailed information can be found on Nevada’s Residency page.

North Dakota

For North Dakota, you need to establish residency at least one year before enrollment. Demonstrating intent includes registering to vote, obtaining a driver’s license, and paying state taxes.

South Dakota

South Dakota’s requirements are similar to other states, with physical presence and intent necessary to establish residency. You can demonstrate your intent through actions such as registering to vote, obtaining a driver’s license, or filing state taxes.


Utah requires you to reside in the state for at least 12 continuous months immediately prior to the term in which you seek in-state tuition. You must also demonstrate intent to make Utah your permanent home by taking steps such as voter registration, obtaining a driver’s license, and paying state taxes.

Visit the University of Utah’s residency site for detailed information. Each state’s requirements may vary, so it is essential to consult with your chosen university or college to confirm specific residency rules and procedures

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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