Choosing to go to a local, in-state college or university can save you and your family significant amounts in both tuition and living expenses. The average tuition rates for a four-year degree at a public institution jump alarmingly as soon as you move out of state—leaping from $9,970 for in-state students to $25,620 as soon as you become an out-of-state enrollee.

A $15,000 difference per year in tuition places undue hardship on students and families, especially over the course of a multi-year degree program. If you’ve recently moved, you may wonder how long it will take you to qualify for in-state residence and in-state tuition rates. If you are a family with children reaching the age of postsecondary education, you may also want to plan your moves accordingly to save on tuition down the road.

While each state and college classifies residency slightly differently, there are a few trends we can glean insight from.

Proving Residency

The first step to earning your in-state tuition rate is to show you actually live within the state. Residency requirements vary depending on state and college, so it's best to speak with someone at the school's administration to get a better understanding.

Most colleges will require you to prove you’ve lived within state lines for at minimum 12 months before enrollment. Tennessee has the most lenient requirements, with many colleges in the state having no minimum residency requirements at all.

To prove residency within a state, typically you’ll need to provide at least two pieces of documentation. Here are some examples of qualifying documents:

  • Utility bills
  • State driving license
  • Insurance documents
  • Bank statements
  • Voter registration

Keep in mind that the government characterizes most students as financial dependents of their parents. Therefore, many of these documents will need to be in their parents' names. If your parents are divorced, you’ll need to determine who you spend the most time with throughout the year and provide those documents.

Variations by State

All students who have recently moved states (within the last few years) should investigate the specific circumstances around residency for their college and state. Here are some examples of residency requirements for public colleges for the top ten most populous states in the country:

  • California - 1 year
  • Texas - 1 to 3 years
  • Florida - 1 year
  • New York - 1 year
  • Illinois - 1 year
  • Pennsylvania - 1 year
  • Ohio - 1 year (residency requires application and approval)
  • Georgia - 1 year
  • North Carolina - 1 year
  • Michigan - Dependent students whose parents are "established" and "domiciled" have no requirement. Non-dependents have a 1-year residency requirement
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Financially Independent Minors

When applying to post-secondary education, as well as for all financial aid, the government classifies students either as financially dependent on or independent from their parents (or legal guardians). In the vast majority of cases, parents support their children financially (in whole or in part) with their college tuition, and therefore under most circumstances, students will be classified as dependents. This means it's technically the parents who will need to confirm proof of residency and not the student.

But what if you are classified as a financially independent minor? First, you’ll need to prove to your school that you are entirely self-sufficient and receive no support from family, even certain gifts. Once demonstrated, you may then qualify for different residency requirements than your dependent peers.

In some cases, financially independent students may have lower residency requirements, but often it's more challenging. Many schools have separate applications for residency classification and financial independence, and all schools place the onus on the student to prove where they live and their economic status.

Bottom Line

Even if you want to achieve in-state tuition prices but have only moved into the state within the last year, don’t give up. There are many loopholes to the in-state tuition dilemma, and there may be one that works for your situation.

For example, some smaller states offer in-state tuition to their neighbors. Minnesota has agreements with Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, some colleges in Iowa, and a province in Canada (Manitoba). This means there is little difference in tuition when students from one state decide to attend college in another.

There may also be regional exchange programs, whereby certain institutions have an agreement to accept out-of-state students at in-state rates (check out the Western Undergraduate Exchange as an example).

Even if you and your family have recently moved into the state, it doesn’t automatically mean higher tuition costs. Speak with your prospective schools directly to better understand their residency requirements. Do a little digging into your schools of choice; just because it's out of state doesn’t mean it’s off limits.