What are the Requirements for In-State Tuition?

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Updated: March 21, 2024, Reading time: 10 minutes

A college education is an investment, but not everyone can afford it. Fortunately, numerous public universities and colleges offer affordable tuition rates. The caveat, however, is that the benefit is often only extended to residents of the state where the university is located.

Requirements for In-State Tuition - fact

Facts About In-State Tuition

As you know, in-state tuition is way lower than the rate offered to students who live out of state. This is only understandable as residents pay taxes, and the taxes help fund public learning institutions.

Generally, state residents will be prioritized when it comes to educational privileges. This includes qualifying for more affordable in-state tuition rates and other education grants offered within the state. 

To prevent out-of-state students who only apply for residency for educational purposes, many states have established residency requirements. If you are a prospective student who plans to pursue a degree in another state but wants to take advantage of the in-state tuition rates, it is recommended that you check the residency requirements first before you apply and be informed of the differences between in-state and out-of-state college tuition costs.

Qualifying for In-State Tuition By Establishing Residency

Qualifying for In-State Tuition By Establishing Residency  - Image

While it often does not hold water for residency requirements, the pursuit of education is a popular reason for many people to move to a different state. Students may only have access to a particular major in another state, or parents may want to move their kids to a better school district. Regardless of the motivation, education remains one of the most popular reasons for the big move. 

There is a strong financial incentive to become a resident when it comes to tuition fees. In-state tuition is usually several times less expensive than out-of-state tuition rates, after all. To qualify for in-state tuition, you need to do a thorough review of the requirements for the state you are planning to move into.

Many of these requirements directly determine whether you are qualified for in-state tuition, usually based on the rules set by the state legislature, the state board of higher education, or the state board of regents. 

The colleges and universities implement these rules. In essence, they have the last say in the matter. Frequently, the college or university registrar will set out policies that govern the qualification of students who are not residents of the state for in-state tuition. 

The main route is often through establishing residency in the state where your residency is located. However, you may need to make sure that you are not only doing so to save on college tuition. It is of utmost importance to ensure that you genuinely want to become a long-term state resident. 

State Policies for In-State Tuition: Who Are Eligible?

State Policies for In-State Tuition Who Are Eligible - Image

While the policies differ from state to state, in-state tuition eligibility is generally confined to residents of the state. You will need to establish a domicile, which means making the intended state your permanent legal home. That is where you intend to remain indefinitely, without plans or expectations to leave. The state will also be the place where you maintain ties, even during prolonged absences. 

If you fail to demonstrate domicile in the intended state, you may be able to obtain an in-state tuition rate through exceptions provided by the state. In Virginia, those who are completing their high school education in the state will be able to benefit from in-state tuition. Even those who are undocumented will be able to take advantage of this opportunity. 

Students who live outside of the state but who have parents who work in the state may be able to enjoy in-state tuition. The same can be said for students in participate in certain foreign exchange programs.

For those who attend college through a special arrangement contract agreed by their employer and attending an educational institution, they may be able to get a special contract rate, which might be higher than the in-state tuition rate but definitely lower than out-of-state tuition. 

Residency Requirements for In-State Tuition

Residency Requirements for In-State Tuition  - Image

While the requirements for residency vary from state to state, there are some common provisions that you will need to meet when applying for residency. The main requirements often involve the following: 


To be eligible for permanent residency, you need to demonstrate that you are applying for one not only for the sole purpose of benefitting from the in-state tuition rate. Many factors determine your intent to remain in a particular state indefinitely, including but not limited to: 


The state statute often encompasses residency requirements. Obviously, the requirements will vary from state to state. As a general rule, however, a dependent student must have at least one parent who is a resident of a state for at least a full year before the student can enroll in college. This may be different for some states, such as Arkansas, which requires just six months, and Alaska, which requires 24 months. 


A student’s age is also an important consideration for residency, i.e., whether or not a student is of legal age. Unfortunately, this age varies between states, with the lowest limit being 18 years for states that include Texas, Kansas, Connecticut, North Carolina, and Vermont.

The highest age requirement to be considered independent is at least 24 years old for some states, which includes Michigan, Georgia, California, New Jersey, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.  

Financial Independence

Financial Independence is defined in broad strokes as the student being able to fund their own education & living expenses through their means and not be dependent on financial support from their parents or legal guardians.

This support can have a wide scope outside of allowances and other direct financial support and may also include payments made on insurance premiums, parents being signatories to student loans, and other means that show that the parents contribute to a student’s various expenses. 

The amount of support also matters and, crucially, differs from state to state. Some states set a hard number and period that serves as the basis for financial independence, while others are much more stringent, considering any form of support as grounds for disqualifying a student from receiving in-state tuition.


In a legal sense, domicile refers to a person’s permanent home. This is in comparison to a residence, which is largely considered a person’s temporary home, and consideration for in-state tuition is centered on the former.

There are a range of primary ways that are taken into consideration in establishing a student’s domicile, which would include various documents like driver’s licenses, tax returns, or state professional licenses. Certain actions are also taken into consideration, such as getting married to a resident of the state, starting a business, or owning a home.

There is also other secondary evidence that may be considered in establishing domicile in the state. These might include evidence of family ties in the state, voting, utility and credit card bills, as well as participation in various organizations based in the state. 

A Lack of Any Negating Evidence

Aside from primary and supporting evidence, a number of negating factors are also taken into account in considering residency requirements. Essentially, negating evidence points to any ongoing ties to other states, which would invalidate a student’s claims to residency.

Negating evidence typically includes continuing transactions in other states, such as taxes, maintaining auto registration, and voting. 

Exemptions to Durational Requirements for Residency

Exemptions to Durational Requirements for Residency - Image

The process of gaining residency is generally arduous, and each state would have its variations and specific rules. There are, in some instances, certain exemptions that would help grant eligibility for in-state tuition.

Like residency requirements, Let’s take a look at some of these.


There is a myriad of internal and external scholarships that are offered to eligible students with their own benefits (and, in some cases, can even effectively offset the high cost of out-of-state tuition). Some scholarships also give exemptions to in-state tuition requirements.


Many states grant exemptions in cases of marriage, provided that the student’s spouse meets that state’s residency requirements. States that grant exemptions based on marriage include New Mexico, Texas, Washington, Florida, Arkansas, and Maryland.

Military Service

Members of the armed forces are generally well-accommodated by many universities throughout the country. This preferential treatment also extends to exemptions to residency/durational requirements for in-state tuition. This exemption also extends to their spouses and dependents for exemptions, scholarships, and discounts.

Veterans’ Benefits 

Along the same vein as active members of the armed forces, veterans (both living and those who died in the line of duty) and their dependents are eligible for in-state tuition. 

First Responders’ Exemptions 

Similar to members of the armed forces, many states also place value on the important tasks performed by first responders, and this also extends to their spouses and dependents, especially those who died in the line of duty. Some of these states include California, Alaska, Tennessee, Michigan, and Wisconsin.


Universities place great value on school spirit and their alumni network as a whole. Some universities grant exemptions to students whose parents are also their graduates. An example of this is the state of Louisiana, which waives durational requirements on the grounds of legacy.

Full-time Employment in the State

Full-time Employment in the State - Image

In some states, which includes Colorado, New York, Tennessee, Florida, Louisiana, and more, students and their spouses who are employed full-time within the state will be given an exemption to durational requirements.

Still, other states such as Wisconsin and Connecticut give reductions to their durational requirements for those employed full-time.

Additionally, some states do recognize parents moving in for retirement purposes as grounds for giving exemptions to students. 

University Employment

Going along the lines of employment, many states grant exemptions to those employed full-time in their public universities. This naturally extends to children or spouses of full-time employees. Some of these states include California, Washington, South Carolina, Nevada, and Florida.

Still, while other states don’t grant exemptions based on full-time employment, they do observe reductions to some requirements. 

Key Takeaways

Bottom Line - Image

Qualifying for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities is often an arduous process, requiring students to show conclusive proof of having stayed in the state for a certain period, as well as intent to stay permanently.

Many of these requirements are legal and transactional and may include employment, proofs of billing, and having registered for various state services (driver’s license, auto registration, voting, etc.).

At the same time, as students are required to show conclusive proof of residing in the state, they must also be able to show proof of severing ties to any previous state they lived in, as these can be grounds for negating proof of residency. 

While gaining residency can prove to be a lengthy route to gaining in-state tuition, students should also look at the various exemptions observed by states based on a number of factors, which include marriage, military service, full-time employment and retirement, qualifying for certain scholarships, and more.

These exemptions aren’t universal, however, and states typically vary between the exempting factors they observe based on their state laws. 

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