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Can I Establish Residency and Qualify for In-State Tuition?

Cost is a significant concern for many families planning for a college education, especially for those considering out-of state schools. Based on a CollegeBoard report, the tuition and fees at a 4-year public university in 2018-2019 was $26,290 for out-of-state students, compared to $10,230 for in-state students.


It’s very clear why out-of-state students might wonder if and how they can qualify for in-state tuition. For a breakdown on establishing residency and college tuition policies, don’t miss the rest of this article. 


General Rules for State Residency


The exact rules for residency vary by state, but in general, you can expect the following to hold true. 


First of all, you’ll need to know if you qualify as a dependent student or not. Most students will qualify as dependents of their parents, even if your parents don’t claim you as a dependent on their taxes. You can learn more about whether you’re a dependent or not in this the CollegeVine post Can I Apply to College as a Financial Independent?


In order to claim state residency as a dependent, you must have one parent who’s been a state resident for at least one year, sometimes longer, depending on the state. If your parents are divorced, you are usually considered as having the same residency as the parent with primary custody. 


If you are independent, you or your spouse must have been a resident for at least a year before school starts. There may also be a minimum age requirement, but legally emancipated minors may qualify without age restrictions, as long as they satisfy the requirement for duration of residency. 


How to Establish Residency and Qualify for In-State Tuition


Moving to a new state for college is unfortunately not enough to get in-state tuition. Otherwise, almost every student attending would qualify eventually during their college career. To get in-state tuition as a student from out-of-state, you’ll generally have to show that you plan to become a permanent resident of the state in question after graduation.


In order to do this, you’ll need to live in the state continuously for at least a year. In most cases, you’ll need to prove this with a lease, and possible bank statements showing that you’ve spent money in-state over that year (even when school isn’t in session). 


You’ll also need to cut ties with your previous state of residence. This means things like getting a new driver’s license, registering to vote, and opening a bank account in the new state. Even smaller things like getting a library card and a hunting or fishing license can be proof that you’re planning to stay in the new state.


Again, specific requirements vary by state and by school, so be sure to do your research. Also note that the school usually has final say in determining whether or not you qualify for in-state tuition. Finally, keep in mind that if you do change your state of residence, you will lose any state sponsored financial aid you were receiving from your previous state. 



Examples of State Residency Requirements


Let’s take a look at a few examples to compare the requirements from state to state and school to school. 


To be considered a resident of Massachusetts, the process is somewhat vague. In fact, the Secretary of the state of Massachusetts website states that there is “no formal procedure for establishing a legal residence in Massachusetts.” It goes on to outline that voter registration, automobile registration, a driver’s license, the appearance of a person’s name on a city or town street list, and rent, utility, mortgage or telephone bills are all considered in determining residency. 


Similarly, to claim residency for any of the UMass schools, “a number of factors are required for residency to determine the intention of the person to maintain permanent residence in Massachusetts.” These could include:


  • Residency of parents having custody
  • Certified copies of federal and state income tax returns
  • Permanent employment in a position not normally filled by a student
  • Reliance on Massachusetts sources for financial support
  • Possession of a Massachusetts high school diploma
  • Continuous physical presence in Massachusetts during periods when not an enrolled student
  • Military home of record. 


In contrast, to be considered a resident of the state of New Mexico, one must only produce two of the following:


  • Current real property rental or purchase agreement
  • Current Insurance bill, card, or binder
  • Local property tax statement
  • Original documents from a city, county, state, tribal or federal government organization attesting to the fact that the applicant is a New Mexico resident
  • New Mexico medical assistance card with address on card, letter from issuing agency that came with card showing name and address, or profile printout from issuing agency


Or, if you are under 18 years of age, you may also submit documents indicating membership in a NM sports organization or membership in a NM religious organization. 


To attend the University of New Mexico, though, the standards are slightly different. As noted on the website, “the requirements to establish residency for tuition purposes are independent from those of other types of residency such as voting and holding public office.” Instead, to establish residency for tuition purposes, you will need to meet the following basic requirements:


  • The12-Month Consecutive Presence Requirement: You must physically reside in New Mexico for the 12 months immediately preceding the term in which you request resident classification. You cannot begin to establish the 12-month physical presence requirement until your 18th birthday.


  • The Financial Independence Requirement: If you are under the age of 23 at the time you apply for residency, you must be financially independent; i.e. not claimed on the Federal income tax return for the previous tax year of parents or legal guardians who are not residents of New Mexico.


  • The Written Declaration of Intent Requirement: You must sign a written declaration of intent to relinquish residency in any other state and to establish residency in New Mexico.


  • The Overt Acts Requirement: New Mexico requires the completion of several overt acts to support your written declaration of intent to become a resident for tuition purposes. This includes things like getting a NM drivers license, registering to vote in NM, or paying utilities year round. 


As you can see, the requirements for establishing residency in different states or at different schools can vary, but the general gist of each is the same. If you aren’t genuinely interested in becoming a resident of a different state, or have not lived there for a year before college, it is difficult to establish residency for the purposes of in-state tuition. 


An Easier Alternative to Getting In-State Tuition as an Out-of-State Student


One alternative is tuition reciprocity programs. Through these unique partnerships, students can attend certain colleges in a different state than the one in which they reside, but still get in-state or reduced tuition. Usually, these programs are reserved for students who live in the same region but not the same state. Other times, specific programs are tailored to students who study an in-demand field, such as nursing.


To learn more about tuition reciprocity, check out these CollegeVine posts:


What Are Tuition Reciprocity Programs? How Do They Help Out-of-State Students?

What is the Academic Common Market? What Schools Participate?

What is the Western Undergraduate Exchange? What Schools Participate?

What is the New England Regional Student Program? What Schools Participate?

What is the Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP)? Which schools participate?


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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.