Can I Pay In-State Tuition After One Year in Another State?

Question: I’m about to be a high school senior and would like to go to a public university in a state far from home, but paying out-of-state tuition won’t be affordable for me. I’ve heard that, in most places, you only have to live in a state for one year in order to apply for residency. So, if I pay the out-of-state costs for my first year and then stay in that state all summer to work (so I will have been there for a full year when school starts again), can I qualify as a resident in my sophomore year? Or what if I take a gap year and then start as a freshman the following fall? Can I earn state residency if I have lived in the state of my college for my gap year? Thank you!

Sadly, the answers are “No” and “No.” (Not what you wanted to hear, eh?) Although many states do award residency to those who have lived there for just 12 consecutive months (and who can prove this residency  … and the intent to remain … via various types of documentation), the 12-month rule does not apply to students who have moved to the state for the primary purpose of attending college. So that’s the first “No.” In other words, if you show up as a freshman next fall and stay through the summer, the main reason behind your relocation was your matriculation, so you won’t qualify as an in-state resident.

And even if your initial year in the state is spent working, if you are under the age of 24 your official residency will still be determined by your parents’ residency.  An exception is made for “Emancipated Students” but emancipation is rarely granted. If you are a ward of the court, an orphan or in foster care, or if you are a military veteran or are married, have a child or are in graduate school, then you can petition for emancipation. Occasionally, there are more subjective reasons for an emancipation petition to be okayed (e.g., if there is physical or sexual abuse in your household). But even if you are paying all your own expenses and your parents give you nothing, you will not be viewed as Emancipated for residency and tuition purposes unless one of the above criteria is met.

You don’t say which university you hope to attend, but some states have reciprocity with other states that offer in-state tuition to applicants who reside in another participating state. Usually these arrangements involve states that are close to one another, and you have said that you want to go “far from home,” so you may not be able to benefit from this policy. But it’s certainly worth looking into. If your heart isn’t set on a specific out-of-state school just yet, you might consider one that would grant you in-state tuition. That way, you could enjoy the experience of living in a state other than your own but without the hefty price tag.

In addition, many public colleges have some great “merit scholarships” for out-of-state students. In order to land one, your GPA and test scores will have to be higher than those of the typical admitted freshman. The University of Alabama, for instance, publishes its out-of-state merit scholarship guidelines right on its Web site. See: https://scholarships.ua.edu/types/out-of-state.php . This transparency is very handy!  Sometimes the terms of a merit scholarship include granting in-state tuition to non-residents.

But if you’re not swimming at the top of your favorite university’s applicant pool, you might also consider paying full freight your first year and then applying to be a Resident Advisor in your second. An R.A. typically receives a free on-campus single room and often meals and other perks. It can be risky to go to a pricey college with the expectation that you’ll become an R.A. because competition for these positions can be stiff. But if you set your sights on an R.A. job from the get-go, and if you earn good grades and involve yourself in campus life as a freshman, you’ll increase your odds. (Warning: Some colleges only allow juniors and seniors to serve as R.A.’s, so check that out before you enroll if you’re hoping for a sophomore-year appointment.)

While residency requirements do vary from state-to-state (and sometimes even from college-to-college within a state), it is universally pretty impossible to pay in-state tuition anywhere simply because you’ve spent a year (or more) in college in that state or have worked there for a year before enrolling (unless you’re Emancipated, over 24, or in graduate school). But don’t give up on your dreams without exploring the other avenues noted above that might help to keep your costs affordable.

(posted 7/29/2017)