In-State vs Out-Of-State Tuition: Picking the Right School for You

South Dakota State University - tuition is something to consider when deciding between in-state or out-of-state colleges

Flickr user Don Graham

  • The cost of in-state vs out-of-state tuition varies widely but the cost of out-of-state tuition is generally higher
  • In-state tuition is lower for residents because state schools receive substantial funding from state tax dollars
  • Sometimes, scholarships and other financial aid can reduce the cost of out-of-state tuition significantly

When deciding between an in-state and out-of-state college, many students use proximity to home as the determining factor. Some students prefer to attend an in-state school because they feel more comfortable knowing they are closer to home. Others can’t wait to begin their adventure far away and prefer to attend an out-of-state school. But there’s more than that to think about when making this big decision. Comparing in-state vs out-of-state tuition is just as important.

In-state vs out-of-state tuition: what’s the difference?

The cost of attending an out-of-state college can be considerably higher than the cost of attending an in-state college because most state schools receive substantial funding from state tax dollars. This funding is intended to subsidize the higher education of students who are residents of the state, so you’ll pay lower tuition fees when attending an in-state college.

State funding does not subsidize the higher education of students from other states. If you decide to attend college in a different state, that state will not subsidize your education so you’ll pay the full fees.

However, the comparison between in-state tuition vs out-of-state tuition is not that straightforward. Scholarships and other financial aid can reduce the cost of out-of-state tuition considerably, making it more affordable. Additionally, some neighboring states have reciprocity agreements that allow residents to attend schools in either state at the cost of in-state tuition.

In-state scholarships can lower the cost further

Many state schools offer exclusive scholarships to students who are residents of the state but these are often conditional to meeting certain requirements. Some state scholarships require that a student be a resident in the state for a minimum of two years. Additionally, only students who attend an in-state institution qualify for these scholarships.

What’s especially great about scholarships is that they do not have to be paid back so whatever you win through in-state scholarships is like money in the bank. This will help lower your overall debt even more.

If you decide to attend a school out-of-state, you can still apply for private scholarships and earn other merit-based aid. But, you may forfeit any money you could have won through in-state scholarships.

Average out-of-state vs in-state tuition

Saying in-state tuition is cheaper can be quite vague. To make realistic comparisons between out-of-state tuition vs in-state tuition, it helps to see the actual numbers.

This 2022 report on average in-state vs out-of-state tuition from IPEDS highlights the actual cost of tuition for public 4-year undergraduate degrees:

  • Average in-state tuition (NOT including room and board) in the US is $9,375 vs out-of-state tuition which is $27,091
  • Florida has the lowest average in-state tuition among 4-year institutions: $4,514
  • South Dakota has the lowest average out-of-state tuition among 4-year institutions: $12,924
  • Vermont has the highest average in-state tuition among 4-year institutions: $16,604
  • Vermont also has the highest average in-state tuition among 4-year institutions: $30,752

4 ways to potentially lower the cost of out-of-state tuition

If you’ve identified an out-of-state school that’s a perfect match for you but the only deterrent is the higher tuition costs, here are some ways to make it more affordable:

  1. See if the state participates in a reciprocity program with your state. If your perfect match school is located in a neighboring state, it’s worth looking into this aspect. Neighboring states often establish tuition exchange or reciprocity programs with each other, which benefits students from both states.
  2. Establish residency in the new state: If you’ve got your heart set on attending a specific college, consider establishing residency in the state where the college is located. In some states, you may be considered a resident if you live in the state full-time for a minimum of one year before attending school. If you meet these requirements, you’ll get the benefit of lower in-state tuition as well as access to state scholarships and grants. State and school residency requirements can be complex so make sure you research your options carefully. A parent may also need to meet the residency requirements if they claim you as a dependent.
  3. Explore regional college tuition discount programs: Several states participate in regional tuition discount programs. In this program, states belonging to a certain region offer tuition discounts to out-of-state students who enroll in participating schools. For example, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin are members of the Midwest Student Exchange Program. Students from any of these states may be eligible for tuition discounts if they enroll in a participating Midwest public and private college.
  4. Check if the out-of-state college offers tuition discounts for special circumstances: Many colleges offer in-state tuition and other tuition discounts to out-of-state students who are children of alumni, veterans, or members of military families. The best place to get this information is the school’s financial aid office.

Pros and cons of attending an in-state school

Staying in-state comes with its benefits and drawbacks. To help make an informed decision, let’s explore those pros and cons.


  • Your total tuition and fees will generally cost less than an out-of-school tuition and fees.
  • You may qualify for various state-sponsored scholarships and grants.
  • You’ll be closer to home, which can be a major comfort factor and also make the transition from home to college a little easier.


  • You could be limiting your choices.
  • You may not find an in-state school that offers the best program for your major.
  • Staying closer to home within your comfort zone may prevent you from having new experiences and being truly independent.

Pros and cons of attending an out-of-state school


  • You can choose from a wider range of schools with a larger variety of academic and non-academic programs.
  • With a wider choice of schools to choose from, it could be easier to find one that offers the exact program you are looking for.
  • You can choose a campus location that’s a better fit for your personality, whether you prefer a quiet rural outdoor setting or the noise and hustle of a big city.
  • Living further away from home opens up newer experiences for you and helps you grow as a person.


  • You’ll likely pay more in tuition and fees.
  • You could lose access to your state’s scholarships and grants that are reserved for resident students attending in-state schools.
  • You may not be eligible for state-sponsored scholarships and grants that are reserved for resident students.
  • You may not be able to visit family and loved ones as often as you’d like to.
  • Transportation costs could get hefty if you decide to travel home often.

 In-state vs out-of-state tuition: which one is better for you?  

The answer is different for everyone. You should consider several factors when comparing in-state vs out-of-state tuition.

Generally, if you can get an excellent education right where you are in your home state, it may make more sense to choose that option rather than pay so much more to get the same quality of education in an out-of-state college. Graduating with less debt is a solid reason to consider an in-state school especially provided that you find a school that checks all the boxes for you in terms of academics, campus facilities, and extracurricular activities.

If no school in your state offers the program you are interested in, then you may have no choice but to consider an out-of-state school. If you choose to apply to an out-of-state college because it offers your choice of major, you must give some serious thought to the additional cost of attendance and decide whether or not you can afford it.

Ultimately, you have to balance your financial circumstances and college goals when choosing between in-state and out-of-state tuition.

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