5 Sneaky Ways to Get In-State Tuition for Your Out-of-State Kid

College costs
Great news! Your daughter is ready to go off to college, and you just heard back that she's been accepted to the University of Virginia, where in-state tuition and fees are running just under $12,000.

Horrible news! You don't live in Virginia. You live in [somewhere else]. And as a result, sending Little Miss off to UVA is likely to cost you nearly $37,000 -- three times the price for an in-state student.

If this situation sounds familiar, it should. It's a dilemma that hundreds of thousands of parents face every school year.

Live on the right side of the state line, and you can get a world-class education at a "name" public university for a bargain price. Live on the wrong side and you're faced with a choice: Send your kid to your local Podunk State U. for the cheap in-state rate, or pay through the nose for his public or private dream school. (Because once out-of-state surcharges are figured in, there's often little difference between the tuition costs of public and private.)

But what if there was a way to get around the provincial strictures of in-state rates? What if there were a way to sneak your kid into his out-of-state dream school at the in-state price?

A Bible for Cheapskates

Turns out, there may be a way. There may even be several.

In the personal finance book "Achieve Financial Freedom -- Big Time!" authors Sandy and Matthew Botkin lay out a handful of strategies for securing in-state tuition rates. Not all of them work for all people, all the time, in all situations. But when you're talking about the chance to cut tuition costs by 66 percent, it's probably worth examining your options.

Here they are:

1. Take advantage of "academic common markets": In certain regions of the country, states have banded together to offer in-state tuition rates to students within their "common market." There are four such markets in existence:
  • New England Board of Higher Education: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
  • Midwestern Higher Education Compact: Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and North Dakota.
  • Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota (yes, them again), Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
  • Southern Regional Education Board Academic Common Market: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Within each common market, students residing in one state, accepted to a school in a different state, can apply for in-state tuition at their preferred school if they're studying in a major not offered by any public school in their home state.

2. "You've got a friend in Pennsylvania (and Elsewhere)": An analogous program, less official, more variable, and dubbed the "friendly neighbor policy," can be found on occasions where states are willing to bend the rules a little. Sometimes, a state will grant in-state tuition rates to a student who lives near the border in a neighboring state, according to "Achieve Financial Freedom." Emphasis on "sometimes."

3. We're All Moving to College: You say your dream school's home state is not inclined to be friendly? Fine. Do an end-run around too-strict in-state tuition policies by moving to your dream school's state. Just make sure to do this at least one year before beginning school, and make sure to register to vote, and pay taxes, in your new state as well.

4. Emancipation Proclamations: Too late to move the whole family before school starts? There's still another option. If a student declares herself independent of her parents -- and can prove it by, for example, showing she has sufficient funds (or access to sufficient loans) to pay for tuition and room and board -- then it may be possible to become an instant in-state resident even after starting school.

Again, registering to vote and paying taxes in the new state are non-negotiable, the Botkins write. And, of course, the parents will not be able to claim the student as a dependent on their tax returns anymore.

5. You want cheap tuition? Uncle Sam wants YOU! A fifth and final option, according to the book, is available to members of the U.S. military, who can essentially "pick a state" for their domicile, and if that state just happens to be the one with the great in-state tuition rate, well, what a coincidence!

So, getting around the rules for in-state tuition sounds like a snap, right? Hardly. These rules protect many millions of tuition dollars for state schools, and that's money the schools won't give up easily.

If you want to avail yourself of any of these options, be ready to argue your rights, and make sure to do further research into any caveats, provisos, and quirks that may apply. This quick summary should only be taken as the starting point for your planning.

But at least it's a start.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith has no kids heading out of state to school just yet, but as you can see... he's planning ahead.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

How to Buy a Car

How to get the best deal and buy a car with confidence.

View Course »

Advice for Recent College Grads

Prepare yourself for the "real world".

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:
Josh Lopez

Contrary to minority opinion, there are very strict guidelines a student must follow if they are applying for a non-resident exemption. States award in-state tuition to undocumented citizens, only if the student attended high school in the state for three or more years, graduated from a high school in that state and must be in the process of adjusting their immigration status. These are very stringent guidlines

January 11 2016 at 12:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This helped our daughter get into an out of state college....academic common markets

May 28 2014 at 6:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

One wonders what you high minded people think or if you even care about how rigged the system is if you are a minority or even an illegal alien. That's right, admission based on race, and even reduced, to free tuition as well. What is even worse is how states like CA give illegal aliens in state tuition, yet American born and bred kids from another state must pay through the nose.

My kid plays baseball which only allows 11.7 scholarships for a 35 man roster. So unlike football and basketball that get full rides for most of the players, my kid(not being a pro ready stud) only is offered a 25% scholarship because there is not enough money to go around (Don't even get me stated on Title IX).
Many a CA school wanted him to play for them, but when we saw how expensive out of state tuition was, we were floored. Several coaches said it is crazy, especially when you consider how CA gives in state tuition to illegals. So what do you guys complaining about how some parents are trying to game the system say about people who broke our laws, illegally crossed our border, and break the law every day they stay here, getting in state tuition?

BTW - Don't come up with some flip answer like two wrongs do not make a right, put some thought into it!

August 13 2013 at 12:40 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to joerogers46's comment
Josh Lopez

I think you are racist. California doesn't give in-state tuition to just any undocumented citizen. California applies very strict rules for anyone wanting to apply for a non-resident tuition exemption.

January 11 2016 at 11:56 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Pat Savu

"Midwestern Higher Education Compact"
FYI this compact does NOT include the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. We live in MN and sent our daughter there and paid $45,000/year to do so. It does cover the "lessor" schools like Michigan State and Eastern Michigan

May 29 2013 at 9:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I hope the authors of this article are arrested for multiple offenses here.

May 28 2013 at 9:38 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

The general idea of this article is that if you aren't honest you can attend college at the resident instead of non-resident cost which is, without question, cheating at the very least. Although the author doesn't come right out and say it they are advising that the student cheats to save money.

Some of the suggestions won't work in CA since (in most cases) proof of a years residency is required. It is also a matter of integrity and principles. State residents support public schools. An out of state student paying resident tuition is cheating the taxpayers.

May 28 2013 at 8:56 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jmpgfoto's comment
Pat Savu

The whole idea of instate out of state is ridiculous so you might as well game the system to best advantage. My brother and sister were living in Michigan and paying taxes for the University of Michigan at the time my daughter went there, but their children were not smart enought to get in. My parents lived there for 60 years and paid taxes there also. I don't live there because there is no work in Detroit's depressed economy. My share of MN taxes ought to just follow where my kid goes to college.

May 29 2013 at 9:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why not just tell your child that you can't afford to send him/her to that college? I told my child that. She went to her second choice (more affordable) where she met her husband.

May 28 2013 at 7:11 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Claim you're an illegal alien (AKA an unregistered Democrat). Liberals have granted them in-state tuition in many locations.

May 28 2013 at 5:05 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cloudsoaring1's comment

couldnt have said it better myself.

May 28 2013 at 7:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Teaching your children how to lie, cheat and steal what does not belong to them
and how to deprive others of what they are deserving. What a writer Rich Smith
has become, no?

May 28 2013 at 4:32 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Patrick's comment
Pat Savu

This is no different than minimizing one's taxes legally according to what rules have been sent forth.

May 29 2013 at 10:00 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Residents of the District of Columbia get in state tuition in all the States.

May 28 2013 at 3:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply