In-State vs Out-of-State Colleges: The Awesome Guide

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When it comes to choosing the right college, there are many factors to consider. Public or private? Big school or small school? Suburban or city setting? Another consideration is whether you’d like to go to college in-state or out of state.

In this article, we’ll examine the benefits between in-state and out-of-state colleges to help you determine which option is best for you!

In-State vs Out-of-State Colleges

Click above to watch a video on in-state vs out of state colleges.

Benefits of Attending an In-State College

The benefits of attending college in-state include affordability, higher acceptance rates, and the comfort and familiarity of staying close to home.

Lower Tuition

Public colleges and universities are funded by state taxes paid by state residents. That’s why schools charge students less for in-state tuition than for out-of-state tuition. If you go to school in the state where you have residency, you’ll significantly cut the cost of tuition.

The average cost for in-state tuition at a public university is $9,580. The average cost for out-of-state tuition at a public university is $27,437, nearly triple the price tag. As an example, let’s look at the University of Florida (UF). For the 2019-2020 school year, UF charged Florida residents $6,381 for tuition. Out-of-state students, on the other hand, paid $28,659.

In-state students may also have access to exclusive grants and scholarships. Attending an in-state college can cut your costs by more than half, and it can save you from taking on large amounts of student debt.

Options for Reduced Tuition Out of State

However, you should know that there are a few ways to get in-state tuition (or close to it) out of state. Some schools waive out-of-state tuition for legacy students. Others offer scholarships allowing applicants from out of state to pay in-state rates. For example, the University of South Carolina offered me a scholarship that would allow me to pay the same tuition as a South Carolina resident, even though I lived in Florida.

Additionally, some states have reciprocity agreements with neighboring or nearby states. If you live in Colorado, for instance, you can also pay in-state rates in New Mexico, and vice versa. Minnesota has reciprocity agreements with North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

You may also be able to participate in a regional exchange program, though these programs have caps and other limitations. The Western Undergraduate Exchange allows students in participating states to attend certain schools in other member states at no more than 150% the in-state tuition rate. Participating states include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Still, the only way to guarantee that you’ll benefit from in-state tuition rates is by attending a public college or university in your state.

More Affordable Housing and Travel

The reduced cost of in-state college doesn’t end with tuition. Traveling home for holidays and visits will also be much more affordable. In most cases, you’ll pay less for housing too. You may be able to eliminate housing costs altogether by living at home and commuting to school.

Additionally, you’ll need to factor in cost of living if you’re going out of state. Depending on where you’re from and where you’re going, the cost of living could be higher. This means you can expect to pay more for housing, groceries, and entertainment than you’re used to paying at home.

Higher Acceptance Rates

Many public state schools accept a higher percentage of in-state students than out-of-state students. As a result, students who apply from out of state are held to higher, more competitive standards than students who apply from within the state. This means that staying close to home can give you a home-state advantage when it comes to admissions.

For example, UF accepts 46% of in-state students, compared to just 28% of out-of-state applicants. The University of Michigan has an acceptance rate of 40% for state residents, in comparison to 20% for outside applicants. University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is extremely competitive for out-of-state applicants, with an acceptance rate around 13%. Meanwhile, in-state applicants are accepted at a rate of about 41%. And Georgia Tech’s in-state acceptance rate is 40%, while its out-of-state acceptance rate is 17%.

You get the idea. Applying to a school in your home state can give you a competitive edge in admissions, even for selective and highly ranked public schools like UF, Michigan, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Georgia Tech. However, this is not always the case. Look up in-state and out-of-state acceptance rates for schools in your state to see which ones offer a home-state advantage.

Closer to Home

A final obvious benefit of attending an in-state college is proximity to home. This gives you some degree of comfort and familiarity with the weather, culture, and people. You may attend school with some of your closest friends, or at least live within easy driving distance.

You’ll also live closer to your family. If necessary, you can easily travel home if you’re feeling homesick, craving a home-cooked meal, or experiencing a family emergency. Many college students feel comforted by the idea of staying relatively close to friends and family.

Some students and their families are also opting to stay closer to home because of the recent COVID-19 pandemic. If something similar happens again, they won’t have to worry as much about travel restrictions or sudden changes in school procedures.

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Benefits of Attending an Out of State College

If you attend college out of state, you’ll benefit from more options, new (and sometimes better) experiences and opportunities, and the independence of traveling farther from home.

More Options

Expanding your search out of state gives you more options, and thus a better chance of finding the perfect fit for you. Schools in your home state may not have the right combination of size, surrounding area, majors and professors, extracurricular and internship opportunities, and other preferences specific to you. Looking all over the country could lead you to a dream school that checks all your boxes.

Depending on where you live, out-of-state schools may also offer better quality when it comes to academics. If your state doesn’t have a highly reputable flagship university, you might feel the pull of colleges beyond state lines.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for close to home, it makes sense to widen your search. With over 5,000 colleges in the United States, there are surely a few that are perfect for you.

New Experiences and Opportunities

If you see college as your next big adventure, you might want to leave your home state for exciting experiences and new opportunities. Maybe you’ve always lived in a rural area, and want to experience life in a big city. Or perhaps your state is full of mountains, and you’d love to live near a beach.

Moving to a new state can offer more diversity, a different culture, new foods to try, and more. It can also bring different—and sometimes better—opportunities. For instance, you may find that colleges in other states have far better programs for your intended major. They could also have better internship and job opportunities for your future career.

While some students want the comfort of home, others crave stepping outside of their comfort zone. For some, a change of scenery is one of the most appealing parts of the college experience. And if traveling out of state gives you access to better opportunities, it may be the right move, especially if you’re already fairly certain about your major and career plans.


Finally, moving away from home provides you with a greater sense of independence. You won’t have the safety net of easily driving home any time, but this will help you become more self-sufficient and responsible. You may feel like you have more freedom and the ability to make your own choices.

With this sense of independence, you’ll gain more preparation for the real world. Your experience will likely mirror adult life more than the experience of staying in your home state for college. If you’re ready to fully leave the nest and fly, you may find the adventure and independence you need at an out-of-state school.

Should I Go to College In-State or Out of State?

Now that you’ve seen the benefits, you may still be wondering: Should I go to college in-state or out of state? It really depends on your preferences and goals for the future.

For instance, is there a reputable in-state school with an excellent program in your major? That also offers you more affordable tuition, a higher acceptance rate, and the convenience of living close to home? If you like the school and it seems like a good fit, then it makes sense to take advantage of this opportunity.

On the other hand, does your state have limited opportunities for someone with your major and career plans? Do out-of-state schools present you with exciting programs, potential internships, and other activities and prospects that inspire you? You may want to head out of state to follow your dreams.

You should also consider your personality and preferences. Do you think you’ll thrive on the independence and adventure of living out of state? Or will you feel safer and more comfortable if your family and friends are a short drive away?

The best option for you depends on where you live, your plans for the future, and your personal preferences.

Final Thoughts: Benefits Between In-State and Out of State Schools

Both in-state and out-of-state schools offer benefits for college students. In-state schools are generally more affordable, with lower tuition rates, exclusive grants and scholarships for in-state students, and the reduced cost of travel and/or living expenses. You may also benefit from higher acceptance rates, as well as the comfort and familiarity of living close to home.

Looking at out-of-state colleges, on the other hand, gives you more options and an increased possibility of finding a school that checks all your boxes. You’ll also benefit from new experiences, more opportunities (and sometimes better opportunities), and a greater sense of independence and responsibility.

Ultimately, we recommend applying to some in-state schools and some out-of-state schools. Once the acceptance letters start rolling in, evaluate the pros and cons of each school on an individual basis. See what scholarships and financial aid your out-of-state options offer you. Narrow it down to your top choices, then visit their campuses. Once you’ve compared financial aid packages, done your research, and experienced the schools for yourself, you’ll know which one is right for you—no matter where it’s located.

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