Learn How to Pay In-State Tuition Rates at Out-of-State Colleges

A mixed group of college students walk down a landscaped path toward class

The difference between in-state and out-of-state college tuition rates is often astounding. Depending on the state and the school, students who live out of state could be paying two to three times more in tuition than their peers who attend the same school but live in state.

Specifically, the average in-state tuition at a four-year public college was $9,410 for the 2015–2016 academic year, according to The College Board. For out-of-state students, the average tuition was $23,893.

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 154 percent more — for the same education.

Fortunately, we’re here to let you in on a little secret: you don’t always have to pay out-of-state tuition if you go to a college in a state other than the one in which you live. States have actually set up programs with each other that allow nonresidents to receive significant tuition discounts if they attend an out-of-state college. These programs are generally referred to as reciprocal agreements.

There are several different programs across the country, and the requirements and discounts vary, but the general idea is that if the course of study you want to pursue is not offered at your own state schools, you can pursue it at an out-of-state public college without having to pay the normal out-of-state premium. The exact details vary, but with a little bit of homework, you could save tens of thousands of dollars by taking advantage of a reciprocal agreement program.

For example, let’s say a student in Delaware wants to major in risk management and insurance (RMI), but no state university in Delaware offers an RMI major. Through a program called the Academic Common Market, the student could actually attend the University of South Carolina — Columbia for the cost of in-state South Carolina tuition. By participating in this program, the student would not only save $19,381 per year on the full cost of out-of-state tuition, but also would pay less tuition than if he or she attended the University of Delaware at in-state tuition costs.

It might sound too good to be true, but it’s real. There are some reasons colleges want to attract students from other states, so they’re actually happy to offer these types of incentives.

Which of these programs you use is usually determined by where you live, and there are many conditions you need to meet. Still, it’s well worth the effort. There are very few, if any, other ways to save this amount of money on tuition this easily. You can bet that any scholarships offering the same sort of savings will be extremely competitive.

One of the best parts of reciprocal agreements is that it’s never too late to take advantage of them. If you map out a plan in high school, great, but you can also enroll in one of the reciprocal agreement programs during your college career if you decide later that you’d like to transfer schools to pursue a certain major that another school offers.

To learn more and investigate these options yourself, here are links to the four main reciprocal programs in the United States, divided by the regions where they’re located. Each link has contacts you can reach out to for more information and to help guide you through your region's process.

You can also click here to view an interactive map of these programs, created by U.S. News & World Report.