Is Out-of-State School Worth It?

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Most college students attend schools close to home, but sometimes an out-of-state school makes sense.

Choosing an in-state school can save undergraduates thousands of dollars each year. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in-state students at public schools in 2018 saved over $17,000 per year compared to out-of-state students. Public colleges and universities receive funding from state taxes, which is why they usually offer tuition discounts for state residents, while out-of-state students pay a higher rate.

The majority of college students choose an in-state school, but in some cases, choosing an out-of-state school is a better move. For example, students seeking specialized majors might need to look out of state, and some states offer reciprocity agreements that cut out-of-state tuition rates.

This article weighs the pros and cons of attending in-state or out-of-state schools, exploring when it makes sense to consider an out-of-state school.

four-year college or university


four-year college or university


four-year college or university


What Are the Benefits of In-State School?

Attending college in the state where you live offers several benefits, which is why many students go that route. In fact, according to a 2020 report from Sallie Mae and Ipsos, 80% of college students choose an in-state school. Learn more about these benefits below.


Public colleges and universities offer major tuition discounts for in-state students. In 2018, in-state tuition cost an average of $9,200 per year, according to NCES statistics. By contrast, out-of-state students at public schools paid nearly $26,400 per year. Over the course of a four-year degree, that price difference would save students over $68,000 in tuition and fees.

On top of tuition, college students also need to consider expenses like housing and transportation. Out-of-state students usually spend more to travel home for the holidays or visits, while in-state students can also save money by living at home and commuting to campus.

Convenience and Familiarity

Attending college near your home town offers the flexibility to live at home or visit home more often. It is also easier to visit in-state schools, allowing students to get a feel for campus culture and learn more about educational opportunities before enrolling.

Of course, in many states, even in-state options can still be hundreds of miles from a student's hometown. For certain students, this option offers the best of both worlds: in-state tuition rates with the independence of attending college far from home.

Comparable Education

Public colleges and universities offer a high-quality education at an affordable price, with many public institutions ranking among the best in the world. Most public universities cover the entire degree spectrum, too. This means that, unless you are pursuing a very niche degree, undergraduates can typically attend an in-state school and study any subject they like.

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When Does It Make Sense to Go Out of State?

Attending an out-of-state college or university makes the most sense for students seeking specialized programs that in-state schools may not offer. Similarly, graduate students may also prefer an out-of-state program with a strong reputation in a particular subject area. Fortunately, scholarships and reciprocity agreements can make out-of-state schools more affordable.

Why Is Tuition so High for Out-of-State Students?

Public universities and colleges receive funding support from their state legislatures. Because this funding comes out of state taxes, state schools offer tuition discounts for in-state students, who are already paying those taxes. Essentially, in-state students are already paying for state schools whether they attend college or not, so their tuition rates reflect that. Some colleges also use in-state tuition rates as an incentive to keep high-performing students at home, where they can contribute to the local economy.

However, funding for public colleges and universities has been cut substantially in most states in recent years, and those schools have had to make up budget deficits by raising tuition rates. These higher rates are most noticeable for out-of-state and international students, though in-state tuition rates have also been increasing.

Scholarships and Reciprocity Agreements

Many schools offer scholarships for out-of-state students — especially those from low-income or underrepresented demographics. These scholarship programs attract qualified students to the school by providing a significant tuition discount, which can reduce tuition to in-state rates or even lower.

In addition to scholarships, out-of-state students can often benefit from reciprocity agreements. These agreements offer tuition discounts for students attending out-of-state public schools in partner states. For example, the Western Undergraduate Exchange includes 16 states and territories in the western United States, including California, Washington, Montana, Hawaii, and Alaska. Students from a member state can attend undergraduate programs in other member states for significantly reduced tuition compared to the usual out-of-state rate.

Specific Programs

Many public universities offer more than 100 different majors, but that doesn't help students interested in a unique major. For example, only a few colleges offer specific degrees in unmanned aircraft system operations or robotics. Students seeking those degrees may need to attend college out of state.

Similarly, some states are well known for fields linked to their local economies, and their public colleges offer stronger programs in those subjects. For instance, Nevada offers strong casino management programs, while Kentucky colleges offer equine studies programs. Students with specialized career goals will get a better education attending an out-of-state school with a strong reputation in their area of interest.

Graduate Students

At the graduate level, it often makes sense for prospective students to attend out-of-state programs. Graduate schools often have particular fields where they specialize, and attending an out-of-state program with a strong reputation for their field can help graduates on the job market. This is especially true for fields like healthcare, where access to high-end residencies can have a big impact on career trajectory.

Many universities offer fellowships and assistantships to help support graduate students financially. These benefits often include tuition waivers in exchange for work as a teaching assistant or adjunct, which can help out-of-state students afford the program.

What About Online Colleges?

When it comes to choosing colleges, prospective students should always consider online options — both in-state and out-of-state.

Many online schools offer tuition discounts for fully online students. At some schools, online learners even pay in-state tuition rates, regardless of where they live. Tuition policies for online learners vary depending on the school, so prospective students should research discounts for out-of-state students at their potential schools.

Attending an out-of-state online program allows students to pursue prestigious specialty programs without relocating. However, keep in mind that some online programs have in-person requirements, including occasional campus visits or intensives. This is especially common in fields like nursing, engineering, and education. Research whether an online program allows distance learners to complete in-person requirements locally before enrolling.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Going Out of State Worth It?

Attending an out-of-state college makes sense for students seeking specialized programs or for those with access to scholarships or tuition reciprocity programs. Graduate students may also prefer an out-of-state school with a strong reputation in their field.

What Is the Cheapest State to Go to College?

The states where public universities offer the lowest in-state tuition rates include Nevada, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming, according to NCES data. Students can lower their college costs by applying for scholarships and grants.

What States Waive Out-of-State Tuition?

Some states have regional agreements to waive out-of-state tuition for residents of neighboring states. For example, the Academic Common Market allows students from 15 southern states pay in-state rates at public universities from other member states.

What Colleges Give the Most Money to Out-of-State Students?

Many public colleges offer merit- and need-based scholarships for out-of-state students. According to U.S. News, the colleges that give the most money to out-of-state students include Bowling Green State University, the University of Hawaii-Manoa, and Mississippi State University.

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