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How long must I live in a state before I can gain residency and pay in-state tuition?

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Catherine SeraphinCatherine Seraphin
Assistant Editor, Online Specialist
Alloy Education

Residency is defined differently by each state. For some states (like Pennsylvania), you need to be a state resident for at least one year before the first day of enrollment, but for others (like South Carolina), it can be as high as three years before enrollment. Sometimes, it can vary by institution (like Michigan), and in those cases, the student should contact each university for its guidelines. Minors or students under a particular age (often 21 or 22) are presumed to have the same residence as their parents or legal guardians. If parents are divorced or legally separated, in-state tuition will apply to whichever parent/guardian the child lives with for at least 51% of the year. Students who are not dependent on their parents or legal guardians will likely have to provide evidence of financial independence when applying for in-state tuition without a dependent.

For the most part, residence isn’t simply defined as living in a particular state; often, residents need to do things like register to vote, rent/own an apartment/home, register a vehicle, pay state income tax, and work part or full time. There’s often an exception for members of the U.S. Armed Forces, where members and their dependents can pay in-state tuition while on active duty in a particular state. For U.S. citizens living abroad, cases are evaluated individually, but existing ties to a particular state are typically required to receive in-state tuition.

Students looking for in-state tuition options should also look into regional tuition waivers where accredited schools will provide in-state tuition to out-of-state students within a particular region. This will only be rewarded if the student’s desired academic program isn’t offered at his/her state school, though. There are also student exchange programs that offer reduced tuition for students who are residents in neighboring states.