The financial different between in-state tuition and out-of-state tuition can be huge.
According to The College Board, the average tuition and fees in 2013-14 for in-state students at public, four-year colleges was $8,893.
Compare to that to the average tuition and fees in 2013-14 that out-of-state students paid at public, four-year colleges and you'll find quite a difference: $22,203.
That's nearly a $15,000 a year difference in the cost of college. You can avoid that, at least eventually.
Here's how to get in-state tuition as fast as possible.
Check your school's website for information
While in-state tuition protocol may be applied uniformly across all state schools, it can also vary between individual colleges. For this reason, the first place you should seek information from is your school.
You may be able to find this information on the university registrar's Web page of your college's website. Sometimes it will look like it does on the Arizona State University (ASU) website, where it's on the University Registrar Service page and titled "Residency for Tuition Purposes."
If you can't find that, you can always contact the registrar or financial aid office at your school.
Some students may need to search deeper for information, according to In-State Angels founder and CEO Jake Wells.
"Even after looking around and reading everything they're able to find, that's not enough for a lot of the schools and states where we accept clients," said Wells, whose company helps students get in-state tuition. "There are still sometimes unanswered questions."
Look into state and regional requirements
If you can't find information on obtaining residency through your school's website, then you may be able to at least get a sense of what your state and region requires.
The College Board has a list of each individual state's requirements for obtaining residency in that state. FinAid.org has much of the same information, but with links to several of the individual state school websites for more specific residency information.
You may also be able to get a discounted tuition rate depending on the region you live in. According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), there are four regions in the United States (southern, midwestern, western and New England) with many states that have "programs that allow residents to attend university in another state, without having to pay out-of-state tuition."
It's called tuition exchange and is great for students willing to attend college within the same region they graduated high school from.
Obtain at least two government-issued documents
For Greg Orlando, who transferred from Austin Peay State University to the University of Nevada, Reno, he almost didn't get in-state tuition after living in Nevada for a year. He had to fight for it, he said.
"Because I lived in a house, we didn't really have bills to prove because we used to just pay a flat rate for utilities and never saw a paper for it," Orlando said. "I showed them an internet bill but they didn't want that."
The way Orlando ultimately convinced his school to give him in-state tuition was showing them his Nevada driver's license that he got one year prior, right after moving there. That's one document that can help prove residency. Here are a few other ways to prove residency, according to FinAid.org:
- A local voter's registration card
- Registering a vehicle in the state
- A state hunting or fishing license
- Registering for Selective Service in the state
Get outside help
Beyond proving you've lived somewhere for a year (sometimes two and in rare cases only six months), you're often times also supposed to demonstrate an ability to live in the state after you graduate college and to prove financial independence (through having a job or not being on your parent's taxes). That can be a little trickier. You may just want to get outside help, to be on the safe side, as thousands of dollars a year are at stake here.
You can ask your high school guidance counselor for help or a college advisor or you can go through a company like In-State Angels.
"We're in the business of making sure in-state tuition happens," Wells said. "You don't want to leave anything to chance. You want to make a bullet-proof case that can hold up to whatever amount of scrutiny."
Despite doing the process alone, and barely scoring in-state tuition after a little haggling, Orlando's glad he fought for it.
"The whole process was worth it," Orlando said. "I don't know what I would've done otherwise because it would've been too difficult and would've put me in a serious financial bind."
Jon Fortenbury is an Austin- based freelance writer who specializes in higher education. He's been published by the likes of the Huffington Post and The Atlantic and is a featured contributor to Schools.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonWrites.