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Part of planning for college is figuring out whether you want to stay in-state or go to an out-of-state college. Some students can’t wait to strike out on their own and live in a different state, while others prefer (or need) to stay closer to family and friends. You may or may not have a strong preference either way, but it can be helpful to know some of the advantages of each. 

Grant and Scholarship Money 

Many states offer their residents grant and scholarship money if they choose to go to college in-state, so look into what incentives your state may have. North Carolina, for example, offers the need-based North Carolina Education Lottery Scholarship (ELS), which provides up to $3000 a year for students attending public colleges in-state. They also have a scholarship for students who attend private North Carolina universities. Many other states have similar programs that may make staying close to home a great choice. 

You’ll give up this state money if you choose to go out of state, but that may not be a deal-breaker. There’s a lot of federal and private grant and scholarship money out there, so don’t limit your options without checking. Filling out the FAFSA will show you what you qualify for at the different colleges you’re applying to. 

Tuition Costs 

Most states charge residents much lower tuition rates than out-of-state students. This only applies to public colleges and universities, however, and the residency requirements are fairly strict—most states require at least 12 months of uninterrupted residence. You may, however, qualify for in-state tuition in another state if at least one parent or a spouse has residency there. 

If you’re going to a private university, this won’t make a difference to you either way. And if you’re considering an out-of-state public university, it may be cheaper than an in-state private school. You should also remember that the amount of federal student aid you’re eligible for is tied to how much your college costs—so an out-of-state college could wind up being just as good a deal as staying near home. 

Favorable Admissions Policies 

Admissions criteria for in-state applicants are sometimes lower, meaning that you may be accepted with a lower SAT score or GPA than if you were coming from another state. Colleges might have quotas for how many in-state students they will admit, or they may just have an informal policy of treating residents more favorably. There are no guarantees, but in this competitive environment, any advantage is worth considering. 

On the other hand, there’s evidence that some cash-strapped universities are trying to increase their out-of-state enrollment to bring in more money. So applying out-of-state could give you an edge over residents—or it might not. Doing some research may help you find out whether colleges you like have favorable policies one way or the other. 

The Environment That Suits You Best 

Arguably the most important factor in choosing between in-state and out-of-state is your comfort level and preference. No matter how reasonable tuition is, how much financial assistance you get, or how easily you get in, you have to be okay with the location of your school. If you feel stuck in the place you grew up in, you may not push yourself to achieve. Or if you feel out of place and disconnected from your loved ones in another state, you may not thrive. 

It’s good to consider the logistical differences between in-state and out-of-state colleges, but it’s also possible to over-think your strategy. Your best bet may be to just pick a few colleges you really want to attend, in-state and out, and see who accepts you and what kind of financial help you get. 


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