The choice of a college is a major one. It does not just affect the next four years of your life but will influence the many years yet to come. Many decisions go into finding out which school is right for you. One of the biggest decisions is whether to pick an in-state school close to home or an out-of-state school instead. There are many pros and cons of each to consider, and no answer is one-size-fits-all. Whatever you choose, here are some points you should keep in mind before making the final choice.
1. What is the difference between going to an in-state school and going to an out-of-state school?
In most cases, when people talk about in-state versus out-of-state schools, they are comparing public universities, which are schools primarily funded by that state’s government. When we say in-state versus out-of-state, we are talking about the state where you have residency.
Choosing an in-state school has a lot of advantages, but also some notable drawbacks. Going to school, in-state means having the advantage, in most cases, of a lower price tag. As an example, in-state tuition at the University of California Los Angeles is $13,249 per year for in-state students. Out-of-state attendees will, by contrast, pay $29,754 per year, and that’s just in tuition alone. At Illinois State University, in-state students pay $15,319 a year while out-of-state students pay $26,843.
In general, the premium for out-of-state tuition can be anywhere from 100% to 250%. Another advantage of in-state schools is the convenience of being close to home. Going to school in-state typically means being closer to resources at home. You will be able to see family and friends back in town more often, and help, when needed, maybe just a short drive away. However, there are downsides to choosing a school in your state. If you are in a state where public university choices are limited, you may not be able to pursue the degree you want or go to a high-quality program.
Going to school out-of-state has its fair share of pros and cons as well. It means being able to visit less often because of the time and money involved in traveling back and forth. It means being more independent, which can be both exhilarating and a little scary. Consider how ready you are to be more self-reliant before making a choice. It may even mean a wider array of options when it comes to everything from programs available to the size of the program you attend.
2. What’s your major?
Many state schools have invested in developing highly respected, resource-rich programs in a wide range of majors. UCLA, for instance, regularly ranks among the top universities in the country in majors that include biology, political science, and economics. Pre-med students at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor have access to the University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers. Still, other schools have worked hard to attract top students in fields that include chemistry, computer science, and others.
Before assuming that you need to go to an expensive out-of-state school, check out how local schools perform in the majors that interest you most. Find reviews of the programs online. It is especially important to look at factors like how many graduates work in the field they studied, how quickly they find work, and what sort of support the school offers to them.
The U.S. Department of Education created the College Scorecard in 2013 to help prospective students determine what different majors and schools were likely to earn them after graduation. Based on data collected from colleges and graduates all over the country, this database can help a student project whether the cost of a college program will be worth the expense.
3. How much more expensive is an out-of-state school?
The difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition can sometimes be significant. In some cases, you could expect to pay two to three times as much for out-of-state tuition as you would pay in-state. On average, in-state tuition is $6,752 a year, while the average out-of-state tuition at a public institution is $15,742.
However, there are also exceptions to that rule. If you live in a state with high in-state tuition costs, you may find that the difference in the price of an out-of-state school is not that much higher. Compare the costs of several schools in several states before you make a decision. Also, consider the hidden costs that you encounter that are not included in the tuition. Housing costs vary throughout the country, especially if you are living off-campus. Look at both dorm prices and local rents. You should also account for costs like travel expenses back home, textbook costs, and food, both on and off a meal plan.
4. Are there options that can reduce your costs?
If you have your heart set on an out-of-state school, there may be ways to make the price tag more affordable. Find out if the school you are considering has scholarships or grants available specifically to out-of-state students. You may also have advantages specific to your history and your relationship with each school. For instance, if you want to go to an out-of-state school because it is the college your parents attended, you may have access to legacy programs that provide special pricing. You may also be able to find local or school-sponsored scholarships that align with your hobbies or interests. Contact the school’s financial aid office to see what is available.
5. What is your plan to pay for school?
The last factor to consider when choosing between in-state and out-of-state schools is how you plan to pay for it. If you plan to rely on loans and are unsure of whether you will earn more with that out-of-state degree, think before you leap.
You should also look to see whether there are out-of-state options that are made less expensive through reciprocal agreements between universities. Some public universities in the northeast participate in a Regional Student Program that allows students from New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont to go to one another’s universities at a reduced cost. You may find other reciprocal agreements available in your part of the country.
The most important thing is that you start thinking about how to pay for school as early as possible. By considering scholarships, grants, loans, and income earned from working, it can all help make your decision a little bit easier.
Not Sure What to Do Next?
Overwhelmed by the decision? There are several resources available that can help you make the right decision for you, such as our handy guide for the path to paying for college.
The decisions you are making now will have an impact on factors that range from where you spend your time, to what you learn, to what sort of environment you study in. Choosing well now sets you on the path toward a great college experience and the future that you want. Considering all the options and deciding what is best for you can only help you put your best foot forward into your future.