There's no place like home: in-state vs out-of-state colleges

By Lwilliams

One of the toughest decisions you may face as a high school senior is whether to attend an in-state or an out-of-state college. Although you may have envisioned yourself at a school far away, affordability may ultimately be the deciding factor. It’s important to discuss your expectations for college with your family and understand what you can realistically afford. Once you determine your budget, the next step is narrowing down your list of schools. Even if you dreamed of going to an out-of-state college, don’t overlook in-state schools that may provide the same (or better) options for your college degree. It often helps to look at the pros and cons of both sides before making your final decision.

In-state colleges

Sometimes, in-state schools get a bad rap, but there’s nothing wrong with picking a school close to home. In fact, staying in-state has many advantages. Students often have an easier time getting accepted to an in-state school and may have access to additional financial aid that would not be provided at an out-of-state institution. In Florida, for example, students may receive assistance through the Bright Futures program when they attend a Florida college or university. In-state students also receive a reduced tuition rate.

At the University of Florida, for example, in-state students pay $18,451 a year compared to the out-of-state tuition rate of $38,591. That’s a savings of more than $20,000! Students who stay in-state can also save on living expenses and travel expenses. By living at home, the average student can expect to save around $10,000 a year in dorm fees. Even if you decide to live on campus, you will still save money on travel fees, such as airline tickets during the holidays and breaks. And with mom close by, you can always pop in every so often for a free meal or to wash a load of laundry. Unfortunately, living at home (or close by) can also make it easier for you to stay within your comfort zone, limiting your opportunities to meet new people and try new things.

Out-of-state colleges

Going to school close to home may have its advantages, but there are also some perks to enrolling in an out-of-state school. Students who attend school away from home tend to be more independent. You probably won’t have your high school buddies around, and you may live in a state you have never visited. This will require you to branch out, meet new people, and explore your new surroundings. Depending on your degree program, you may also find more opportunities at colleges outside of your home state. Although out-of-state tuition may be higher than most in-state tuition, that is not always the case. Some states, such as Minnesota, offer reciprocity for students attending college in adjacent states. This means you can attend school in Wisconsin, North Dakota, or South Dakota for close to the same cost as students who live in those states.

If you are looking into a private college, it doesn't matter where you live, as the price is typically the same for everyone. You should also compare financial aid award packages to see if the final cost of attendance (COA) is better at an out-of-state school. Keep in mind that you should also budget for two or three trips back home, housing fees, and other living expenses you may incur, which may increase your cost beyond what you can afford. Before making your final decision on an in-state vs out-of-state college, it may help to write down what factors are most important to you. Consider what you can realistically afford, the location (consider your preferences for warm or cold climates), whether having family nearby is important, the opportunities within your degree program (research, study abroad, etc.), and what financial aid may be available to you. Once you know what you want from your college experience, it will make your decision to stay in-state or go out-of-state much easier. In the end, only you can decide if there’s no place like home.