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6 Tips for Applying to College Out of State

Sept. 29, 2014
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If you’re headed for college next year and looking to explore beyond the borders of your hometown, attending an out-of-state school might be a worthwhile option to consider.

Though you may face financial challenges—some colleges charge out-of-state students much higher tuition fees than their in-state counterparts—attending a college far from home can be a very rewarding experience. You’ll get to explore new places, mingle with people you wouldn’t normally meet and push the limits of your comfort zone.

But whether you have your heart set on a particular school or simply want to move elsewhere, the process of finding the right college—and getting accepted—can be more complicated for nonresidents than for others.

To help you make smarter choices when applying to colleges out-of-state, admissions experts offer these tips.

1. Search for out-of-state scholarships and discounts.

While it’s not the norm, some schools actually charge out-of-staters lower tuition than they do residents. New York, Minnesota and South Dakota are among the states that, on average, offer cheaper tuition for nonresidents. See if your prospective colleges fall under this umbrella or consider applying to schools that do.

As an extra incentive, says Kim Medina, director of admissions at Johnson & Wales University in Colorado, many places provide scholarships for students outside their home state. Enrolling students from other areas of the country, as well as international students, often adds ethnic and cultural diversity to campus. “Contact the admissions office to see what kinds of scholarships you are eligible for,” Medina says.

“There is much to be said for an institution that offers financial support, whether it be merit- or need-based aid, to its incoming students while simultaneously providing free services such as counseling, clubs and organizations, social activities, [and] health services,” says Kristen Capezza, director of undergraduate admissions at New York’s Adelphi University. “The value should be a tremendous focus during these financial discussions.”

2. Check for regional reciprocity agreements.

Another way to save money is to apply to colleges that give discounted tuition rates to eligible out-of-state students. As Medina notes, “Agreements like the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) offer students from certain institutions in eligible states the same tuition as in-state students or tuition at a deeply discounted rate.”

According to the Western Interstate Commission of Higher Education (WICHE), the organization that runs the WUE program, lower tuition rates are only offered to a set number of eligible students. Be sure to send in your applications early to better your chances of qualifying.

Similar programs also exist for students in other areas, such as those offered by the New England Board of Higher Education, the Southern Regional Education Board, and the Midwestern Higher Education Compact.

3. Attend college fairs and regional open houses.

Attending college fairs at your high school or in your community are great ways to familiarize yourself with the schools you may not have heard of or considered applying to. The National Association of College Admission Counseling offers free regional college fairs, for instance, at which students can interact with college admissions faculty.

Justin Duval, assistant director of admissions at Florida Atlantic University, says “many schools, including FAU, have regional admissions representatives that live and work full-time in a student’s particular area.” He advises introducing yourself to the college fair admissions folk prior to the event. That way, you’ll make a good first impression that admissions may remember when it comes time to making acceptance offers.

Student Spotlight: Michael Weber ’15 at Johnson & Wales University

“I knew I didn’t want to stay in state because I didn’t want my college experience to just be a continuation of high school; I wanted a completely different environment. I toured all my out-of-state selections and there was just something about the chance of being somewhere else in a whole new world. Once I was accepted to Johnson & Wales University, I knew that that was my ticket out.”

“I decided an out-of-state college was right for me because I knew the opportunity for what I wanted to do just didn’t lie in my hometown or my state. I also wanted an adventure. It was a chance to experience new settings, cultures, and diversity. I wanted to be put out of my comfort zone and grow as an individual because of it. I have met so many incredible people from so many different walks of life that I never would have met if I hadn’t gone to school out-of-state.”

4. Look for colleges with a good sense of community.

It’s extremely important to find a school where you feel comfortable, especially if you’ll be living far from family for the first time. Capezza recommends paying “close attention to the communities in which [you] are looking. As you travel away from home,” she says, “surround yourself with a community of warmth and support, one that cares about its community members and provides the services and comfort of home. Whether that be in the clubs and organizations or the services provided such as health services, it is important that the community match your interests and needs.”

“Remember that ‘community’ extends beyond the campus walls into the neighboring streets,” Capezza adds. “Explore the surrounding towns and city access. It is these factors that will influence the activities in which you take part throughout your college career.”

5. Connect with alumni.

Firsthand accounts of what student life is like will be extremely helpful in deciding whether or not a college is the right fit for you. This is especially true if you don’t have the opportunity to visit the school yourself. Duval advises talking with alumni to learn more. If you don’t know any personally, “check in with [the] university’s alumni office to see if they have any alumni that live in [your] area.” Many times, Duval says, “alumni are willing to reach out to prospective students and act as ambassadors,” and may then be able to put in a good word with admissions.

6. Submit a stellar application.

Only once you’ve figured out which schools you’re interested in can you start crafting your application. As Glen Thomas, vice president for enrollment management at Pine Manor College in Massachusetts, says, “look for ways to differentiate yourself.” You might be applying to colleges where more in-state students are accepted than those from out-of-state, and so it’s important to do what you can to stand out from the crowd. “Be yourself,” Thomas says, “but don’t be afraid to take advantage of those things that make you unique or at least different from other applicants.”

This includes boasting about your academic and extracurricular achievements in your application. Try free resources, such as Magoosh, to boost your test scores before applying. According to David Lee Henry, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of South Florida, “providing evidence of academic strength balanced with significant participation in community service or leadership have proven to help students stand out in the admissions process.”

A stellar application won’t go far if it’s not being read. Since many schools do accept fewer out-of-state students, submit your application early to improve your chances, says Medina, “especially to those colleges and universities that have rolling admission.”

Student Spotlight: Shauna Dinneen ’17 at Pine Manor College

“Applying to college outside of Connecticut was easier than applying [in-state]. There were a few colleges on my list that I applied for and got turned down and then there was a college I got accepted to that didn’t really give financial aid. I applied to colleges in Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont and got accepted to them instantly with bigger financial aid offerings.”

“I feel like [attending college] outside of my home state will help me in the long run. I won’t have crazy student loans to pay when I graduate, and it also gives me the experience of living on my own.”