Picking a College: In State vs. Out of State

When it comes to deciding what colleges to apply to, location should be a major decision factor.

Out-of-state schools tend to carry a much higher tuition bill, but the added cost may be worth it if the school is the right fit.

“The question is how important is that match for that particular school and how much are you able to financially sacrifice if you need to financially sacrifice for it,” says Scott White, director of guidance counseling at Montclair High School. “From a parent’s point of view, how much can you really afford?”

When deciding whether to stay in your home state or to attend school out of state, there are a variety of factors that can impact your decision. We talked to college admissions experts about what you should ask yourself when deciding where to go.

Should You Stay or Should You Go

Students’ financial situations should be one of the biggest factors in deciding whether to stay in or out of state.

Bob Sweeney, a guidance counselor at Mamaroneck High School, encourages students and families to be comparative shoppers and look at how much merit and financial aid they can be realistically offered from specific schools.

“It’s all part of trying to get kids to make the best match for themselves--just because the college is so selective or because it’s the most expensive, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best fit or the best match for them,” he says. “There’s a lot more than goes into that.”

After comparing financial aid packages, students should also consider their own preferences and what they are looking for in a school before making a choice. Creating a varied list can help you see how the benefits and disadvantages weigh out for you personally.

“Keep your options open; apply to some close to home and some farther away,” says David Altshuler, member of the National Association for College Admissions Counselors (NACAC). “Go visit. How do you feel about your neighborhood? What are your opportunities?”

Staying in State: The Pros 

There are many advantages to students choosing to attend an in-state university, but experts warn to make sure the school is intriguing and the best choice from an academics perspective.

“There certainly is an advantage given to in-state students,” says White. “It depends on the state and some states are really different.”

Depending on endowments for schools in your state, students may be eligible for more merit-based scholarships and grants by staying in their home state.

“My sense is [for] the out-of-state public [schools], there’s a certain expectation that out of state students are coming with what we call ‘full-pay’,” says Sweeney. “I think that most public universities really have to fund their own students before they can fund out of state students.”

By living close to home, students have the option to go home more often than out-of-state students since it doesn’t involve a plane or train ticket, or a long drive.

Staying in State: The Cons

College is a great time for students to expand their horizons and break away from the high-school habits and norms.

When students stay local, they tend to congregate with the same friends and limit their new experiences, experts say.

Altshuler says that even if sticking close to home seems appealing at first, many students change their tune.

“I very seldom speak to a [high school student] who wants to be far from home, [yet] I very seldom speak to a second semester college senior who doesn’t want to be at a university as far away from home as they can get,” he says.

Going Out of State: The Pros

Choosing an out-of-state school can give students the opportunity to live in a new area of the country and experience new lifestyles. By being willing to enroll in non-local schools, students also open themselves up to more academic choices and special programs offered by schools throughout the country.

Sweeney points out that if students know what career direction they want to take, the availability of a particular major or special programs could also influence a decision to leave your home state. If a student has his/her heart set on a specialized degree that is not offered at a school nearby, he or she may want to consider possibilities in other states.

Going Out of State: The Cons

Some state schools systems, such as California and North Carolina, are notorious for being difficult to get into for out-of-staters, experts claim.

Students considering leaving the state for college should be sure to determine their probability of acceptance by looking at the percentage of out of state students admitted each year.

“Schools will have a particular quota for how many out of state students they’re going to take, so it’s usually more competitive applying to an out of state school,” says Sweeney.

Although there are exceptions, state schools in particular are usually more generous with their own taxpayers’ kids than they are with transplant students.

“Unless you’re really spectacular, public colleges rarely invite out of state students,” says White. “Almost all of their money is for in-state kids.”

Moving to another state can be a drastic change for the student that may not be necessary in terms of the quality of the school. White says you could be significantly paying more for a comparable education just to cross the state line.