Five Tips for Scoring Out-of-State Tuition Discounts

Applying to public colleges outside your state? You may not have to pay the expensive out-of-state tuition. Many states participate in one of four regional exchange programs that allow residents to attend college in another state in the same exchange at a discount. These agreements are known as “tuition reciprocity” or “tuition exchange” programs.

Never heard of tuition reciprocity programs? You’re not alone! Most schools don’t advertise their participation, and information about these programs can be hard to find on the regional exchange or state education websites.

Curious to find out if your state belongs to a tuition reciprocity program? Take a look at our interactive state funding map. You’ll see what exchange you belong to. Click on your state and you will get a link to your state’s college funding authority in the upper right-hand corner of the pop-up box and a list of special funding programs that your state offers. Check it out! 


What to Know About Out-of-State Tuition Discounts

Finding information about tuition reciprocity programs can be challenging. While the four exchanges have websites explaining their programs in broad terms, it is your college that will determine how the tuition discount might actually work for you.

So we decided to go undercover as prospective college students to see what a sample of colleges and universities would tell about their reciprocity programs.

We contacted 20 schools — five from each of the four regional exchanges — to inquire about tuition reciprocity options. Fifteen schools responded and shared details about their application procedures and eligibility criteria. Based on what we learned, here are our five tips for getting a tuition discount through a reciprocity program.


1. Know what you want to study: Your decision is final if you want to keep your tuition discount.

You’ll likely be asked to indicate your intended major on your application for tuition reciprocity. Many of these programs are restricted to select fields or majors, and your decision is final if you want to keep that discount. So whatever major you pick you’ll need to stick with it — unless you switch to another eligible major offered by your school.


2. Read the fine print: Make sure you know how the tuition discount works for the school and program you’re applying to.

Reciprocity program rules vary by school, state, and chosen major. Double-check everything! Make sure your field of study and application responses align with the reciprocity program’s eligibility criteria. For example, you may know that the school you plan to attend offers tuition reciprocity for select majors in high-demand fields (like nursing or teaching), but there may be additional restrictions. Some benefits might only be available to residents of select states within the regional exchange, for example.


3. Compare prices: Your own state’s tuition may be cheaper than an out-of-state discount.

Do the math! Many reciprocity programs offer eligible out-of-state students a steep discount, but that may still be much more than what you’d pay to pursue the same degree at a public university in your home state. After you crunch the numbers, you may find that your own state’s options are cheaper. (Curious to learn more about what money is available for college in your own state? Be sure to read our state-funding tip sheet.)


4. Rules vary: Learn about the application process for each school you’re interested in.

The application process can differ from school to school. In some cases, the information you share in your college application may be enough to qualify you for tuition reciprocity. In other instances, you’ll need to complete additional forms. Check your school’s website to see if they provide information about their rules for the reciprocity program. If they don’t, reach out to the admissions department at the school you want to attend, as well as a representative from your regional exchange. Be sure you know what you need to do to apply.


5. Reach out: Find out what tuition discount programs may be available.

Don’t think you qualify for a tuition discount? There’s no harm in asking. Some schools may participate in reciprocity programs not overseen by one of the four regional exchanges. This isn’t very common, and it’s not likely to be advertised or easily found through a web search. Your best course of action is to email the admissions or bursar’s office at the school you want to attend and ask if the school participates in any tuition reciprocity or discount programs. Don’t be shy. You want to know about these money-saving programs.



Looking for a simple explanation on how state tuition reciprocity programs work? We like this short but informative video from the college aid organization, Nest to Wings. Take a look at their YouTube channel for lots of useful videos.

How To Get In-State College Tuition Prices Out-Of-State