When I worked as a college recruiter, I can’t tell you the number of times I talked to students who assumed that it was harder to get into a college if you were an out-of-state student. To this day, I’m not entirely sure why this assumption is so widely held.
Most colleges only report an overall offer rate. They don’t publicize that there’s usually a difference between the in-state and out-of-state rates. And the truth is that in many cases being an out-of-state student actually gives you an advantage. Why is that?
Two Big Reasons
First, it’s simple finance. Barring any scholarships, you’re going to pay more to attend an out-of-state school. It’s no secret (or it shouldn’t be) that at many public institutions the out-of-state student tuition subsidizes what the in-state students pay. Most states aren’t exactly covering the entire (or even close to it!) cost of educating its own. Hence, tuition.
If in-state students are paying much less than out-of-state students, guess how the math works there. Bottom line: colleges need the money from out-of-state (and international) students. If they didn’t get to charge the out-of-state students more, then the in-state tuition would increase significantly. So, at some institutions, it’s a little easier to get in simply because they need your money.
Second, it’s a numbers game. It depends on how many out-of-state students a college can accept versus how many apply for admission. Let’s compare two (fictional) public institutions.
College ABC’s governing board has approved a target out-of-state student enrollment of 30% of its incoming class. There’s a lot of variability in how this number is set from state to state, and even from institution to institution. The decision involves the state’s contribution towards tuition and also, frankly, politics. For our argument today, let’s say the incoming class should be 1,000 students. That means College ABC is aiming for 300 incoming out-of-state students and 700 incoming in-state students.
Let’s say ABC is pretty popular among its own in-state students, but not as well-known outside of its own region (a description of many public institutions). If the applicant pool consists of 4,000 in-state applicants and 600 out-of-state applicants, what are your chances of being offered admission?
There’s a lot of complicated math that goes into exactly what the offer rate should be for each group. These groups “yield” differently. But it’s safe to say that your chances of being offered admission as an out-of-state student are MUCH greater than your chances as an in-state student at College ABC.
Now, College XYZ is a very prestigious, very well-known public institution. It actually receives more applications from out-of-state applicants than in-state applicants. If they have the same targets as College ABC but receive 4,000 out-of-state applications and 3,000 in-state applications then your chances of being offered admission as an out-of-state student are actually much less. They still only need the 300 out-of-state students and 700 in-state students.
Bottom line: it depends on the institution. Without knowing the enrollment targets and the composition of the applicant pool, however, it’s not always easy to know which category describes your institution of interest.
Ask and You May Receive
So what should you do? First, just ask. Specifically, you need to ask, “Is there a difference in your in-state and out-of-state offer rate?” I’m not promising you’re going to get a totally honest answer. Many state institutions fear they’ll anger their bread and butter if they openly admit that it’s harder to gain admission if you are, in fact, paying taxes in the same state.
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I’m also not promising that you’ll always be talking to someone who even knows. Some employees are better trained or more experienced than others. But it never hurts to just ask. If the university is one that embraces a culture of transparency then they will just tell you and the answer might be, “Yes, actually our offer rate for out-of-students is quite a bit higher than our offer rate for in-state students.”
Also, do some digging online. Most public universities have an office for institutional research (IR) where they house all kinds of public data. The data that exists publicly may vary from one state to the next and sometimes even from one institution to the next, but in some cases you’ll be able to see the number of out-of-state and in-state applications for the past few years, as well as the division of students enrolled. Do some quick math. It might not be perfect, but it should give you a general idea of whether or not there could be a big difference in your chances based on your residency.
The big lesson here is not to let residency be a deciding factor in whether or not you apply to a school of interest. Don’t assume that it’s harder to get into a particular school just because you’re not an in-state student there. If the school interests you, apply.