In-State vs. Out-of-State Tuition in California

In-State vs. Out-of-State Tuition in California
portrait of Whitney Sandoval
by Whitney Sandoval
Published on November 17, 2021

In-State vs. Out-of-State Tuition | How Much Is In-State Tuition? | Can I Get In-State Tuition? | How Much Is Out-of-State Tuition? | Can Out-of-State Students Get In-State Tuition Rates? | FAQs


Pursuing a college degree in California can provide more than just some fun in the sun. Educational opportunities and leading industries in the state are among the factors that make studying in California worth the potential extra costs, like a high cost of living.

There are many reasons to study in California. California has several diverse cities with active arts and culture offerings, as well as various natural landscapes. From Silicon Valley to Yosemite National Park, prospective students can find enriching activities and internship opportunities.

Investing in a college degree can be expensive, and that price varies based on your residency. In 2019-2020, the average undergraduate tuition and required fees for in-state students in California was $8,192 at a public four-year institution. It was $32,177 for out-of-state students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

These tuition costs do not include true living costs. When considering colleges, you should factor in costs for rent or student housing, books and supplies, and transportation. All these elements influence the actual cost of your degree.

Learn more about the costs of in-state and out-of-state tuition in California.

What's the Difference Between In-State vs. Out-of-State Tuition?

The definition of an in-state resident varies between states. Typically, a student is considered an in-state resident if their legal custodian has been a resident of the state for a year or more. Exceptions may apply for students whose parents or guardians are active-duty military or who are divorced.

Check each college you apply to for their in-state and out-of-state tuition rates. Being a resident of the state your prospective public college is in can significantly lower your tuition. However, some colleges offer low out-of-state tuition rates, too.

Tuition rates have risen, but there are ways to save money. The type of college you attend will also affect your tuition rates. For instance, most private colleges offer the same tuition rates regardless of residency status. However, many community colleges offer cheaper tuition to in-state residents.

Program types may also factor into your tuition rate. On-campus, in-person degrees may offer different tuition rates based on in-state vs. out-of-state residency. Some fully online degree programs offer the same tuition rate to all applicants.

How Much Is In-State Tuition in California?

Despite the higher cost of living in many areas of California, the average tuition rates for in-state residents are cheaper than the national average. In 2019-2020, the average cost of tuition and fees for a public four-year institution was $8,192 for in-state residents of California.

For public two-year institutions, the average cost of tuition and fees for California residents was $1,270 a year. This is nearly one-third the national average cost of tuition and fees for in-state residents attending a two-year institution.

In-State Tuition Costs and Required Fees in California
Institution Type Average Cost of Tuition and Fees
Public 4-year (in-state) $8,192
Public 2-year (in-state) $1,270

Source: NCES

Can I Get In-State Tuition in California?

In order to gain residency status in California to receive in-state tuition, you must:

If your parent(s)/guardian(s) are not physical residents of California, and you are under the age of 24 and unmarried, you must be able to prove you have been financially independent for at least two years. This means you have paid the majority of your own housing and living costs.

In order to prove residency, you could be asked to provide:

How Much Is Out-of-State Tuition in California?

Compared to in-state tuition, the cost of out-of-state tuition goes up substantially in California. For a public four-year institution, the average cost of out-of-state tuition and fees was $32,177 in 2019-2020. This cost is higher than the national average cost of out-of-state tuition.

Out-of-state costs increase significantly for two-year institutions as well. The average annual cost for out-of-state tuition for public two-year colleges is $8,194 in California. However, this cost is comparable to the national average for public two-year institutions.

Regardless of residency status, the average cost of tuition and fees for private four-year colleges in California is $37,009 annually.

Out-of-State Tuition Costs and Required Fees in California
Institution Type Average Cost of Tuition and Fees
Public 4-year $32,177
Public 2-year $8,194
Private 4-year $37,009

Source: NCES

Can Out-of-State Students Get In-State Tuition Rates in California?

Even if you are not a California resident, there are a few ways to gain in-state tuition rates. These options may not apply to every out-of-state student. But you may be surprised by the different ways out-of-state students can get in-state tuition rates in California.

One of the most common ways to receive in-state tuition is through a reciprocity program. Reciprocity programs are agreements between different states to offer students discounted tuition.

For instance, California partners with Colorado. This allows Colorado students to receive in-state tuition in California, and California students can receive in-state tuition in Colorado. Depending on where you live, your state residency may get you in-state tuition rates in California.

Your academic achievements may also earn you access to in-state tuition in California. Some colleges may be willing to offer in-state tuition rates to students who graduate from high school with a high GPA or to students who perform exceptionally well on national standardized tests.

California also offers exemptions for students who fall within certain categories or have experienced specific hardships.

Read more about each of these options below.

Reciprocity Programs

California participates in the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) program. WUE allows residents of certain states to receive in-state tuition, or a reduced tuition rate, in participating undergraduate programs in California. States involved in WUE include:

High Academic Achievement

Students who demonstrate high academic achievement may be able to receive in-state tuition rates. Students can also earn more scholarship money to help fund their college tuition. Colleges may offer scholarships to students who have a high overall GPA or who have earned high ACT or SAT scores.

Along with school-specific scholarships, students who have a record of high academic achievement can apply for private scholarships as well. A wide variety of scholarships are available for academic merit.

Applying for academic scholarships can be time-consuming, but receiving scholarship money for your academic achievements can significantly reduce the cost of your tuition and fees.

Exemptions and Exceptions

Tuition exemptions exist for qualifying students in different circumstances. In California, applying students who fall under the California Dream Act or under California Law AB 540 can receive an out-of-state tuition exemption. These exemptions apply to students who are not legal residents of the United States.

Other qualifying factors that may earn you an exemption or exception on out-of-state tuition include:

Frequently Asked Questions About In-State vs. Out-of-State Tuition in California

Why is out-of-state tuition so much higher than in-state tuition?

Taxes are the most commonly named reason for the difference in tuition rates. Because public universities receive funding from state tax dollars, in-state residents are seen as having already contributed to funding the colleges.

Since out-of-state residents have not paid any state taxes, their tax dollars have not contributed to any money going toward those schools. So they are charged higher tuition rates.

How long do you have to live in California to get in-state tuition?

In order to be considered an in-state resident, you must have lived in California for at least one year prior to your college program's start date. This means you must be able to prove you have been a physical resident of California for at least 366 days.

Does California have tuition reciprocity with any other states?

Through WUE, many schools in California have tuition reciprocity programs with other states. There are 16 participating Western states and territories in WUE, including California, Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

California is also partnered with other reciprocity programs, including the Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP) and the Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP). WRGP provides discounted tuition rates for graduate degrees, certificate programs, and doctoral degrees. PSEP provides special tuition rates for those pursuing healthcare degrees.

What is a California nonresident tuition exemption?

California offers nonresident tuition exemption for prospective students who are in unique circumstances. California provides this tuition opportunity in a few different cases. Nonresident tuition exemptions can be granted to students who demonstrate a unique residency situation like refugee status or being a non-legal resident of the United States.

Other qualifying exemptions include being: a foster child, a child or spouse of a deceased police officer or firefighter who was a California resident at the time of their death, a veteran, or the victim of a domestic violence situation.

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