Close to Home or Far Away

There’s no doubt about it: You attend college to progress academically, meet new and interesting people and prepare for a career in a field you love. But college can also be a time to pursue your passion for a favorite recreational activity, to travel the far-flung edges of the world or to deepen your knowledge through cutting-edge research.

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Your choice of college setting can help you achieve whatever you desire. Nationally, most students attend college in their home states, an average of 152 miles from home.

About 13 percent, however, travel across the country — or even across the world — to attend a “destination college.” In Michigan, 11 percent of college-bound students attend out-of-state schools, boosting non-resident numbers in Ohio and Illinois in particular, according to U.S. Department of Education data reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education.  


Students who pursue education outside of Michigan’s many private colleges and 15 public universities often seek a unique educational offering, says Patrick O’Connor, former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling and associate dean of college counseling at Cranbrook Kingswood School in Bloomfield Hills.

“When my students think about attending college out of state, they often are looking for a major that might be offered at that school. The college offers the program they are looking for, and that’s a big driving factor,” O’Connor says.

For example, if you wish to study marine biology or a related field, you’ll most likely seek your education at a college in a costal state like Florida, California or Alaska, perhaps following the school suggestions of the MarineBio Conservation Society.


If you crave a different environment than your in-state offerings, you may not need to travel far to find a unique setting; just remember you’ll probably want to visit home from time to time. For some, settling just a few hours away is welcome enough change.

“We tend to think that the place we grow up is the only place there is. So, college is a good way to experience another environment with the knowledge that home is still there,” says Lisa Sohmer, former board member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “I always want students to find the programs they want and the flexibility to change their mind. They need to decide a comfort level in terms of distance and accessibility to home.”

School size also can be a deciding factor.

“Michigan has some great universities, but when it comes to a campus of 5,000 to 10,000 students, we don’t have a lot of choice for those looking for a medium-sized college. Sometimes a smaller out-of-state campus will feel like home, even though it is not close to home,” says O’Connor, author of the book “College is Yours 2.0.”

For other students, off-hours recreational passions will drive the destination decision. Snowboarders, for example, will flock to Utah, Colorado or Vermont, while those committed to environmentally friendly living might enjoy Oregon or Washington. Ocean-loving surfers will gravitate to North Carolina, Florida and Hawaii.


Private college tuition is typically consistent for residents and non-residents alike, but public four-year college tuition is considerably higher for out-of-state students. In fact, the average 2013-14 published full-time undergraduate tuition and fees for public four-year out-of-state schools is $22,958, while average in-state tuition is $9,139, according to the College Board. With room and board costs, the average total out-of-state cost is $32,762 per year.

Depending upon the school, however, out-of-state tuition can still be affordable, and experts contend that many schools value geographic diversity enough to offer substantial financial discounts to attract out-of-state students. Look beyond the published tuition rates, even for private schools, says Jerry Pope, college consultant in Niles Township, Ill.

“Some small liberal arts colleges will say they have a discount rate of 50 percent. So, if their tuition is $42,000 a year, they are giving more than $20,000 to students, making these colleges more affordable in some cases than the state public schools,” Pope says.

Reciprocal agreements between some schools also can bring down the cost for students going out of state.

The Midwest Student Exchange Program is a multistate tuition reciprocity program in which more than 140 colleges participate. The program reduces nonresident rates to no more than 150 percent of in-state tuition or a 10 percent reduction in private tuition.

Actual savings vary based on tuition rates, but students typically save $500 to $3,000 annually, according to MSEP. For example, 2014 nonresident tuition at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee is $19,028, but for MSEP participants, including those from Michigan, the cost is $13,334. To compare, the 2013-14 resident tuition for Grand Valley State University near Grand Rapids was $10,454.

“The MSEP has been a major help in making out-of-state colleges affordable for students in those states that participate. That has been the biggest factor for many of the students coming here from Michigan,” says Tammy Colavecchi, assistant director of marketing for recruitment and outreach at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

“These types of reciprocity programs are definitely worth looking into,” O’Connor says. “Double-check to make sure what schools can offer, including any financial aid available.”


High school athletics, musical involvement and good grades also can pay off.

For example, nonresident students headed for the University of Toledo who graduate from high school with a minimum 2.75 GPA can qualify for the Tower Scholar Award, which waives the out-of-state surcharge, saving $9,120 per year, renewable for four years, according to Deanna Woolf, senior marketing specialist with University of Toledo.

Students who receive the waiver pay the same as in-state UT students – $9,054.24 for the 2013-14 year. In addition, eligible students can receive scholarship amounts based on their cumulative high school GPA and ACT/SAT test scores. Always research carefully and ask questions to make sure you qualify for additional financial aid, work-study programs or grants.


Because additional research is part of the decision-making process, self-motivation is critical for the traveling student, O’Connor says, adding that close to half of the students at his school choose out-of-state colleges.

“To make that connection with out-of-state admissions will require more initiative, and if students are more curious about options, they need to be willing to act on that,” he says.

Overall, out-of-state study can be a life-changing experience.

“Students may look at out-of-state as a glamorous alternative to staying in state,” O’Connor says. “They may see this as a vacation, but it’s also an opportunity to learn. There’s a lot to be said for students going away and managing their independence in a new city.”


Talk with your counselor about which schools will meet your educational and lifestyle needs. Schools that recruit nationally make an effort to be visible to students through their counselors.

Visit the campus. Fit is very important; get a feel for the school before making your decision.

Look for representatives from out-of-state schools at your local college fairs. If a destination school is recruiting students in your area, then they’re more likely to be engaged in helping you with out-of-state logistics. If the college fair is at your high school, then it is an excellent indication that participating colleges are actively recruiting from your student body and are familiar with your school’s academic strengths.

Talk with your family about your choices. Discover how they would feel if you attend college far from home.

– Claire Charlton