Out-of-State versus In-State Acceptance Rates at Top Public Universities

January 20, 2021

It is unsurprising that the top public universities in the United States annually draw massive numbers of residents who seek a quality education close to home at a low (relative to the market) tuition figure. Yet, the magnetic pull of many of these schools has a radius that extends well beyond their home state. Each year, there are thousands of high-achieving students who reside in New England or the Mid-Atlantic states, lining up to apply to the likes of the University of Michigan, UCLA, and the University of Virginia. Prestige, academic reputation, a world-class brand (think of the colors alone), and big-time athletics help to lure countless applicants to the nation’s premier flagship institutions. This article will examine the following:

  • Acceptance rates for out-of-state applicants
  • SAT and GPA results for out-of-state vs. in-state applicants
  • Tuition cost for an out-of-state public university
  • How to decide if attending an out-of-state public university makes sense for you

We begin with a comparison of in-state vs. out-of-state admit rates at some of the top flagship institutions in the United States:

Is it hard to get into college as an out-of-state applicant?

As you can see from the data below, in general, it is harder to gain acceptance to a top public university if you are not a resident of that state. In some cases, such as at Georgia Tech, the University of Michigan, UNC-Chapel Hill, and the University of Texas at Austin, the acceptance rates for in-staters are more than double that of non-residents. Many other institutions offer a more modest advantage to hometown applicants and some schools actually accept more students from out-of-state (UCLA is our only example in this category cited below).


School Name In-State Acceptance Rate Out-of-State Acceptance Rate
Georgia Tech 40% 17%
Purdue University 69% 60%
UCLA 12% 16%
UNC-Chapel Hill ~41% ~13%
University of Florida 46% 28%
University of Georgia 53% 40%
University of Michigan 42% 20%
University of Texas at Austin 42% 15%
University of Virginia 36% 19%
University of Washington – Seattle 59% 51%
University of Wisconsin -Madison 68% 55%
William & Mary 48% 32%


What SATs/GPA do I need as an out of state applicant?

Acceptance rates can tell us something, but to really grasp the difference in degree of difficulty facing non-resident applicants, we need more data. Not every institution releases the average profile for an in-state accepted applicant versus one from out-of-state, but from the information available, there is plenty one can glean. Among freshman attending UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolinians possessed scores in the 1310-1460 range while out-of-state students sported mid-50% ranges of 1360-1500. Students admitted to UVA from Virginia possessed an average SAT score of 1419 while out-of-staters held a superior mean mark of 1466. At UCLA, California residents possessed a mid-50% unweighted GPA of 4.30-4.60, SAT scores of 1250-1500, and ACT composites of 26-34. Out-of-state admits had a GPA range of 4.35-4.80, SATs between 1390 and 1530, and ACTs of 31-34. This last set of statistics is interesting given UCLA’s higher acceptance rate for out-of-staters, but informs us that this higher acceptance rate is not, in fact, indicative of inferior academic credentials.

What will it cost to attend an out-of-state public university?

No matter where you attend college, unless you are commuting from home, room & board will cost between $10,000 and $19,000 per year. However, at public universities, the annual tuition that you pay will swing greatly based on whether or not you are a resident. Let’s take a look at the chart below, to quantify the difference at the same set of selective schools examined a moment ago:

School Name In-State Tuition Out-of-State Tuition
Georgia Tech $10,258 $31,370
Purdue University $9,208 $30,010
UCLA $11,994 $43,188
UNC-Chapel Hill $7,230 $35,224
University of Florida $6,381 $28,658
University of Georgia $9,790 $28,830
University of Michigan $15,230 $50,872
University of Texas at Austin $10,824 $38,326
University of Virginia $15,848 $49,825
University of Washington – Seattle $10,370 $37,071
University of Wisconsin -Madison $10,725 $37,785
William & Mary $17,168 $40,089


Is it worth paying more to attend an out-of-state public university?

Getting accepted is one thing; paying 3-4 times as much as an in-stater for the privilege of attending is quite another. At a private school, you (the student) are, in many ways, the direct beneficiary of your (your parents’) tuition dollars. Typically, an obscenely high tuition at least leads to smaller class sizes, more individualized attention, and numerous on-campus amenities (the usefulness of the latter can be debated). At a public institution, your extra $20-30k is primarily helping to replace significant cuts in state funding that have occurred over the last decade.

To decide if all of that extra tuition money is truly worth the cost, you need to take a deep look at the financial implications of choosing an out-of-state public school over an in-state school or private school (where you might receive hefty amounts of merit aid). Considerations include:

  • Is there a private school offering a similar cost of attendance (after merit aid) that might offer more benefits?
  • Does this school do more to further my education/career than a public university in my home state would for a fraction of the money?
  • What is my plan for after college?

To that last bullet, generally, if you are planning to enter a traditionally high-paying field like business or engineering, then college costs will be less of a concern. If you are entering something like teaching, social work, art, or the non-profit world, you need to think about whether you will be able to comfortably make loan payments. If you plan to attend graduate or professional school after earning your bachelor’s, will taking loans now impact your educational pathway later? More on adopting a big-picture mindset can be found in our critically-acclaimed book The Enlightened College Applicant.

College Transitions’ Key Takeaways

  • In most cases, getting into a flagship school will be more difficult as an out-of-state or international student.
  • Due to the sizable difference in tuition cost, attending an out of state public school is not always a great idea.
  • Students need to evaluate whether a given out-of-state public school is “Worth Their Money” in terms of return on investment, employer/internship connections, and alumni networks.