In Washington State, both U.S. citizens and non-citizens can meet student residency requirements. Students who meet these requirements are eligible for resident tuition and fees at public colleges and universities. Residency requirements for tuition and fees are different than residency requirements for state financial aid programs.
The Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC):
- Adopts residency rules for tuition and fee purposes.
- Sets guidelines for all public colleges and universities to follow.
- Advises residency officers and financial aid officers on residency decisions.
Each school has a residency officer who uses state laws, rules, and guidelines to determine student residency. To apply for residency, students should contact the schools they want to attend.
Washington’s public colleges and universities charge different tuition rates, depending on a student’s residency. Washington residents pay resident tuition and fees, which can be more than half the cost of nonresident tuition and fees.
There are several ways to qualify for resident tuition and fees at Washington’s public colleges and universities, but most students fall into one of these two categories:
1. Financially independent students
These are students who pay their own tuition and living expenses. They must have a domicile in the state for at least one year, for purposes other than educational, before their first term.
2. Financially dependent students
These are students who do not pay their own tuition and living expenses or are claimed as a dependent on someone else’s taxes, regardless of age. Their parent(s) or legal guardian(s) must have a domicile in the state for at least one year immediately before the student’s first term.
- Washington Administrative Code 250-18-020 outlines other ways students can meet residency requirements.
- Washington Administrative Code 250-18-035 defines financial independence and dependence for tuition purposes.
A domicile is a legal term used to describe a person’s true, fixed, and permanent home. A person can only have one legal domicile in the U.S. at a time. To establish a domicile in Washington, a person must prove physical presence in the state plus intent to permanently reside in the state. There are different ways to show proof of a domicile. Typical forms of proof include, but are not limited to:
- WA driver’s license.
- WA vehicle registration.
- WA voter registration.
- Lease, rental agreement, or mortgage in Washington.
- W2 or paystubs for Washington employer.
- WA bank account.
The one year waiting period for establishing residency starts when a person establishes a domicile.
Some students may have to prove that they are financially independent during the residency application process. Financially independent students must meet all of the following:
- Cannot be claimed as a dependent exemption on a tax return for the current and previous calendar years (calendar year means January – December).
- Cannot receive significant financial assistance for the current and previous calendar years from parents, relatives, legal guardians, or others.
- Must have used their own income—or financial aid awarded in their name—to pay their living and tuition expenses for the current and previous calendar years.
- Personal loans, Parent PLUS loans, gifts, and cash earnings are not income.
Students who do not meet all of these requirements are dependent students. Dependent students have the same residency as their parent(s) or legal guardian(s).
One-Year Waiting Period
Financially independent students can't take more than six credits per term during the year they are establishing residency. If students take more than six credits per term, they have to prove they’re primarily in Washington for non-educational purposes.
Some Washington residents may qualify for the Washington State Need Grant, State Work Study, the College Bound Scholarship, or Passport to College. These financial aid programs can be used at public and private colleges and universities in Washington. Students should contact their financial aid office to find out if they qualify for state financial aid programs. Find more info at Ready Set Grad.
Each school has a residency officer. The residency officer uses state laws, rules, and guidelines to decide if students are residents or nonresidents for tuition and fee purposes. Students who are admitted as nonresidents, but think they meet student residency requirements, can apply for residency. Students with questions about residency eligibility or the residency application process should contact the school’s residency officer. Residency officers are usually located in the Registrar’s or Admissions' office.
Students who do not agree with the residency decision made by their college or university should go through the school’s appeal process first. If the issue persists, students can send a complaint form to the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC). WSAC cannot override a school’s decision, but it can review the decision and advise the school.
Residency for Specific Populations
Undocumented or non-immigrant visa holders
Most students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents cannot qualify for resident tuition. There are some exceptions, including:
- Presumed undocumented students or non-immigrant visa holders who graduated from a Washington high school and meet other requirements through House Bill 1079 (see below).
- People with one of the following statuses who meet other residency requirements:
- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.
- Refugee status.
- Asylee status.
- Temporary Protected Status.
- Withholding of Removal status.
- Conditional permanent resident status.
- People with E, H, or L visas.
- Other visa types may be able to qualify – students should speak with their school’s residency officer for more information.
House bill 1079
This bill allows any student, including undocumented students, to pay resident tuition if they meet all of the following conditions:
- Finish the full senior year of high school at a Washington high school and earn a diploma from a Washington high school.
- Get a GED or equivalent.
- Live in Washington for 36 continuous months immediately prior to earning high school diploma or equivalent.
- Live in Washington after earning high school diploma or equivalent until being admitted to college.
- Sign an affidavit saying they meet the above requirements. Non-US Citizens must also promise that they will apply to become a permanent U.S. resident as soon as they are eligible.
Oregon border counties
RCW 28B.15.039 allows some students from Oregon counties that border Washington to qualify for resident tuition at certain Washington colleges and universities.
The colleges and universities in Washington that participate in this program are: Clark College, Columbia Basin College, Grays Harbor College, Lower Columbia College, Walla Walla Community College, Washington State University-Vancouver, or Washington State University-Tri Cities.
Specific requirements depend on the school and the student’s individual situation. Students should contact their school’s residency officer to find out if they qualify.
U.S. Territories and Pacific Islands
Students from the following U.S. territories are U.S. citizens and may qualify for resident tuition if they meet residency requirements:
- Northern Mariana Islands
- Puerto Rico
- U.S. Virgin Islands
Students from the following Pacific Islands are not U.S. citizens, but may qualify for resident tuition if they meet residency requirements:
- American Samoa and Swains Island
- Federated States of Micronesia
- Republic of the Marshall Islands
- Republic of Palau
Federally recognized tribes
According to RCW 28B.15.0131, American Indian students who meet the following two conditions qualify for Washington resident tuition.
For a period of one year immediately prior to enrollment at a state institution of higher education, the student must have been domiciled in one or a combination of the following states: Idaho, Montana, Oregon, or Washington.
The student must be a member of one of the following federally recognized tribes whose traditional and customary tribal boundaries included portions of the state of Washington, or whose tribe was granted reserved lands within the state of Washington.
See the list of federally qualifying tribes.
Military, Veterans, Dependents
Washington’s residency laws support veterans, active duty military members, and their dependents. Individuals who qualify for residency include:
- Active duty military members stationed in Washington and their spouses/dependents.
- Active duty military members—as well as their spouses and dependents—who live in Washington and are stationed in Oregon counties that border Washington.
- Washington National Guard members.
- A person who lives in Washington and is a spouse/dependent of a Washington National Guard member.
- Active duty military members or Washington National Guard members--as well as their spouses and dependents--who are stationed outside of Washington but entered service as a Washington resident and maintain a Washington domicile.
- Certain veterans and their spouses/dependents who are eligible for VA educational benefits and enroll in a school within three years of the veteran’s separation.
- People who are receiving VA educational benefits because of their relationship with a service member who died in the line of duty.
- Spouses/dependents who have post-9/11 GI Bill benefits from someone on active duty (effective July 1, 2017).
See RCW 28B.15.012 for more details about resident tuition for military-related students. Some schools also offer tuition waivers to veterans or their dependents. Students should check with their school for more information.