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Student Loans

When Do You Become a Legal Resident of a State for the FAFSA?

The Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form that college students’ parents fill out to qualify for federal financial aid, including grants and loans for higher education. Parents or guardians usually complete the form on behalf of the student since the parents’ incomes determine the student’s aid. 

One of the sections on the FAFSA asks about your state residency. It’s an essential part of the form because residency determines tuition at public universities—students with in-state residency qualify for lower tuition rates than students from out-of-state.

But how do you know when you become a legal resident of a state for the FAFSA? The short answer is that it depends on your unique situation and state. But you typically must live in the state for at least 12 months before applying for aid. The good news is that figuring out your state residency status is straightforward. Here is everything you need to know.

When do you become a legal resident of a state for the FAFSA?

Where you or your legal guardian lives determines your legal residency. For students born and raised in the state of their college, answering the residency question might be as simple as filling in their date of birth. But it might be more complicated for other students, like those with military parents. 

The FAFSA does not ask you to provide proof of residency—you only need to input the state and the date the guardian became a legal resident. 

But if your application is chosen for verification, you might need to provide a document that proves your residency. The following government-issued documents provide proof of residency:

  • Voter registration card 
  • Selective Service registration 
  • Declaration of Domicile 
  • Federal tax returns 
  • Registration at a high school in the state

Each state has different residency requirements and lengths. Arkansas, for example, requires that students be state residents for six months. However, Alaska requires students to have residency for 24 months. Most states require guardians to live in the state for 12 months before applying for aid. 

ScenarioWhen you became a legal resident
You’ve lived in the state your whole lifeDuring childhood
You moved to the state after birth6 – 24 months before applying
You’re a military dependent30 days before applying
You’re an emancipated minor6 – 24 months before applying
Your parents are separated or divorced6 – 24 months before applying, based on the parent who provides the most financial support
You’re an international studentNot eligible for in-state tuition

If you’ve lived in the state your whole life

If you’ve lived in the state your whole life, you meet the FAFSA eligibility criteria for in-state tuition.  Most states require that a student’s parent or guardian live in the state for at least one year before the school year to qualify as a legal resident, which you easily meet if you’ve lived there your entire life. 

If you moved to the state after birth

If you moved to the state after birth, you must live there for six to 24 months. The exact length of time depends on the state, but the average is 12 months. You and your guardian must live in the state for the specified amount of time—six to 24 months—before applying for financial aid. 

For example, let’s say you’re applying for aid in California in October 2024. California requires students and guardians to live in the state for one year before applying for assistance. To qualify as a legal resident, you must have lived in the state since October 2023, one year prior. 

If you’re a military dependent

Residency requirements work differently for military families since the job requires frequent moves. Active duty orders determine residency. Military members must have active duty orders for the state and live in the state for more than 30 days. 

The requirements for veterans and their dependents using the GI Bill differ. Students using the Post-9/11 GI Bill or the Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty automatically qualify for in-state tuition as long as they live in the state when school begins. 

If you’re an emancipated minor

Independent students, including emancipated minors, can meet the residency requirement on their own and do not need to rely on their parents’ location. 

The length of residency requirements is the same, though. For example, imagine that a state requires one year of residency before applying for dependent students. The exact one-year requirement also exists for independent students.

Colleges consider students independent if they meet at least one of the following requirements.

  • Emancipated minor
  • Graduate students of any age
  • Married 
  • Ward of the court or foster youth
  • Homeless
  • The parents moved after establishing residency, but the student stayed
  • Both parents are deceased

Emancipation for minors is a legal process that allows 14 to 17-year-olds to become free of their parents or guardians. After the process is complete, the minors are like adults in some ways. 

If your parents are separated or divorced

If your parents are separated or divorced, the parent who provides the most financial support completes the FAFSA, including the residency information. If both parents provide equal support, then both parents complete the FAFSA. If parents are separated or married but still live together, both parents fill out the form.

The residency of the parent who completes the FAFSA will determine whether you qualify for in-state tuition. Your parent or guardian must meet the residency requirements specified by the state, which require that parents reside there for six to 24 months before applying.

If you’re an international student

International students with parents who live abroad do not qualify for in-state tuition. According to the University of California, one of the largest public college systems in the country, almost every nonresident student remains a nonresident throughout their undergraduate years. 

But even if you can’t qualify for in-state tuition or federal aid, completing the FAFSA might still make sense since some schools use the FAFSA to determine gift aid and scholarships.

What if you’re unsure about your legal residency for the FAFSA?

Determining residency can be complicated, especially when you have unique circumstances. If you have additional questions, contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center, an office of the U.S. Department of Education. 

The center provides free help with the FAFSA. Parents or students can get help on the phone by calling 1-800-433-3243. During business hours, you can also send an email or chat with a representative from the Federal Student Aid Information Center.