Graduate Student Residency

Residency Classification and Reclassification

The State Education Assistance Authority (SEAA) is the authoritative source for all residency determinations in North Carolina. Session Law 2015-241 authorized the State Education Assistance Authority (SEAA) to perform all functions necessary to implement the coordinated and centralized Residency Determination Service (RDS) to apply the criteria in G.S. §116-143.1. This statute addresses the specific standards for determining resident status for tuition purposes.

Graduate students applying for admission and claiming in-state residency for tuition purposes or currently enrolled students seeking a reconsideration after March 1, 2017, must visit the NC RDS website for more information or to apply.

Determining Residency Status for Tuition in North Carolina

In order for your residency determination to be effective for the current term at ECU, your RDS determination must have an effective date on or before the 45th day of the term for fall and spring semesters, or 9th day of the term for summer sessions. RDS determinations effective after these dates will not be effective for the current term, but will be effective for the next term.

Why is in-state tuition in NC state universities so much lower than out-of-state tuition?

All state universities are partially supported by the taxes of that state’s residents. As an investment for subsidizing the cost of education for all students, each state provides a lower “in-state” tuition fee for all taxpayers and their children.

North Carolina has invested many resources in creating one of the best state university systems in the country and makes extensive efforts to offer an affordable education to its residents. The reason that tuition is relatively low in North Carolina is due to the large contribution by North Carolina taxpayers to the state university system. In fact, North Carolina taxpayers contribute about 40% of this cost.

The quality of the education and the rich variety of programs at East Carolina University has made ECU very appealing to many out-of-state students. Because ECU is a state-supported institution which is heavily supported by North Carolina taxpayers, it is important to assess whether students are truly North Carolina residents with regard to tuition purposes. The stringent laws accompanying this status are meant to protect the investment by the North Carolina taxpayer. When being considered for in-state residency for tuition purposes, all evidence furnished in an application for residence status is considered. The preponderance (or greater weight) of the evidence must support any claims made for in-state residency for tuition purposes.

Following are guidelines to help you understand North Carolina residency for tuition purposes.

Overview of Requirements

What are the requirements in the law for North Carolina residency for in-state tuition purposes or to establish eligibility for a state grants?

To qualify for in-state tuition or to establish eligibility for state grant determination under North Carolina law, a student must prove:

  • they established and maintained their legal residence in North Carolina for 12 months before claiming residency
  • intent and capacity to maintain permanent legal residence in North Carolina
  • they are here for a purpose other than going to college (some students may never qualify as an in-state resident for tuition purposes, particularly if they came to North Carolina to attend college) Simply residing in North Carolina is NOT enough. A student must show permanent ties to North Carolina by proving that any previous state of residence has been abandoned. Students may not have more than one legal residence (domicile) at one time.

To qualify for in-state tuition or to establish eligibility for state grant determination, you or your parent(s)/guardian(s) must demonstrate capacity, presence, intent, and duration:

  • Capacity: the ability to make North Carolina your permanent home legally and financially and remain in NC permanently
    • to claim residency on your own (separate from your parent(s)/guardian(s) you must demonstrate capacity based on your own financial resources, not through support from your parent(s) or through gifts from someone else
  • Presence: be physically present in and reside in North Carolina
  • Intent: perform various actions as evidence of making North Carolina your permanent home (domicile) rather than residing in the state for the purpose of attending college
  • Duration: maintain a domicile continuously for at least 12 full months before you claim residency

Considerations during the residency determination process

Length/Intent of North Carolina Residency

  • How long has the student been in the state of North Carolina?
  • Has the student left the state of NC for an extended period (including the break between spring and fall semesters)?
  • What were the reasons for moving to North Carolina?
  • Have there been sufficient actions initiated by the student to become a resident of North Carolina?
  • Is there intent for the student to reside in North Carolina following graduation from college?

Financial Considerations

  • Does the student claim to be self-supporting? If so, is the student employed in the state of NC?
  • In which state did the student file taxes?
  • Is the student a dependent on someone else’s taxes?
  • In which state do the student’s parent(s) or legal guardian reside?
  • What are all the sources of financial support for the student

Important to Remember

  • You can be a resident of North Carolina without qualifying as a resident for tuition purposes.
  • The burden is on the student to provide proof of the claim to residency for in-state tuition purposes.
  • Each case will rest on its own facts and every case is different.


Residency Determination Service (RDS)

The purpose and mission of RDS is to provide leadership and administration of residency determinations in accordance with North Carolina residency laws and applicable federal statutes. The RDS goal is to provide students access to transparent information and the opportunity to claim NC residency in a simple, accurate and straight forward manner.

All students applying for admission and claiming in-state residency for tuition purposes or currently enrolled students seeking a reconsideration must visit the NC RDS website to apply.  Any questions regarding the application process for residency should be directed to RDS.

Residency Determination Service

NC RDS Website
844-319-3640 (toll free)
919-835-2427 (fax)

RDS coordinates all aspects of the residency determination process including reconsiderations, RDS appeals, and SEAA Statewide appeals.

The Residency Manual and General Information

The NC Residency Manual contains the governing statutes, definitions of legal terms, regulations, and other relevant information including some examples. Applicants should begin the process with the understanding that the legal definition of “residence for tuition purposes” is not the same as most commonly used definitions of the term “resident.”

NC Residency Manual (PDF)

For more information on residency for tuition purposes contact RDS at:

NC RDS Website
844-319-3640 (toll free)
919-835-2427 (fax)