#College Essays and Applications

As decisions begin to roll out from some colleges around the country, it’s important to remember that some institutions were established to serve students from that state. While some university systems do not prefer in-state students, some limit the number of out-of-state (OOS) students they can have on campus at a time. This blog post will briefly overview what out-of-state student caps are, what they do, and give some examples of public universities and the state systems they’re a part of that have caps on students from out of state. 

What is an out-of-state enrollment cap?

One of the factors considered when Admission Officers review applications at some public institutions is a student’s home address. This consideration can be an important factor in determining their decision. Some colleges reserve large portions of their incoming classes for students from that state and have limited space for students from out of state to ensure the institution is serving the college-going population in their state.

For some, this cap is institutional, meaning the OOS enrollment at an individual college cannot exceed a specific percentage of the total enrollment. Colleges usually have individual control over this number through their admission process, attempting to admit just enough OOS students to enroll a number at or below their limits eventually. Institutions also sometimes set enrollment caps on specific majors, like the Limited Enrollment Programs at the University of Maryland. Other colleges have system-wide caps where the total OOS enrollment across all institutions within a public higher education system cannot exceed a specified number. This requires centralized coordination among all campuses within a state-wide system. 

Regardless of the kind of OOS student cap, students and families applying to colleges with these limits should be aware and set expectations accordingly. 

What institutions have an OOS enrollment cap?

In general, state-funded public colleges and universities are the kinds of institutions that will have out-of-state student enrollment caps. Because private universities receive minimal funding from state governments, they generally do not have out-of-state student caps. However, some private institutions try to ensure representation from their cities or regions in their admitted classes.

Below are examples of public institutions and university systems with OOS student enrollment caps. 

The State University System of Florida

Florida’s public colleges and universities, including institutions like the University of Florida, Florida State, and the University of South Florida, have an OOS student cap set at no more than 10% of the system-wide enrollment. They explicitly continue to say that individual institutions may exceed a 10% OOS student enrollment so long as the system’s OOS student enrollment is at or below that threshold. 

The University of North Carolina System

North Carolina’s public schools have an OOS student enrollment cap that varies depending on the institution. At its most restrictive, schools like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University at Raleigh, and the University of North Carolina Wilmington are capped at no more than 18% of students from outside of the state. At its highest, North Carolina allows Elizabeth City State University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), to enroll up to 50% of its incoming class from out of state. 


The University of Texas at Austin

In 2007, the state of Texas implemented what’s called the “Top 10% Rule,” stating that any Texas high school student graduating within the top 10% of their high school class is guaranteed admission to a Texas university. The only exception to this is at the University of Texas at Austin, which automatically admits students from Texas in the top 6% of their high school graduating classes. 

For out-of-state students, the Texas legislature recently restricted OOS student enrollment at the University of Texas at Austin to 10% of the incoming class to reserve the other 90% for Texans.  

The University of Maryland System

The University of Maryland’s state-wide system restricts individual campuses’s OOS student enrollment to 30% of their incoming class, but individual campuses may have stricter thresholds. 

The University of Virginia

While some state systems and legislatures require specific OOS student enrollment caps, some institutions impose them to be true to their charters and traditions. One such institution is the University of Virginia, which notes that their roughly 33% OOS student enrollment is less of a cap and more of a guideline to help prioritize Virginians. 

What does this mean for me? 

If you’re an OOS student applying to any institution with an enrollment cap, take admission decisions with an even bigger grain of salt than normal. Strong students from around the country may be turned away more often at these institutions than at others, given the restrictions placed on OOS student enrollment. While you may not be able to control where you live, you can control at least five things in your application, including your grades, rigor, and essays. Focusing on these things will help you put your best foot forward in this process and give you the best shot at calling one of these institutions home for the next four years.