Thin film magnetic heterostructures with competing interfacial coupling and Zeeman energy provide a fertile ground to study phase transition between different equilibrium states as a function of external magnetic field and temperature. A rare-earth (RE)/transition metal (TM) ferromagnetic multilayer is a classic example where the magnetic state is determined by a competition between the Zeeman energy and antiferromagnetic interfacial exchange coupling energy. Technologically, such structures offer the possibility to engineer the macroscopic magnetic response by tuning the microscopic interactions between the layers. We have performed an exhaustive study of nickel/gadolinium as a model system for understanding RE/TM multilayers using the element-specific measurement technique x-ray magnetic circular dichroism, and determined the full magnetic state diagrams as a function of temperature and magnetic layer thickness. We compare our results to a modified Stoner-Wohlfarth-based model and provide evidence of a thickness-dependent transition to a magnetic fan state which is critical in understanding magnetoresistance effects in RE/TM systems. The results provide important insight for spintronics and superconducting spintronics where engineering tunable magnetic inhomogeneity is key for certain applications.