College Acceptance and FAFSA for DACA or Dreamer Students

Nicolas Cesare
Hispanic woman studying in a college library.

Some children are brought into the U.S. without proper documentation by their parents, at ages where they’re too young to understand what’s happening to them or what the potential consequences are. Many believe that these children should be given a chance to thrive, independent from the choices of their parents to enter the country as undocumented immigrants.

In 2001, Congress acted on this belief and passed the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (also known as the DREAM Act). This piece of legislation ensured that people who entered the country without proper documentation younger than the age of 16 would have a path towards permanent legal residency.

The DREAM Act is often spoken of alongside another policy of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (or DACA). DACA allows people who were brought into the U.S. as children to delay their deportation as they undertake efforts to gain legal residency.

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Can DACA and Dreamer Students Attend College?

One requirement of the DREAM Act is that the undocumented child must either complete two years of higher education towards a bachelor’s degree or serve in a branch of the U.S. armed forces for two years. So yes, people covered under DACA and the DREAM Act (also known as Dreamers) are able to attend college.

This was not always the case. In 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which made undocumented immigrants ineligible for a college education in the U.S. However, the DREAM Act repealed that provision, allowing the children of undocumented immigrants to attend college, even almost requiring it as a part of its path towards permanent legal residency.

While it is presently legal for Dreamers to attend college in the U.S., the legislative history of the DREAM Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act tells us to always be aware of the prevailing political winds. A future piece of legislation could come along and once again ban any undocumented immigrants from attending college.

How Many DACA Students Are in College?

According to the Migration Policy Institute, there were roughly 1.9 million undocumented immigrants who were potentially eligible for DACA in 2016. Of these, 1.3 million had completed a high school education and could potentially enroll in college as part of their path towards citizenship. Of these, about 241,000 were enrolled in college in 2014, with another 134,000 who had already completed some college.

College Tuition for DACA Students

College tuition rates and rules for DACA students and Dreamers varies from state to state. Sixteen states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington — have legislation granting DACA students in-state tuition rates, which are much cheaper than out-of-state tuition.

Two states — Oklahoma and Rhode Island — allow their Boards of Regents to decide whether or not DACA students may receive in-state tuition.

However, Arizona, Georgia and Indiana all specifically prohibit DACA students from receiving in-state tuition rates, while Alabama and South Carolina ban undocumented immigrants from applying to public colleges completely.

Six states — California, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, and Washington — allow DACA students to receive state level financial aid. At this time, undocumented students are ineligible for federal financial aid.

How Do DACA and Dreamer Students Pay For College?

Contrary to one myth, Dreamers do not get free college. However, since college attendance is part of a potential path to citizenship in the DREAM Act, it’s critical for DACA students to find the money that they need to pay for college.

FAFSA for Dreamer and DACA Students

FAFSA is the form used for federal financial aid. Although DACA students can’t receive federal grants, scholarships, and student loans, FAFSA is still important to fill out. State level organizations may use FAFSA to determine their own financial aid. If you have a social security number, then you can go ahead and fill out your FAFSA. However, if you do not, you may be able to contact your college’s financial aid office and fill it out using the social security number 000-00-0000.

College Aid and Loans for DACA and Dreamer Students

DACA students are ineligible for federal student loans or other forms of federal financial aid. However, California, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Washington all allow undocumented students to receive state level financial aid.

Undocumented students may also be able to take out a private student loan from a financial institution such as a bank, credit union, or lender the specializes in student loans.

Scholarships for DACA and Dreamer College Students

  • The Dream: The Dream has committed to $103 million in scholarships for Dreamers and DACA students so far. Their mission is to help undocumented students pay for college.
  • Golden Door Scholars: The Golden Door Scholars is another organization that’s committed to helping DACA students pay for college. They also help Dreamers to find good jobs after college through their alumni network.
  • Hispanic Scholarship Fund: The Hispanic Scholarship Fund offers scholarships specifically to students of Hispanic heritage. It’s available to U.S. citizens, but also to DACA students and other eligible non-citizens. It gives scholarships to students in all academic fields, but with an emphasis on STEM majors.

Important Resources for DACA and Dreamer Students

  • Federal Student Aid: Although DACA students are ineligible for federal financial aid, it’s still important to fill out FAFSA. In addition, is the final authority on federal student aid and will update if the situation changes with respect to undocumented students.
  • DACA Application: Form I-821D is the official application for deferred action on childhood arrivals. It’s important to fill this out if you are eligible, since it will give you the time that you need to work towards permanent residency.
  • United We Dream: For anyone who needs legal assistance with applying for or renewing their DACA.
  • Your College’s Financial Aid Office: If you need help affording college, it’s important to speak with your college’s financial aid office. They can help you determine what financial aid is available to you and guide you through the process of applying for it.

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