Financial Aid and FAFSA for Undocumented Students

Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for financial aid through the federal government. Only United States citizens can apply for federal financial aid through FAFSA. However, undocumented students do still have some options to help pay for college, especially in states with more favorable laws. 12 states have laws that allow undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition at state schools, which is often considerably cheaper than out-of-state tuition.

Why Undocumented Students Don’t Qualify For FAFSA

FAFSA is a set of questions posed by the U.S. Department of Education to current or potential college students. These questions ask about things like family income, assets, and other means of paying for college in order to determine need. However, students are required to give a social security number as they fill out their FAFSA. Since most undocumented immigrants don’t have a social security number, they will be unable to submit the form.

Can Students With Undocumented Parents Qualify for FAFSA?

Some children of undocumented immigrants who have submitted a DACA application may be granted a social security number, in which case they will be able to fill out their own FAFSA. Unfortunately, they will still be ineligible for federal student aid, such as Pell Grants or federal student loans. However, this doesn’t mean that undocumented immigrants should avoid filling out a FAFSA altogether. One’s answers to their FAFSA questions can also determine eligibility for scholarships and grants provided by the university itself, which won’t necessarily be restricted to U.S. citizens.

It’s important to note that students are asked to report parental income on their FAFSA. Typically, this involves identifying their parent’s tax returns by giving a social security number associated with those tax returns. Undocumented students with parents who haven’t filed federal tax returns because of their undocumented status can enter 000-00-0000 as the relevant social security number and explain their parents’ income later on the form.

Using 000-00-0000 as a social security may also be possible for undocumented immigrants who want to fill out their FAFSA, but don’t have a social security number of their own. However, if you do this, make sure to alert your university’s financial aid office and get the all-clear from them.

How to Apply for Financial Aid as an Undocumented Student

Even though undocumented students are not eligible for federal student aid, there are still forms of financial aid worth applying for. In order to apply for financial aid as an undocumented student, you should:

  • Find an advisor in your community. This can be a high school teacher or someone at your university of choice. This person can help you identify the materials that you’ll need in order to apply for financial aid and assemble them in time to meet application deadlines.
  • Contact your university. Since you will be a special case, it’s important to contact your university’s financial aid office. Let them know about your unique situation and ask for their guidance in applying for financial aid, including information about what kind of financial aid you might be eligible for.
  • Weigh in-state vs. out-of-state tuition. State universities often charge a much lower price for in-state tuition. This is meant to keep citizens of a particular state from leaving the state for their college education. In California, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Utah, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin, it’s possible to qualify for in-state tuition if you have attended three or more years of high school in that state and you’re an undocumented immigrant.
  • Consider other ways of paying for college. Federal financial aid is not the only form of financial assistance for students. If your attempts to fill out your FAFSA end up being fruitless, there may still be other ways to get help with paying for college.

Financial Aid Options for Undocumented Students

Federal student loans and federal scholarships and grants might be off the table for undocumented immigrants, but there are other financial aid options that anyone can apply for, regardless of citizenship status.

Private Loans or Grants

Private institutions often offer student loans or grants of their own and they aren’t beholden to federal requirements about who is and isn’t eligible. Private banks, credit unions, or other lenders typically offer student loans of their own and your university’s financial aid office can help you to find grants that you may be eligible for.

Private Scholarships

Many scholarships are offered by private individuals or foundations, or through particular educational institutions. These scholarships are often merit based, so citizenship status doesn’t enter into the equation. Contact your school’s financial aid office to find out which scholarships you might be eligible for.

State Dream Acts

California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington have state laws that allow undocumented students to pay tuition at in-state rates as long as they’ve attended high school in that state for three or more years. In Maryland, this law only applies to community colleges.

Undocumented students may not be eligible for federal financial aid, but it’s still worth it to fill out FAFSA if that’s possible for you. The answers on your FAFSA may determine how much financial assistance you receive from other forms of financial aid. If it’s not possible for you to fill out FAFSA, there are some alternative ways of getting financial assistance with college, such as private student loans, scholarships, or state laws that can help you get in-state tuition.

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