Scholarships for DACA & Undocumented Students

FT Contributor  | 

In America, there are a host of accredited and highly-acclaimed colleges and universities, and gaining access to one can be a crucial step in achieving the “American Dream” and launching your professional career.

However, for students or adults that are undocumented immigrants, the qualifications and requirements for attending university in the United States can be a bit daunting. Do you have to be documented to attend college? What about FAFSA requirements, or financial aid? And do these qualifications affect “DREAMers” as well?

Defining Undocumented Students

Undocumented immigrants are those that have traveled to a new country and either outstayed their travel visa, or decided to remain in the country despite their legal status. For many undocumented immigrants in the U.S., immigration policy can be confusing and difficult to understand. Additionally, those that do pursue a legal status in the U.S. often wait years in order to obtain visas or to qualify for citizenship.

Similarly, those who traveled to the U.S. illegally as children, also known as DACA recipients (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), face similar issues. Although the DACA executive order by President Obama allowed many young immigrants the chance to defer deportation and apply for a work visa, the program has since ended. The DREAM Act — which was intended to provide permanent residency to DACA recipients (or “DREAMers”) once they met specific qualifications — has also yet to pass, which means many may be facing additional immigration and legality issues down the road.

Can Undocumented Students Attend College?

Luckily, there are no laws against undocumented immigrants attending university in the United States. However, there are some state laws that bar undocumented applicants from attending public colleges within that state. Additionally, FAFSA applications are closed to those without a social security number, which means undocumented students may need to find alternative forms of financial aid in order to attend college. This is explained in more detail below.

Because of the varying laws, restrictions, and potential challenges facing undocumented and DACA students, going to college may seem like a much more daunting task than it would for a typical American student. However, the struggles that many of these undocumented students face may only make the degree they earn all the more rewarding.

Below are some resources to help you attain financial aid for a college education, including some unique scholarships that are reserved just for DACA and undocumented students in the United States.

Scholarships for Undocumented Students

The following is a list of some nationally recognized scholarships that do not require proof of residency in the United States, and which are specifically aimed for aiding undocumented students. Each scholarship will have unique requirements, which may include the completion and submission of a scholarship essay, as well as proof of academic performance from high school or completion of a GED.

  • Davis-Putter Scholarship

The Davis-Putter Fund was founded in 1961 as a tribute to the beloved activist and teacher, Marian Davis. Since its creation, the Fund has helped provide financial aid to students that are enrolled in college and involved in either social or economic activism. The scholarship is needs-based and is available for those in traditional college and university, as well as those enrolled in technical or trade school.

Eligibility requirements:

    • Students must show involvement and interest in social justice topics or economic justice, and be active in protests or progressive movements.
    • Applicants must have participated in activities located in the United States, and the Davis-Putter Fund prefers (but does not require) that applicants plan to work in the U.S. after graduating college or trade school.
  • Applications must be submitted no later than April 1st and applicants will be notified of the program’s decision in July.

Award Amount: up to $15,000 per year.

The Golden Door Scholarship is aimed at providing financial aid to DACA students, who have historically not been allowed federal financial aid and who are oftentimes charged international student tuition rates in certain states. The scholarship is aimed at students who are interested in pursuing an undergraduate degree in computer science, technology, engineering, math, or a related field.

Eligibility requirements:

    • Applicant must be a DACA recipient.
    • Applicant must be a recent high school graduate or a senior in high school.
    • Special preference will be given to students that live in states which don’t allow instate tuition rates for undocumented and DACA students.
  • Scholars must maintain a 3.0 GPA (out of 4.0) while attending college.

Award Amount: not specified.

The Great Minds in STEM scholarships are aimed at providing financial security for underrepresented groups to pursue STEM degrees. The scholarship favors students of Hispanic heritage, but is also open to any student that can demonstrate leadership and service in their underserved community. Additionally, the scholarship is merit-based.

Eligibility requirements:

    • Applicants must demonstrate merit and leadership qualities in their high school or community.
    • Applicants must be pursuing a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) degree.
    • Applicants must be enrolled in an accredited college or university for a 2 or 4-year degree, and must hold a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale.
  • The application requires a personal statement, peer recommendation, academic recommendation, and other additional documents.

Award Amount: $500 up to $10,000 per year.

This scholarship is intended for high-achieving high school seniors (regardless of citizenship) in the United States that intend to matriculate at one of the nation’s top four-year colleges and universities.

Eligibility requirements: The only requirement for this scholarship is proof of financial need for attending college and all the additional expenses that entails, including: tuition, living expenses, class fees, and textbooks.

Award Amount: up to $40,000 per year.

Microsoft offers scholarships to students who showcase strong leadership qualities, as well as who hold an interest in either computer science or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The scholarships are merit based, and Microsoft is interested in promoting groups that have been historically underrepresented in technology fields.

Eligibility requirements:

    • Applicants must be enrolled in a four-year college in the U.S., Canada, or Mexico at the time of submitting their application.
    • Proof of academic excellence, with either a cumulative 3.0 Grade point average (GPA) out of a possible 4.0 total, or a 4.0 GPA out of a possible 5.0 total .
  • Applicants must be progressing towards a computer science or STEM-related degree.

Award Amount: full tuition coverage.

The NPCA provides scholarships to students that are pursuing a degree in civil engineering, architecture, or other construction-related degrees.

Eligibility requirements:

    • Applicants must be enrolled in a four year college or vocational school, pursuing a recognized construction-related course of study.
  • Recipients must agree to work or intern for a NPCA member company for 320 hours per academic year during their second, third, and fourth year.

Award Amount: $2,500 up to $3,000 per year.

The Cesar Chavez Foundation partnered with PepsiCo to offer this scholarship to students of Latino descent who are attending school in either Arizona or California. The fund is aimed at promoting academic success for Latino students, regardless of citizenship status or national origin. The scholarship is granted based on academic excellence, leadership qualities, volunteer experience, and financial need.

Eligibility requirements:

    • Students must be attending college in either Arizona or California.
    • Applicants must be of Latino descent.
    • Applicants are required to maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA.
  • Applicants can only qualify for the award once, and only one member of the immediately family can receive the award within a 12 month calendar year.

Award Amount: up to $5,000.

The Posse Foundation is a scholarship foundation aimed at promoting diversity in America and providing students with a pathway to college. The foundation partners with select colleges and universities, and they work with students to promote community development and excellence. This scholarship is neither needs-based nor reserved for minority students, and is open to students of all backgrounds.

Eligibility requirements:

    • High school seniors must be nominated by their high school or a community-based organization.
    • Applicants must have demonstrated leadership qualities within their high school, community, or family.
    • Proof of academic excellence and potential.
    • Must be living and attending high school in one of Posse’s select cities, which are: Atlanta, San Francisco (greater Bay Area), Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, and Washington D.C.
  • Depending on the city in which the student resides, they must also submit their application prior to the deadline; typically between the spring and early August before the school year starts.

Award Amount: full-tuition coverage for all of Posse’s partnering colleges or universities.

The Que Llueva Cafe Scholarship is reserves for undocumented high school students of Chicano and Latino descent that are planning to attend a university in the United States. According to their website: “This Scholarship was founded with the intent of providing a direct response to what is an unfair immigration system that continues to deprive aspiring new scholars from continuing their education in the only country they have ever known, the U.S. As such, we find it imperative to provide a scholarship that attempts to alleviate the enormous financial burden of going to college until comprehensive immigration reform is passed and implemented in this country.”

Eligibility requirements:

    • Applicants must be a high school graduate or GED holder, enrolled for the first time in university of college in the U.S.
  • Applicants must be an undocumented student of Chicano or Latino descent.

Award Amount: up to $500 per year, and dependent on available funding.

The Questbridge College Match Program is aimed at students who show exceptional academic excellence, despite facing financial hardships. There are no specific, hard cut-offs for GPA or standardized test scores, and the selection process takes a “holistic approach in reviewing applications.”

The Questbridge mission is to: “increase the percentage of talented low-income students attending the nation’s best universities and the ranks of national leadership itself.”

Eligibility requirements:

    • Must be attending a high school in the United States (this is also depending on the university the student wishes to attend).
    • Students must face some form of financial hardship, most typically living in a family that makes $65,000 a year (or less) for a family of four, and all sources of family income will be considered with the application.
    • Proof of academic achievement (see website for specifics).
  • Proof of additional personal circumstances, such as being the first in the family to attend college, working part time to help parents pay bills, experience in extracurricular activities, and more (see website for specifics).

Award Amount: up to $200,000; depending on the university selected.

The Radio Television Digital News Foundation offers a host of scholarships aimed at aiding students that are interested in television, radio, or digital journalism. All the scholarships can be found on their website, and some are location-specific, depending on where the student is attending college. The foundation does require that students already be enrolled in college in order to apply for the scholarships.

Eligibility requirements:

    • Completed application, as well as a cover letter, work samples, letter of recommendation, and a resume.
  • Students must already be enrolled in college in order to apply, and must be pursuing a degree in journalism or a similar field.

Award Amount: $1,000 up to $10,000 per year.

SEG scholarships are reserved for students interested in pursuing a degree in geophysics and related geosciences.

Eligibility requirements:

    • Applicant must be a high school senior planning on attending college in the coming year, or already attending college as an undergraduate or graduate student.
    • Applicants must include current transcripts as well as at least two academic recommendations from teachers or professors.
  • Applicants must be pursuing a degree that is related to applied geosciences or geophysics.

Award Amount: $500 up to $10,000 per year.

This scholarship is reserved for students who have promoted vegetarianism in their schools or communities. The Vegetarian Resource Group offers two $5,000 scholarships, as well as one $10,000 every year.

Eligibility requirements:

  • Completion of an essay, as well as transcripts, three or more recommendations, and any projects, newspaper stories, or fliers that showcase how vegetarianism was promoted in your high school.

Award Amount: $5,000 up to $10,000 per year.

DACA Scholarships

The following scholarships are aimed at DACA students, as well as some qualifying undocumented students. Each scholarship may have different requirements, such as the completion of a personal statement or essay, official transcripts, and degree requirements.

The Becca’s Closet Scholarship was created to help students who demonstrate great generosity within their community receive some financial aid for post-secondary education. There are three types of scholarships that are all non-renewable, and the purpose is to encourage students who have demonstrated outstanding community service in high school to continue to do so and inspire others along the way.

Eligibility requirements:

    • Applicants must have a minimum GPA of 2.0 out of 4.0.
    • Applicants must be graduating high school seniors from a school in the U.S.
    • The award is available to US residents and DACA recipients.
    • Applicants must have made a significant and documented contribution to their community, through volunteer service or the creation of projects to help aid students in their high school.
  • Applicants must be planning to attend an accredited two or four year degree college.

Award Amount: $1,000 non-renewable.

TheDream.Us National Scholarship was created to help DREAMers with significant, unmet financial need attend an accredited two or four year college. This program partners with 75 colleges in 15 states, including the Washington D.C. area, to provide financial assistance to those that demonstrate a commitment to bettering their community and overcoming the many challenges that DREAMers face on a daily basis.

Eligibility requirements:

    • Have graduated or will graduate from high school by the end of the academic year, and those already enrolled in a four-year college or program are not eligible.
    • If attending a community or junior college, must have less than 21 credits in order to apply.
    • Must plan on attending one of the Partner Colleges, at an in-state tuition rate (not applicable for any private Partner Colleges).
    • Applicants must have a 2.5 GPA out of 4.0 scale.
    • Must currently hold a DACA or temporary protected status (TPS) in order to meet the criteria set by the scholarship organization.
  • Applicants must have arrived in the U.S. prior to their 16th birthday, and they must have significant unmet financial need.

Award Amount: up to $14,500 for an associate’s degree, and up to $29,000 for a bachelor’s degree with Dream Partner colleges, with the option for additional stipends of up to $4,000  to help pay for room, books, and other supplies.

For students that live in “locked out” states — as in states that do not allow undocumented students to attend state universities at an in-state tuition rate, or at all — this scholarship is aimed at providing a pathway to college for DREAMers by allowing them to get financial aid by attending one of five Opportunity Partner Colleges.

Eligibility requirements:

    • Applicants must not be currently enrolled in a four-year program, but must be high school seniors planning on attending college and currently residing in a locked-out state.
    • Applicants must have a minimum GPA of 2.8 on a 4.0 scale, and must have taken the SAT or ACT.
    • Must currently hold a DACA or temporary protected status (TPS) in order to meet the criteria set by the scholarship organization.
  • Applicants must have arrived in the U.S. prior to their 16th birthday, and they must have significant unmet financial need.

Award Amount: up to $80,000 per year, with additional stipends of up to $4,000 to help pay for room, books, and other supplies.

The Ford Foundation has created this Fellowship Program in order to promote and financially support the growth of racial diversity in the classroom. Specifically, the fellowship is aimed at helping students that are interested in pursuing an education-based degree.

Eligibility requirements:

    • The fellowship is open to all U.S. citizens, permanent residents, DACA recipients, political asylees, and refugees.
    • Applicants must show superior academic achievement, such as a high GPA, class rank, or participation in AP or honors courses.
  • Applicants must be interested in pursuing a teaching degree or researching at a college or university level.

Award Amount: not specified.

These scholarships, which are managed by the United Methodists Church, are open to students that have been a part of the Methodist Church for at least a year. Students can be pursuing any degree, and attending any university or college of their choice. Overall, there are multiple scholarships and loans that students may apply for, but they all have the following basic requirements for eligibility.

Eligibility requirements:

    • Must be an active, full member of the United Methodists Church for at least a year.
    • Applicants must be U.S. citizens, permanent residents, or DACA recipients.
    • Applicants must currently be pursuing a degree program in the U.S., or planning to in the following Fall term (if they’re high school seniors), and must maintain a minimum GPA of 2.5 out of 4.0.
  • Applicants must be enrolled in college full-time.

Award Amount: not specified.

The Golden Door Scholarship is aimed at providing financial aid to DACA students, who have historically not been allowed federal financial aid and are oftentimes charged international student tuition rates in certain states. The scholarship is aimed at students that are interested in pursuing an undergraduate degree in computer science, technology, engineering, math, or a related field.

Eligibility requirements:

    • Applicant must be a DACA recipient.
    • Applicant must be a recent high school graduate or a senior in high school.
    • Special preference will be given to students who live in states that don’t allow instate tuition rates for undocumented and DACA students.
  • Scholars must maintain a 3.0 GPA (out of 4.0) while attending college.

Award Amount: not specified.

The Hispanic Scholarship Fund is a merit-based scholarship designed to financially help students of hispanic heritage attend university. All graduate fields may be considered for this scholarship, but there is a preference for STEM-based degrees.

Eligibility requirements:

    • Applicants must be of hispanic heritage.
    • Applicants must plan to enroll in a four-year accredited (not-for-profit) college, university, or graduate school during the fall of the scholarship cycle.
    • A minimum requirement of 3.0 GPA (out of 4.0) for high school students, and 2.5 GPA (out of 4.0) for college graduates or undergraduates.
    • If applicable, applicants must complete FAFSA or state-based financial aid paperwork.
  • This scholarship is open to DACA recipients, US citizens, permanent legal residents, or eligible non-citizens.

Award Amount: $500 up to $5,000 per year.

The America’s Dream Award is offered to students currently enrolled in college to ensure they have the financial assistance they may need in order to complete their degree. The award is renewable, and as long as recipients maintain the standards set for the award, it will grow by $1,000 increments every year. Financial need is the primary factor that is considered before a recipient.

Eligibility requirements:

    • Applicants must be at least 17 years old, and must have completed at least one year in a four-year college degree path.
    • Applicant must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or a DACA recipient.
    • Applicants must maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
  • Applicants must be able to demonstrate financial need.

Award Amount: $5,000 up to $15,000 per year.

Additional Financial Aid for Undocumented Students

Because FAFSA is often closed to those that don’t have a social security number, finding financial aid for college is often even more difficult for undocumented students. Luckily, there are other options available, including scholarships, grants, loans, and (in some states) state-issued financial aid.

FAFSA for Undocumented or DACA Students

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as FAFSA, is one of the most common forms of financial aid for American college students. Unfortunately, for undocumented and DACA students, the FAFSA may not be available. This is because the application for FAFSA requires a social security number, which is something only granted to U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Additionally, the federal pell grant may not be available to undocumented or DACA students.

As for students that have a social security number, but whose parents may be undocumented, the FAFSA is still available to them as parental status is not taken into consideration on the application. If you are at all concerned about the information you’ve provided on a FAFSA application, you can print out the application and deliver it to the school of your choice.

In general, if you are interested in finding financial aid options for your college experience, the best place to start is by contacting the school of your choice and asking what aid options they have that are available to you. Many schools may have their own financial aid options or scholarships reserved for undocumented and DACA students. Another option is state-issued aid for students attending college in certain states.

State Aid and Undocumented Students

In total, six states offer aid to undocumented students that are attending college in those states, including:

Many of these states have created their own state DREAM Act, which allows students to attend college at in-state tuition rates, as well as a host of other benefits.

If you are not residing in one of these six states, or wish to attend a university in a different state, the best way to search for financial aid is to contact the university or college you wish to attend and ask them what options they have for undocumented students.

Keep in mind that some states have passed laws that strictly prohibit undocumented students from attending college or receiving financial aid. Some schools may also have policies in place that prohibit attendance from undocumented students. The states that prohibit aid and/or attendance are:

Do not allow student aid for undocumented students:

    • Arizona;
    • Georgia;
  • Indiana;

Prohibit undocumented students from attending any college or university in the state:

    • Alabama;
  • South Carolina;

Legal Aid for Undocumented Students

Luckily, despite all the barriers and obstacles that might be in your way, there are a host of resources available to protect and provide legal support for undocumented or DACA students.

If you feel you are a victim of unfair or illegal discrimination when applying to school, the following agencies may be able to help you or provide guidance on next steps.

    • Educators for Fair Consideration (Immigrants Rising): This program is California based, but does also have national resources available to all undocumented and DACA students in the U.S.
    • The National Immigration Law Center (NILC): The NILC has been a leading organization for championing immigration rights in the United States since its inception in 1979. They also provide toolkits and additional resources for students interested in pursuing a postsecondary education.
    • United We Dream: United We Dream is an organization dedicated to empowering immigrant voices, helping them develop leadership and organizing skills in order to enact change in their communities: at a local, state, and federal level. They also provide a host of resources for those in need, from mental health resources, to tools for seeking out education, and legal protection when needed.
    • The Dream.US: The Dream.US organization provides resources for DREAMer students seeking out postsecondary education. These resources can be anything from scholarships to guides, and even local support in some areas.
  • Local College Campuses: Many universities often have their own legal aid available to undocumented students, so check with your university to see if they have their own legal aid council available for you.

This post was updated April 11, 2019. It was originally published April 10, 2019.