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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Award Amount: $5,000 up to $10,000 per year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Award Amount: $5,000 up to $15,000 per year.
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.
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.
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:
Prohibit undocumented students from attending any college or university in the state:
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.