Earlier COVID-19 emergency grants excluded undocumented and international college students. Now all students may be eligible for grants and other support.

How Students Qualify for COVID-19 Emergency Grants


  • A third COVID-19 relief package replenishes funds for college student grants.
  • All college students, including undocumented and international, are eligible for money.
  • In addition to grants, college students can get help with basic needs and internet.

The latest COVID-19 relief bill provides $40 billion in funding to colleges and universities. Like earlier relief packages, the American Rescue Plan requires nonprofit schools to spend half their allotments on emergency financial aid grants for students. Unlike earlier packages, the grant money will be available to all college students, including undocumented and international students.

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona promises that "the final rule will include all students," overturning a Trump-era policy that restricted stimulus funds from flowing to undocumented and international students.

Existing welfare laws make students who are foreign nationals largely ineligible for federal funding, including student aid. Last June, former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued a rule that doubled down on excluding international and undocumented students from pandemic relief.

The White House will not require colleges to consider students' immigration status for this third round of COVID-19 funding, allowing schools to award the emergency federal aid to international and undocumented students, including those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Who Qualifies for Emergency Student Grants?

Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund grants were initially intended for students who took on new expenses due to the shift to remote learning during the pandemic.

Students also had to be eligible under Title IV of the Higher Education Act, meaning they needed to have a Social Security number, be registered with the Selective Service System if male, possess a high school diploma or the equivalent, be making satisfactory academic progress, and not be in default on a federal student loan.

Under the American Rescue Plan, colleges are only required to prioritize students with exceptional need, and it's up to schools to define their processes for distributing grants.

Under the American Rescue Plan … it’s up to schools to define their processes for distributing grants.

Some schools have disbursed the emergency funds automatically to Pell Grant recipients, while some have determined need based on financial aid applications on file — a good reason to fill out this year's FAFSA. Others require students to submit an online request form.

Students seeking funding should contact their school's financial aid office for more information.

Earlier distributions of COVID-19 emergency grants for students hovered between $100 and $2,000 and averaged $830 per student. Beyond providing grants to students, colleges are expected to expand mental health and academic support services and upgrade their technology.

At least one school, Delaware State University, plans on using funds from the American Rescue Plan to pay off students' debts.

Other COVID-19 Relief Available to College Students

Colleges have through 2023 to use all the aid, allowing students to use services and participate in programs funded by COVID-19 relief plans for years to come.

In addition to providing grants, COVID-19 relief legislation makes it easier for college students to access SNAP benefits, housing assistance, and discounted broadband. Stitching together these support programs could greatly benefit college students, as even small amounts of debt can prevent students from graduating.


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