Financial Aid for Undocumented Students

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By Doug Wintemute

Reviewed by Mary Louis and Susana Muñoz, Ph.D.

Published on September 1, 2021

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In 2019-20, full-time undergraduate students received an average of $14,940 in financial aid. Graduate students received an average of $27,310, about 30% of which came from federal grants, according to CollegeBoard. The availability of financial aid for undocumented students, however, is much more limited.

Despite the fact that many of these learners face great financial challenges, undocumented and DACA students do not qualify for federal funding. To fund their education, these students need to pursue other pathways, such as state funding and private scholarships.

Can Undocumented Students Receive Financial Aid?

Undocumented students cannot access federal financial aid, but state funding may be available.

At least seven states offer state-funded financial aid for undocumented students. Learners can also pursue private scholarships and loans, which may feature less restrictive policies and requirements. Additionally, some schools may allow students to sign up for payment plans, and some employers offer tuition remission for learners with work authorization.

Even though undocumented learners have assurances under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, they should only reveal personal information on applications if they feel secure and protected.

State-By-State Financial Aid Access

Acording to TheDream.Us, only Alabama and South Carolina completely restrict admission for undocumented students at public colleges and universities, though many other states put barriers in place. For example, at least nine states charge undocumented students out-of-state tuition rates even if they reside in the state.

Nevertheless, about 20 states do try and accommodate undocumented applicants, either by honoring in-state tuition rates for residents or by offering financial aid. These policies typically require applicants to have attended high school in the state.

According to the National Immigrant Law Center, no federal laws prevent states from offering in-state tuition rates to undocumented learners as long as they offer the same options for other students.

Financial Assistance for Undocumented Students

Scholarships

Scholarships provide some of the best pathways to financial aid for undocumented students. These awards may come from private sources, schools, or state funding in regions that accept and protect the rights of undocumented immigrants. Scholarships for undocumented students typically require applicants to submit transcripts, resumes, and essays.

Grants

Though similar, grants and scholarships often differ in terms of requirements related to financial need. Grants frequently target individuals from low-income households. In states that offer them financial aid, undocumented students may need to prove their eligibility by revealing their financial status. Prospective applicants should consider speaking with a financial aid advisor before applying to a school.

Loans

With no federal financial aid available for undocumented students, college loans may be a student's only option. However, since private loans often require credit scores, many undocumented applicants may not qualify. Nevertheless, some lenders offer specialized options. Additionally, some states offer access to DACA student loans, although these could require immigration documentation and co-signers in the U.S.

Work-Study Programs

While undocumented students cannot participate in federal work-study programs, some schools offer similar programs using state or private funding. Typically, applicants need to demonstrate financial need to qualify, so providing personal financial information may be required. Some programs may only accept DACA students with proper documentation.

Financial Aid Resources for Undocumented Students

Frequently Asked Questions About Financial Aid for Undocumented Students

How can undocumented students pay for college? true

Financial aid for undocumented students may be more difficult to find than for other learners, but there are several options. Prospective students may be able apply for state funding in certain locations, as well as payment plans, work-study programs, and private loans. They can also qualify for various scholarships or ask their employer about tuition remission.

Can you fill out the FAFSA if you don't have a Social Security number? true

No. Students cannot fill out the FAFSA without a Social Security number. DACA students with a Social Security number may create an ID and proceed with the application. Though they still will not qualify for federal funding, they may receive state funding in some cases.

Can DACA students fill out the FAFSA? true

DACA students who have a Social Security number may submit the FAFSA, but they will not qualify for federal student aid. However, in some cases, DACA applicants may receive state aid; they should check with their guidance counselor or advisor to determine if filling out this form is worthwhile.

Can a student with undocumented parents fill out the FAFSA?

Yes. Students with undocumented parents can submit the FAFSA since only the applicant needs a Social Security number. However, students may need to divulge their parents' or guardians' financial information to qualify for certain forms of funding.

Can undocumented students qualify for student loans?

Yes. While undocumented students cannot qualify for federal student loans, they can qualify for various other types of loans. For example, some state funding programs may be available, and they can often access student loans from private lenders.

Financial Aid Review by:

Mary Louis is a Brooklyn native who currently resides in Nashville, where she works at a state community college. She has worked in financial aid and recruitment as a registrar and bursar at city, state, for-profit, and Ivy League institutions, as well as at HBCUs. Louis' financial aid experience includes writing policies and procedures; overseeing satisfactory academic progress, state and federal aid, scholarships, private education lending, and federal verification; and assisting families with completing the FAFSA.


Anti-Bias Review by:

Dr. Susana M. Muñoz is Associate Professor of higher education, Program Coordinator of the Higher Education Leadership (HEL) Program, and Co-Director of CSU initiatives for the Race and Intersectional Studies for Educational Equity (RISE) Center in the School of Education at Colorado State University (CSU).

Her scholarly interests center on the experiences of minoritized populations in higher education. Specifically, Dr. Muñoz focuses her research on issues of equity, identity, and campus climate for undocumented Latinx students, while employing perspectives such as legal violence, racist nativism, and Chicana feminist epistemology to identify and dismantle power, oppression, and inequities as experienced by these populations. She utilizes multiple research methods as mechanisms to examine these matters with the ultimate goal of informing immigration policy and higher education practices.

Dr. Muñoz has been honored by the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics for her teaching and research. She was also recognized as a Salzburg Global Fellow and named one of the "top 25 most influential women in higher education" by Diverse Issues in Higher Education magazine. She also brings 13 years of student affairs experience in multicultural affairs, Greek life, diversity and leadership training, TRiO programs, and residence life.

Feature Image: SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images

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