If you are not a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident, you are not eligible for federal financial aid. This includes federal grants, loans, and work-study. Undocumented students who hope to afford their college education must turn to other funding sources: states, schools, and private scholarship foundations. They may also consider working their way through school if they have authorized work documents because of a Deferred Action decision.
There are two types of state-based financial aid incentives: state-sponsored scholarships and tuition discounts for students who decide to go to college in their home states. As an undocumented student, you will find that your eligibility for this funding is at the discretion of the state in which you graduated high school or have lived for an extended period of time (usually one to four years). Some states allow undocumented students to apply for financial aid, and others do not.
Which states allow undocumented students to access state-based aid?
Not every state allows undocumented students to enroll in its public universities (you can read about that here). Of the states that do permit enrollment, the only states that offer financial aid to students with DACA are as follows:
- Tuition equity at some public university systems
- Rhode Island
- Tuition equity at all public university systems
- New Jersey
- New York
- Tuition equity at all public university systems and partial access to state-based scholarships
- District of Columbia
- New Mexico
- Tuition equity at all public university systems and full access to state-based scholarships
You are only eligible for this state-based aid if you have graduated high school in and/or lived in one of the participating states for a certain amount of time prior to your college application.
If you live in one of the states that offer state-based aid, you will only be able to access it if you have received a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) decision. If you do not hold DACA, you are not eligible for state-based aid anywhere, even if it is offered in your state. Applying for DACA could be the right choice for you, but at the moment, no new applications are being processed by the Department of Homeland Security. DACA may be fully reinstated in the future, though. Find out more about its eligibility requirements here.
How do I apply for state-based financial aid if I seem to be eligible?
To apply for state-based financial aid, you must fill out the FAFSA. Though it is a federal form, it is also used by states to determine a student’s eligibility for state-based aid. Filling out the FAFSA is low risk. The U.S. Department of Education does not typically share the information it collects with the Department of Homeland Security.
Because you are not a permanent legal resident of the United States, you may have to provide additional documentation if you hope to receive state-based aid. This is at the discretion of your state. You may be asked to prove that you have resided in a state for a certain length of time by providing a copy of your family’s lease or utility bills. You may be asked to provide a copy of your diploma or high school transcripts to prove that you attended secondary school in a certain state.
Your eligibility for private scholarships depends on the funding source. There are some scholarships out there specifically for undocumented students and other scholarships available to all students regardless of immigration status. You will increase your eligibility for scholarships if you are a DACA student, simply because some funding sources require you to have a social security number. Pay close attention to the eligibility requirements of each scholarship you encounter. Don’t waste your time on something that is only awarded to U.S. citizens, for example. At the same time, some scholarships may not specify immigration requirements one way or another. Many funding sources ask for social security numbers where they are no longer necessary; they just forgot to update their forms. If a scholarship doesn’t specify that your SSN is required, leave the box blank. Don’t make up a number. Be honest when applying for funding.
Where can I find private scholarships for students without documents?
No matter your immigration status, there is a scholarship out there for you if you’re willing to look. Fortunately, several universities and advocacy groups have compiled lists of scholarships for which undocumented students may be eligible.
- List of Scholarships that Don’t Require Proof of U.S. Citizenship or Legal Permanent Residency is a guide to undergraduate scholarships from Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC).
- List of Graduate Scholarships and Fellowships that Don’t Require Proof of U.S. Citizenship or Legal Permanent Residency is a guide to graduate opportunities from E4FC.
- The MALDEF Scholarship Resource Guide is a list provided by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
- Selected Funding Opportunities Open to Non-U.S. Citizens is a downloadable list of scholarships and fellowships, which was compiled by the National Association of Fellowship Advisors.
The college you select might offer additional scholarships to its students, DACA beneficiaries included. To qualify, you will often need to fill out a FAFSA. You should do so, even though you do not meet requirements for federal-based financial aid. The information you provide will indicate your eligibility for school scholarships. Consult directly with the colleges on your short list to learn about their scholarship opportunities for DACA students.
Page last updated: 01/2018
Evaluating Your Best Options for College
Your Right to Higher Public Education by State
College Planning Guide for Undocumented Students
Employment Opportunities for Undocumented Students
Continued Support for Undocumented College Students
Deferred Action Procedures
Obstacles for Undocumented Students
Who Are Undocumented Students?