Under a 1982 federal law, all children, no matter their immigration status, have the right to enroll in free public schools for grades K-12. Similar protections, however, do not extend to higher education. There is no federal law that guarantees undocumented students (DACA or not) the right to attend U.S. colleges. On the bright side, there is no federal law that prohibits it either. That means that each state can make its own decision as to whether or not it will consider applications from undocumented students to its public universities. Private colleges can also make their own policies.
What are the laws in my state?
Luckily for undocumented students across the country, public universities in dozens of states (and hundreds of private colleges) do encourage applications from students of all immigration statuses. They might even offer some forms of financial aid. Know the laws in your state. Find your state in the map below to learn its policies regarding enrollment and state-based financial aid for undocumented students.
Which states ban undocumented students from their public universities?
There are currently three states that outright ban undocumented students from enrolling in some or all of their state university systems. Alabama and South Carolina do not allow undocumented students to enroll in any of their public universities. Georgia bans undocumented students from enrolling at schools in the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech systems.
Do all other states allow undocumented students to enroll at their public universities?
Excluding Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia, no other states ban undocumented students from enrolling at their public universities if they are accepted.
With that being said, some states make it more difficult for undocumented students to afford college. Some states ban undocumented students from accessing state-based financial aid. Other states allow them to access some or all state-based aid programs.
Which states allow undocumented students to attend public schools but bar them from receiving state-based financial aid?
Twenty-six states allow undocumented students to enroll in state-run university systems but prohibit their access to in-state tuition, even if those students reside in or complete high school in that same state. These states discourage applications from undocumented students by constructing financial barriers; out-of-state tuition is typically more than twice as costly than in-state tuition, according to data by the College Board.
- New Hampshire
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Which states offer state-based financial aid to undocumented students?
Some states and university systems allow undocumented students to access tuition equity. Tuition equity is essentially in-state tuition for students who are attending college in the same state in which they graduated high school or currently live. To be eligible, an undocumented student must provide an in-state address, have a social security number through DACA, have attended an in-state high school for a certain amount of time (usually one to four years), and have graduated or received a GED in state.
A few of these schools also allow students to access state-based scholarships in addition to tuition equity. Accessing any of this aid would require filling out the FAFSA. Undocumented students can get answers to their questions about FAFSA from the Federal Student Aid website.
- 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 financial aid
- District of Columbia
- New Mexico
- Tuition equity at all public university systems and full access to state financial aid
Are any of these states’ policies likely to change?
Immigration reform is a controversial issue. Some states change or reverse legislation each year. Continue to research your state’s policies. It’s possible that new bills will be introduced that will change your state’s stance on your eligibility for enrollment and financial aid, including in-state tuition and state-based scholarships.
How do I find out if a private college on my list allows undocumented students to enroll?
Private colleges make their own admissions policies. The only way to find out if a certain college accepts students without immigration documents is to contact the school directly. The school will also be able to tell you whether or not it offers institutional scholarships to undocumented students.
Where can I find more information about affording higher education?
As an undocumented student, you are automatically ineligible for federal financial aid. Your opportunities for state-based aid depend on your state, but there may be private or institutional funding opportunities out there. For more information about financial aid for undocumented students, click here.
Page last updated: 01/2018