For undocumented students, getting financial aid to pay for college can be difficult. Although undocumented students can’t tap into federal funds, you can still apply for state grants as well as private scholarships and loans. Find out how undocumented students can access financial aid for college here.
Can Undocumented Students Receive Federal Financial Aid?
The United States Department of Education considers you an undocumented student if you aren’t a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national, or an eligible non-citizen, such as a permanent U.S. resident or a holder of a qualified immigrant visa. If you’ve qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in the past, you’re also considered undocumented.
The U.S. Department of Education doesn’t make federal funds in any form available to undocumented students. That means you can’t receive Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, or Perkins Loans. You can’t apply for Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOGs), or Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants, and you won’t be eligible for the Federal Work-Study program either.
State Financial Aid for Undocumented Students
Even though you can’t apply for federal funds as an undocumented student, filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) does create a path for other available funds. After all, filling out the FAFSA® is a necessary step in applying for many forms of state-issued financial aid, especially need-based assistance.
Filing a paper form (instead of online) may make it easier to file successfully. When filling out FAFSA® fields, check the box indicating that you aren’t a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen, and fill in zeroes in place of a Social Security number. Note that the form doesn’t explicitly ask about your immigration status or that of your parents.
Although undocumented students may not be eligible for every kind of state-issued financial aid, many states (such as Colorado, New York, and Washington) allow qualifying undocumented students to pay in-state tuition. This exemption from paying non-resident tuition could save you thousands of dollars a year!
In California, state universities provide an even longer list of financial aid options for undocumented students. For example, if you have AB540 status and you enroll at the University of California at Berkeley, you could qualify for in-state tuition and fees, Cal Grants, university grants, and scholarships. With so many financial aid options at your fingertips, attending a state school and applying for state-based assistance could make it much easier to pay for college.
Private Scholarships, Grants, and Loans for Undocumented Students
If you live in a state where universities don’t offer in-state tuition or other types of financial aid to undocumented students or if you’re planning to attend a private college, you’ll need to consider other options for getting the help you need to pay for college. In many cases, you can access private scholarships, grants, and loans, even if you’re undocumented.
To find the best private financial aid options for you, consider asking your high school counselor or your college financial aid office. Since these professionals have a comprehensive understanding of what’s available and whether you might qualify, going this route can help you save time and stress. Your financial aid office may even be able to point you toward a lesser-known grant from your school that you would never have found independently.
If you don’t feel comfortable asking about financial aid for undocumented students, try searching the Scholarship Finder sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. Depending on where you live, where you plan to attend school, what type of degree you intend to pursue, and what you want to study, you may find a mix of scholarships and grants, neither of which you have to pay back.
You can also consider applying for private student loans through your local financial institution. Since you’ll have to pay back any loans eventually, make sure you understand the terms and conditions thoroughly, including the interest rate, the monthly payment, the payment schedule, and the length of the loan.
No matter what type of financial aid you think you might qualify for, complete a paper FAFSA® form to ensure you can access the greatest range of financial aid sources. And don’t hesitate to file a financial aid appeal to get maximum assistance with paying for college.