Undocumented and Going to College: Beginning the Search

Undocumented and Going to College is a series that helps undocumented students successfully and effectively navigate the US college admissions process.

College applications are scary enough as it is, but for undocumented students the process can seem even more overwhelming. Undocumented students are afraid of revealing their status to colleges, especially when they predict they will be told that they can’t qualify for financial aid or in-state tuition. Oftentimes, these college-ready students decide that it’s in their best interest to not apply to college at all. However, undocumented students have more on their side then they often may know. Here are the facts to consider when thinking about applying:

  • There is no federal or state law that bars undocumented students from to public or private colleges in the United States. Colleges and universities in the United States are not required to ask students for proof of citizenship in order to gain admission. That said, individual colleges may set their own policies. The most common policy regarding undocumented students welcomes them to attend the college, but treats them as international students and thus renders them ineligible for in-state tuition benefits or federal or state financial aid. Institutions can grant these students institutional financial aid but will not grant them government aid such as Pell Grants or subsidized loans. Your best bet is to check with each college or university to verify their policy. Look for a post coming soon about states, colleges, and universities that are most friendly to undocumented students.
  • Undocumented students cannot receive federal financial aid. Federal grants and loans that help students pay for college are reserved for students who are documented. However, some states will permit students to receive state financial aid if they meet other eligiblity requirements, such as earning a high school diploma or GED in the given state.
  • Most private, institutional financial aid is available to all students regardless of citizenship or residency. Financial aid that comes from a college’s own endowment or donations is typically open to all students. So, for example, a financial aid package for a documented student might look something like this:

University X Cost of Attendance: $20,000

      • College X Grant: $8,950
      • Federal Pell Grant: $5,550
      • Stafford Subsidized Loan: $3,500
      • Stafford Unsubsidized Loan: $2,000.

Keep in mind of course that loans are not “true” financial aid. That money does have to be paid back in the future. Undocumented students, however, are ineligible for both Federal Pell Grants and Stafford Loans which would mean that instead the financial aid package would read:

University X Cost of Attendance: $20,000

      • College X Grant: $8,950

The undocumented student would need to come up with the additional $5,500 in grant money and take out private loans rather than federally subsidized and unsubsidized loans.

  • Undocumented students are eligible for numerous private scholarships that come from organizations and foundations. Even though financial aid can be the biggest hurdle for undocumented students, hundreds of scholarships are available to help. The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund has compiled a list of scholarships available to students who are undocumented. Some scholarships are open to all students regardless of permanent status and others are actually restricted to undocumented students. Awards range from $500 to full tuition and fees.

Have any questions for Hope? Email her at hbrinn@thecollegiateblog.com or use the comment box below.