There are four main categories of immigration status and each immigration category allows for different financial aid opportunities. The first category includes naturalized citizens, who have the same rights and opportunities as native-born citizens. The second category, permanent immigrants, includes lawful permanent residents, refugees, and asylees. When it comes to federal student aid, the U.S. government considers permanent immigrants “eligible noncitizens.” This means that they are eligible for all three types of federal student aid: grants, work-study, and loans. The third category, temporary residents, includes foreign students on a visa. (For information on financial aid opportunities for international students, check out Edmit’s latest article on the topic.) Finally, there are immigrants with discretionary status, including undocumented immigrants. Because financing college can be particularly difficult for students in this last category, this article mainly focuses on financial aid opportunities for undocumented students.
- Federal Student Aid
Financial aid can be separated into four types: federal student aid, state aid, institutional aid, and private scholarships. Unfortunately, undocumented immigrants, including DACA recipients, are not eligible for federal student aid. They may, however, be eligible for state and institutional aid, as well as private scholarships.
The Department of Education encourages DACA recipients and Dreamers with a Social Security number to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as the information on it is often used by states and colleges to determine a student’s eligibility for state and institutional aid. Students should first consult their high school guidance counselor or college financial aid office to check whether filling out the FAFSA is necessary.
- State Aid
Many states have laws or policies in place aimed at improving access to higher education for undocumented students. According to the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), at least twenty states have “tuition equity” laws or policies, which allow undocumented students to attend their state’s public colleges or universities at the in-state tuition rate. These states are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, and Washington. This is an important and necessary measure. In some states, undocumented students are charged the out-of-state tuition rate, which can be a significant financial burden on students and their families.
In addition to having tuition equity laws or policies in place, some states also offer state financial aid to undocumented students. These states include California, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. Other states, such as Connecticut, Illinois, and Utah, have merit-based state scholarships for undocumented students. Because some states are more supportive of undocumented students than others, it can be difficult to know where your state stands on access to postsecondary education for immigrants. Luckily, the NILC has mapped out each state’s laws and policies on access to higher education for undocumented students, and Edmit encourages you to check it out.
- Institutional Aid
In addition to state aid, undocumented students may be eligible for institutional aid at select “undocumented-friendly” colleges and universities. There are several ways a school can be considered undocumented friendly. Some—including Illinois Wesleyan University, Saint Mary’s College, University of Kansas, Smith College, and Western Michigan University—knowingly admit undocumented students. These schools often suggest that students reveal their status for further support, and undocumented students at these schools are typically eligible for merit-based scholarships and/or limited institutional aid.
Other colleges and universities are even more supportive, promising to meet 100% of the demonstrated financial need of every admitted student, regardless of his or her immigration status. These schools include all eight Ivy League institutions, Bowdoin College, Middlebury College, Pomona College, University of Chicago, and Vassar College. Be aware that schools might require you to submit the FAFSA and/or a CSS Profile application before finalizing your aid. You should always check in with your school’s financial aid office for the specific requirements.
- Private Scholarships
Finally, there are numerous private scholarships specifically for immigrants or their children. The Esperanza Education Fund awards scholarships ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 to immigrants or their children planning on enrolling at a public college or university. The Ascend Educational Fund awards scholarships ranging from $2,500 to $20,000 to immigrants or their children graduating from a New York City high school. Neither scholarship takes nationality, ethnicity, or immigration status into account. If you’re not sure where to begin your scholarship search, the Illinois Association for College Admission Counseling has compiled a helpful list of financial aid and scholarship resources for undocumented students. Be aware that some scholarships may require a specific immigration status (for example, they may be open to DACA recipients only), so make sure you pay careful attention to the eligibility requirements.
In addition to scholarships specifically for immigrants or their children, there are also scholarships that don’t take into account the applicant’s citizenship or immigration status. Scholarship databases like Unigo and Fastweb can easily be found on the internet. CareerOneStop, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, also has a scholarship finder that allows you to search for more than 8,000 scholarships, fellowships, grants, and other financial aid opportunities.