Regional College Access Center

Immigration status and financial aid

Laura says: I was born in Arizona, but I have friends who came here with their parents when they were very young.

One boy I know is a U.S. citizen, but his mom is undocumented. He told me that he was able to fill out the FAFSA. Another boy is contacting the financial aid office of his first choice school to explain his situation.

I feel bad that my friends have to work harder than I do, but I'm also proud of how determined they are.

Who is an undocumented student?

Students who were not born in the U.S. and are not legal residents of the United States are considered undocumented students. Undocumented students are not the same as students with Undocumented parents. A student who is born in the U.S. is a legal US citizen even if the students parents are undocumented.

What are college and university policies for students of undocumented status?

As of now, there is no federal or state law that prohibits the admission of undocumented students to U.S. colleges and/or universities. There is also no federal or state law that requires students to prove U.S. citizenship in order to enter U.S. Institutions of higher education. However, institutions have their own policies. You will want to check the policy on colleges and universities that you are interested in when you start your college planning process.

In terms of tuition policies, each school is different in whether they allow undocumented students in state tuition, out of state tuition, or international tuition. Under federal law, public colleges and universities are not allowed to provide in-state tuition rates to students who are not "lawfully present" in the U.S. Some states work around this requirement by automatically offering in-state tuition to any student who has attended and/or graduated from an in-state high school. As of 2011, Texas, California, New York, Utah, Illinois, Washington, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas have passed such laws. The laws do come with conditions, so you will need to make sure you are eligible when you are planning how to pay for college. Your school counselor would be a good person to ask to start! The FinAid.com page on financial aid for undocumented students is another useful resource.

What are federal, state, and institutional financial aid policies?

Undocumented students are not eligible for federal financial aid. This includes the FAFSA which helps award students with loans, grants, scholarships, and work study programs. For the most part, undocumented students are also not eligible for any financial aid on the state level either. The undocumented students best bet for financial help in paying for college is apply for a private scholarship. Many scholarships require the applicant to be a legal U.S. Resident and verify this by asking for a social security number on the application. A list of scholarships that do not require a social security number is available at the bottom of this page.

An additional challenge

Many scholarships, grants and other sources of financial aid have specific residency requirements. Most often, these specify that applicants must be either U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Students on visas from overseas are often excluded, as are students whose immigration status is in question. You need a social security number to fill out the FAFSA, and not filing a FAFSA will exclude you from consideration for many scholarship opportunities. If you are an undocumented student, the truth is that you face an additional challenge in paying for your college education.

Opportunities exist

We said that "many" scholarships have residency and citizenship requirements—not all. There are a lot of scholarships that don't require a FAFSA score, and which do not ask or care about your immigration status. Here are a few places to begin your search:

Make sure to also check out our searchable and sortable list of more than 100 scholarships open to non-citizens.

Education funding and immigration

Interested in learning how higher education funding can impact undocumented students and their communities? Check out the recent report by the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University, titled The Effects of In-State Tuition for Non-Citizens: A Systematic Review of the Evidence (2011) [PDF].