Resources for Undocumented Students Applying to College
About This Document: This document is intended to help undocumented students as they apply to college, with a focus on Boston Public Schools students. If you have more questions that aren’t answered in this document, contact your guidance counselor and/or the Student Immigrant Movement (SIM) chapter leaders at your school. If you’re still stuck, reach out to Lena Papagiannis (Ms. “Papa”) at firstname.lastname@example.org and she can hopefully point you in the right direction. You are not alone in this!
Here are the sections of this document, with clickable links:
This document was last updated Tuesday, December 13, 2016. If you have any additional information you think should be included, or if you spot any inaccuracies, please email Lena Papagiannis at email@example.com. Thank you so much!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
This section has been adapted from the following sites:
- Who are undocumented students? Undocumented students are students who are not U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or “eligible non-citizens.” Undocumented students are sometimes referred to as “Dreamers.” This term generally refers to undocumented youths who have lived in the United States from a very young age. The term “Dreamers” is derived from the legislation introduced in Congress known as the “DREAM Act.” You can read more about the proposed “DREAM Act” at www.ed.gov/news/speeches/dream-act-testimony. Within the larger group of undocumented students, there is a subgroup of students who have received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which is explained in the next question. If you are a student who is NOT a US citizen, but you DO have legal status (so you’re NOT undocumented) and are curious about your college options, visit this site.
- What is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)? DACA is the name used for a process announced by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in June 2012. Under this process, if you came to the United States as a child and meet several key guidelines, you can apply to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to request “deferred action.” “Deferred action” refers to a decision to defer (delay or put off) deportation. At this point, DACA may be granted by the US government for a period of two years and may be renewed under certain circumstances. Deferred action does not provide an individual with lawful status, meaning if you are a DACA student, you will still be undocumented. But DACA can still be useful because it helps students breathe a sigh of relief, and some DACA recipients may obtain work permits. If you are ALREADY a DACA student, it is wise to apply for a renewal before January, when the new presidential administration takes over. If you do NOT have DACA, it is advisable to NOT apply at this stage. Read more about DACA here.
- I have DACA and I’m worried about what’s going to happen under a Trump presidency. How can I prepare? We don’t yet know exactly what’s going to happen. What we do know is that DACA still stands. President-elect Trump has said that he will end all of President Obama’s executive orders, which includes DACA, but this has not happened yet. If you ALREADY have DACA, you should apply for a renewal. If you have an approved advanced parole that allows you to travel outside the country, you should do that…but COME BACK to the United States before January 2017. If you’re feeling worried about what’s to come under a Trump administration, talk to someone at your school who you trust.
- I don’t have DACA. Should I apply before the Trump administration takes over? United We Dream, the largest youth-led advocacy organization for young immigrants in the US, says no. They do NOT recommend that you apply right now. Instead, they (and we) are encouraging students who do not have DACA to just wait. The Obama administration won’t be able to process your application before January, and there is some concern that a Trump administration could use the information in DACA for other purposes. If you’re feeling worried about what’s to come under a Trump administration, talk to someone at your school who you trust.
- I am undocumented and I want to go to college. Can I? The short answer is yes! Your status will not prevent you from being admitted to college or a vocational program or enrolling in classes. Your status does limit the type of financial aid you can receive and it may impact how much you get charged for tuition. Many schools charge undocumented students the “international student” tuition rate, even though many undocumented students have grown up in the United States. The “international student” tuition rate is usually higher than the tuition rate for students with lawful status in the United States.
- How is applying to college DIFFERENT for undocumented students? Well, your process is going to be a bit more complicated. In addition to researching schools you’re interested in, completing all the required essays, and asking for teacher recommendations, you also have to deal with figuring out how your status impacts your app. Here are the steps we recommend:
- Step 1: Research the colleges you’re interested in to find out if they’re “friendly” to undocumented students. “Friendly” schools are useful for three reasons: 1. They are likely to give scholarship money to undocumented students. 2. They often have programs in place to help undocumented students at the university. 3. Many have committed to keeping student immigration information PRIVATE (meaning, they won’t share it with ICE). Learn more below.
- Step 2: Decide on your list of schools and begin your Common App. If you have DACA, begin your FAFSA. You DO NOT need to apply as an international student. If you encounter questions about this, contact the schools individually. Your case is different from that of an international student.
- Step 3: Contact the schools you’re applying to to ask them where to send the Student Aid Report (SAR) (this is what you get from FAFSA). If you do not have DACA, you should still contact the schools individually and ask if they will take any tax information instead of FAFSA. Some do (especially sanctuary campuses)! This can help you get financial aid even without FAFSA.
- Step 4: Follow up with your schools by sending your Student Aid Report and contacting the Admissions Office to let them know about your situation. Ask if there are any scholarship opportunities for students who are undocumented.
- Step 5: Apply to as many private scholarships as you can! (See the Scholarships section below.
Financial Aid FAQs
- As an undocumented student or DACA student, am I eligible for federal student aid? No. Undocumented students, including DACA students and Dreamers, are not eligible for federal student aid. That means that Federal Pell Grants, Federal Work-Study, and Federal District Student Loans are not available to you. However, you may be eligible for state financial aid, college financial aid, and/or financial aid from private organizations. Most states and colleges use information collected on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) to determine whether you are eligible for aid. If you have a Social Security number, you may complete the FAFSA, and we encourage you to do so at www.fafsa.gov. However, we first recommend that you check with your high school counselor or your college or career school financial aid office to see what types of financial aid you may be eligible to receive and whether completing the FAFSA is the way to apply for that aid.
- As an undocumented student, am I eligible for in-state tuition? If so, what other requirements are there for in-state tuition? In Massachusetts, undocumented students with DACA have access to in-state tuition. (In some states, ALL undocumented students, not just DACA students, have access to in-state tuition. In other states, the opposite is true: No undocumented students, even DACA students, are eligible.) Common criteria for undocumented students to receive in-state tuition includes attending a high school in that state for at least two years, earning a high school diploma or General Education Diploma (GED) in that state, enrolling in a public college/university in the state, and filing an affidavit (a legal document) stating that you plan to legalize your status and become a legal permanent resident. Check with the colleges/universities you’re applying to about their specific criteria for undocumented students seeking to pay in-state tuition. For more information on this across the country, see pages 27 to 36 of this Resource Guide from the Department of Education. For more information about in-state tuition at University of Massachusetts schools, click here.
- I heard that Boston Public Schools students get free tuition at Bunker Hill Community College and Roxbury Community College. What about undocumented students? Yes! Undocumented students with DACA and/or TPS (Temporary Protected Status) who meet the other criteria (2.0 GPA, etc.) CAN apply for coverage of up to three years of community college and all mandatory fees. Find out more at this BPS page.
- I did really well on MCAS and got the Abigail Adams Scholarship. Can I use it even though I’m undocumented? Yes, undocumented students with DACA can use their Abigail Adams Scholarship to attend University of Massachusetts schools. Undocumented students without DACA cannot use the scholarship.
- To complete the FAFSA, do I need a Social Security number? Yes, a Social Security number is necessary to complete the FAFSA. If you are completing a FAFSA online at www.fafsa.gov, a Social Security number is also required to apply for a username and password called the “FSA ID,” which can be used to electronically sign the FAFSA. Most undocumented students are not eligible for a Social Security number; thus, they cannot complete the FAFSA. However, DACA students with Social Security numbers can complete the FAFSA. Still, even if you have a Social Security number, you should check with your high school counselor or your college or career school financial aid office to see whether completing the FAFSA is the way to apply for state and college aid.
- Does my parents’ citizenship status affect my eligibility for federal student aid? No, your parents’ citizenship status does not affect your eligibility for federal student aid. In fact, the FAFSA doesn’t even ask about your parents’ status.
- In order for me to complete the FAFSA, do my parents need Social Security numbers? No; since your parents’ citizenship does not affect your ability to complete the FAFSA, they do not need Social Security numbers. If your parents do not have Social Security numbers, you should enter 000-00-0000 when the FAFSA asks for parents’ Social Security numbers. If your parents do not have Social Security numbers, you must print out the signature page from the online FAFSA so that your parents can sign it and send it in.
- On the FAFSA, how do I answer the question that reads, “Are you a U.S. citizen?”? DACA students must answer that question by selecting the option “No, I am not a citizen or eligible noncitizen.”
- On the FAFSA, how do I answer the question that reads, “What is your state of legal residence?”? The state of legal residence is your true, fixed, and permanent home. The fact that you are a DACA student does not affect how you should answer this question for purposes of completing the FAFSA. Each state determines legal residency differently. You should contact your high school counselor or college or career school financial aid office for assistance with state of legal residence qualifications. In Massachusetts, “legal residency” means having lived in Massachusetts for at least 12 months. Some schools that require legal residency in a state might be using a different length of time so it’s a good idea to ask them.
- On the FAFSA, how do I answer the question that reads, “What is your parents’ state of legal residence?”? Your parents’ answer should reflect their true, fixed, and permanent home. Your parents’ legal immigration status does not affect how you should answer this question for purposes of completing the FAFSA. Again, each state determines legal residency differently, so talking with your guidance counselor or college or career school financial aid office would be good. Residency in Massachusetts means having lived in Massachusetts for 12 months.
- On the FAFSA, how do I submit my tax information? If you are completing the FAFSA online at www.fafsa.gov and you filed your income tax return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), you may be able to access the information through the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. If you did not file an income tax return with the IRS, enter the requested financial information manually on the FAFSA website. If completing the paper FAFSA, follow the instructions that detail how to answer the financial information questions.
- On the FAFSA, how do my parents submit their tax information? If you are completing the FAFSA online at www.fafsa.gov and your parents filed their income tax returns with the IRS and they meet certain requirements such as having Social Security numbers, they may be able to access their tax information through the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. If your parents did not file their income tax returns with the IRS, you can enter the requested information manually on the FAFSA website. If completing the paper FAFSA, follow the instructions that detail how to answer the parental financial information questions.