Each year, an estimated 98,000 undocumented students graduate from high school. Very few go on to complete a four-year education, but that is changing. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, or Dreamers — people who were brought to the United States unlawfully as children — are eligible for some state and local scholarships.
In this guide, you will learn about some of the options available for Dreamers hoping to get a college degree. It’s important to note that as of July 2021, Dreamers are not eligible for federal financial aid on tuition. But that’s not the only resource out there.
While federal aid for tuition is not available for Dreamers, local- and state-level assistance may be. In some states, DACA students may receive in-state aid with their tuition. This is individual to each school, university or college, and each state. Students should check with specific schools, and if possible, their high school college counselor for more information. Most states and colleges use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
One issue with the FAFSA form is that it requires that the student have a Social Security number (SSN). Most DACA recipients are eligible for a SSN. For information on how to apply for one, visit SSA.gov. A parent’s citizenship status does not affect a student’s eligibility. Also, a student must answer “no” to the question, “Are you a U.S. citizen?” But beyond the federal government, no one has the right to ask a student about their legal status.
It’s important to never misrepresent information on a federal form. It’s better to leave a question blank than jeopardize one’s status.
As of 2020, 17 U.S. states allow DACA recipients, and undocumented students, to pay in-state tuition rates, which are typically more affordable than rates for students outside the state. A great state-by-state tuition aid breakdown can be found on this map. Some states, like Connecticut, have created a resource specifically for immigrant students.
DACA recipients, and undocumented students, can also apply for various grants and scholarships. The list below is not exhaustive but gives a good sample of where to look for help (listed in alphabetical order):
- Ascend Education Fund: A nonprofit whose mission is to enable and encourage immigrant students to pursue their higher education and professional goals, regardless of gender, ethnicity, race or status.
- California Dream Act: California provides funding for students who attend specific eligible California colleges, universities, and career education programs. An application must be submitted for each academic year.
- The Dream.US: A program whose mission is to provide scholarships to highly-qualified Dreamers to help them pay for their college education. Most of the recipients have DACA or TPS (Temporary Protected Status) that allows them to live and legally work in the United States. Each participating college provides students with an advisor.
- Golden Doors Scholars: A fund for DACA and TPS students, as well as undocumented students, to pursue college. The catch is that applicants must not be eligible for any in-state tuition.
- Hispanic Scholarship Fund: This fund awards merit-based scholarships to DACA students of Hispanic ethnicity at the high school, community, university, and graduate school levels.
- Jack Kent Coke Scholarship: This general education fund gives students up to $40,000 per year and does not take immigration status into consideration.
- PepsiCo Cesar Chavez Latino Scholarship: This fund provides students of Latina descent in California and Arizona with $5000 in tuition scholarships, regardless of immigration status.
- The Point: Aimed specifically at students who are part of the LGBTQIA community, this scholarship fund is open to DACA recipients.
- The Senator Jose Peralta New York State DREAM Act: This act gives DACA recipients, and other immigrant students, access to New York State-administered funds that can support educational aspirations.
- QuestBridge: This program works with underserved or low-income students, including DACA recipients, during high school through college to their first job on a career path.
Besides scholarships, private lenders and private student loan companies are also a source for funding. Further resources include:
- Higher Ed Immigration Portal: This site’s mission is to integrate “data, policy analysis, and resources to support DACA and undocumented, refugee, other immigrant, and international students.”
- Student Privacy Office, U.S. Department of Education: This is a good resource for what can be asked of a student, and what can not.