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by Jan Combs, former financial aid officer at Harvard Graduate School of Education

Undocumented students wishing to pursue a college education may face some financial roadblocks along the way; however, there are options to make college a reality.

Although undocumented students, including those who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), do not have access to federal financial aid programs, such as the Federal Pell Grant, Federal Work-Study or the Federal Direct Loan Program, there may be other funding sources for college, including financial aid directly from colleges, state aid programs/in-state tuition rates in some states, and private scholarships.

Institutional Funds

Financial support may be available from some colleges in the form of scholarships and grants, although the type and amount available varies widely among institutions. Check with each college’s Financial Aid Office for more information related to aid eligibility and specific application processes. Some schools may use their own institutional application or may ask the student to complete the CSS Profile, a financial form utilized by a subset of colleges.

State-based Programs

In a number of states, undocumented students are eligible to receive in-state tuition rates at some or all of their public institutions. To date, undocumented students can access in-state tuition rates in twenty-four states and the District of Columbia, either due to state legislature initiatives or regulations set by the state’s public higher education system. Common criteria for undocumented students to receive in-state tuition, include:

  • Attending an in-state high school for a set amount of time
  • Earning a high school diploma or General Education Diploma (GED) in the state
  • Enrolling in a public college in the state
  • Agreeing to apply for legal status once eligible

The student should be sure to check with the state’s higher education authority or colleges of interest for specific requirements. In-state tuition rates can provide a significant discount to undocumented students.

The chart below includes the states that currently offer in-state tuition to qualified undocumented students through either state legislature initiatives or that of the state’s public university system:

California Maryland Oregon
Colorado Michigan Rhode Island
Connecticut Minnesota Texas
Florida Nebraska Utah
Hawaii New Jersey Virginia
Illinois New Mexico Washington
Kansas New York Washington D.C.
Kentucky Ohio
Maine Oklahoma

Students are encouraged to check with their state’s higher education authority or colleges in their state even if they do not see their state listed above; in some states specific colleges have taken steps to offer in-state tuition rates even without state legislature directives, such as the state of Delaware.

State Grant Programs

Some states offer funding, which typically requires the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or alternative form to be filed. DACA students with Social Security Numbers can complete the FAFSA; other undocumented students should check with their state’s aid program for an alternative form to apply for state grant programs.

Private Scholarships

Private scholarships may be available for undocumented students. Students should research private scholarship opportunities that are unrestricted with regards to citizenship criteria. Donors may include charitable foundations, civic organizations, non-profit organizations, and private businesses. In addition, students are encouraged to check with their high school counseling office about available scholarships from the high school or other entities in their community.

The links below provide a starting point for researching private scholarships:

Although it can be challenging to piece together funding opportunities for undocumented students, know that it is possible and support is available.

Determine the Best Way to Pay for College

Written by Jan Combs
Jan Combs is a college finance expert at College Coach. Before joining College Coach, Jan was Director of Financial Aid at Harvard Graduate School of Education and Assistant Director of Financial Aid at Boston University. Visit our website to learn more about Jan Combs.