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College Options for Undocumented Students

Jan 13, 2014 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Every year, millions of students graduate from US high schools without US citizenship. While all students—undocumented or not—are provided with a public school education from kindergarten up to the end of high school, college is not guaranteed—and many undocumented students face significant difficulties in going to college. Undocumented students are not eligible for federal financial aid—which makes paying for college extremely difficult.

However, if you’re undocumented and considering college, there are options for you. It’s a common misconception that undocumented students are not legally allowed to attend US colleges—this in fact is not the case; you can attend, if you can figure out a
way to pay tuition. Here’s a look at a few things you can do to bring
yourself closer to a college education.

Choose a college that will let you matriculate

No federal or state law requires colleges to turn undocumented students away. However, colleges are allowed to set their own policy in this area, and some colleges do require prospective students to prove citizenship and residency.

Research whether you are eligible for in-state tuition

Public universities give in-state students a break on tuition. In some states, however, undocumented students are treated as foreign residents—and charged more expensive rates. Other states have passed laws that allow undocumented students to pay the lower, in-state rates if they qualify. Check out the rules in your state to see if you are eligible for in-state tuition.

Research whether you are available for in-state tuition aid

As an undocumented student, you are not allowed to access federal financial aid. This includes scholarships, low-interest or subsidized loans, work-study programs, and grants. This is usually true at the state level as well. However, some states will allow undocumented students to access in-state tuition.

Research private scholarships

Some scholarship programs require citizenship; however, others do not, and a few are especially designed to help foreign and undocumented students. Research the databases at FastWeb and The College Board to see what options are available for you. Or check out the options at the website.

Talk to the school you’re considering

Individual colleges set their own rules for who to give private scholarships to. Some schools do offer aid and scholarships to undocumented students; you’ll never know if yours does until you ask. Talk to your admissions or financial aid counselor to find out if there are options for undocumented students at the college you’re considering.

Choose a college that lets you skip the FAFSA

Undocumented students re not eligible for federal aid. But some colleges require that you fill out the FAFSA anyway as part of the admissions process. If you do not have a social security number or don’t want to alert the federal government to your immigration status, this can be problematic. Not all schools require you to fill out the FAFSA, however; be on the lookout for those that don’t.

Find out whether the college has a policy of reporting undocumented students

If your college finds out you’re undocumented, what will it do with the information? Some colleges are more friendly to undocumented students than others. Find out whether the schools you are considering have a policy of automatically reporting undocumented students to the authorities—before you apply.

Know your immigration status

Just because your parent is undocumented doesn’t necessarily mean you are. The federal government and most other aid-giving organizations consider the immigration status of the student, not the parent, in deciding whether you are eligible for aid. If you are not sure, it’s important to get the facts on your own immigration status to determine whether or not you are actually eligible for certain types of aid.

Being an undocumented student is not easy

However, there are a few limited options—including private grants and aid, as well as some tuition breaks for students lucky enough to live in the applicable states. Do some research and find out what your state’s position is on allowing undocumented students to access government aid—and talk to your college about institutional financial aid and whether its policies are friendly to you as an undocumented student. With a lot of outside research and patience, you may still be able to attend a traditional or accredited online college and get a degree.



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