The Essential Guide for Undocumented Students

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Living in the United States and making it as an undocumented citizen is a tough load to carry. If you are an undocumented student there are many things you need to know. But most importantly, you need to know that you can go to college. Yes. That’s right. Going to college is a critical opportunity and a viable option even if you are not yet a registered citizen. Here is what you need to know.

According to the College Board website’s report, Young Lives on Hold, about sixty-five thousand undocumented students graduate from high school in the United States annually, nationwide. Many of these students aspire to go to college, obtain good grades, become honor students, be leaders in school organizations and sports teams, and even qualify for scholarships. However, their undocumented status inevitably becomes a major hindrance once it is time to apply for college.

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All of us, and undocumented students themselves, have a responsibility to understand that most undocumented students are minors, and therefore obtaining the correct paperwork and applying for citizenship is up to their parents until the student turns eighteen. Still, these students should have a right to attend college, and gain citizenship; sadly, only about 5-10% of undocumented students actually go on to attend college because of the roadblocks and red tape that stand in their way. In fact, many undocumented students are not even aware of their legal status; therefore, schools may learn a student is undocumented in the same moment the student learns – upon applying to university and for federal aid.

Value Colleges is here to help students from all walks of life find their way through the sometimes daunting task of finding the right college with the best value so they can obtain the degree, college experience, and potentially the career of their dreams. If you are undocumented, here is what you need to know.

You Can Go to College, and You Are Not Alone

Guess what? If you are undocumented, you can go to college, and you are not alone. However, you should also know that the United States has no federal laws that require colleges and universities to admit undocumented students. In most cases, and in most states, colleges are able to set their own rules on how they admit undocumented students. This means you will only have to look into the policies set in place by the schools you wish to attend. On the flip side, there may be some limitations when it comes to which colleges are available to you since some schools may have strict admission guidelines that prevent you from attending.

At the same time, there are tons of other undocumented students out there who are facing the same challenges. Just because you can’t get into one college, doesn’t mean you can’t get into any – and this is a challenge faced by many students from all walks of life whose first choice may not be available because of admission guidelines, finances, academic qualifications and other such restrictions. You can, however, reach out in various communities to find the help and the support you need. Start with your family by making sure they understand that you plan on attending college.

Additionally, or in the event, you don’t feel comfortable talking with your parents, reach out to any trusted teachers or advisors at your high school, or at the college you wish to attend. Ideally, through conversations with your parents and other trusted adults, you’ll be able to network with other students who are facing similar challenges. Some students fear reaching out to adults, teachers, or counselors if they are undocumented because they don’t want to risk putting themselves or their families in danger.

You should know that it is against the law for any counselor, teacher or school official to disclose personal information about their students, including a student’s immigration status.

You can learn more about your rights and how you are protected as an undocumented student through the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

The Role of Politics and the Federal Government

Thanks to President Barack Obama, the United States has made some progress on accepting undocumented students into the world of higher education. In June of 2012, President Obama declared that specific students who came to the states as children would be eligible for deferred action, which is temporary permission to stay in the country despite their immigration status. This deferral called the Deferral Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, can last up to two years per student and is granted on a case-by-case basis. After two years, the case can be renewed if necessary.

It should also be noted that the federal government can play a positive or detrimental role in the success of undocumented students becoming documented and attending college. Political opinion remains divided on the status of undocumented students, with immigration policy emerging as a highly contentious topic in the 2016 election cycle. In the event that federal policy takes a flip on current immigration laws and moves towards mass deportations, undocumented students would have no chance to attend college in the United States for the simple reason they will be forced to leave the country.

How to Find a College that Fits Your Needs

Finding the right college is just as important as ever. Now that you know your rights and where to seek help, it’s time to make a big choice, and find the right college for you. Don’t forget that different colleges have different policies on accepting undocumented students, so start there. Be sure to call the admissions offices for the universities you’re interested in attending and get a comprehensive explanation of how to apply. Additionally, different colleges also have varying policies on obtaining aid to pay for college, and you can gather this information by contacting the financial aid offices at the schools where you would like to attend. You can gain additional information on your financial aid options as a whole by reading Funding College – A Financial Aid Guide here on the Value Colleges website. Another really great resource is the Repository of Resources for Undocumented Students, where you can find specific information on how public colleges follow their states’ laws on how and when undocumented students can receive financial aid.

Navigating College Admission and Financial Aid Policies

Since there is no federal or state law that prohibits undocumented students from attending college, there is additionally no laws that require students to prove their citizenship in order to attend any United States higher education institution. Still, the policies from college to college will vary, and it helps to be familiar with a school’s policies before applying. Some schools may ask for proof of citizenship before applying or may accept undocumented students but charge the out-of-state tuition rates even if the student is residing in the same state as the institution.

Different from attendance laws, federal law prohibits undocumented students from receiving any federal financial aid including all grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study money. Additionally, in many states, similar laws apply. And most privately funded aid options also require proof of citizenship. For these reasons, it becomes a major financial burden for many undocumented students who do attend college, and additionally, many immigrants cannot attend college because the financial burden is too great. Searching through private aid options is your best bet for finding aid if you need it to attend college.

Additional Resources

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If you still need more help in navigating your transition from high school to college as an undocumented student, check out these resources below for more information. Don’t be afraid to ask a school official for help since by law they are required to keep your immigration status confidential. And be bold in discussing your college dreams with your family and close friends who may be able to provide help and support you didn’t know was available. Best of luck and remember, you can go to college… and you will!

  • Choose Your Future – Choose Your Future is an organization and website that aids undocumented students as they make the transition from high school to college.
  • Immigration Equality’s FAQ on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – Here you can find all you need to know about President Obama’s Deferred Action Act (DACA) and how it applies to you.
  • National Immigration Law Center – The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) is an organization that is dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of immigrants nationwide.
  • MALDEF – The Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America – MALDEF serves to create and protect the rights of individuals seeking economic opportunity and personal freedom in America. Additionally the MALDEF website has information on Scholarship Resources for undocumented students.

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Aya Andrews


Aya Andrews is a passionate educator and mother of two, with a diverse background that has shaped her approach to teaching and learning. Born in Metro Manila, she now calls San Diego home and is proud to be a Filipino-American. Aya earned her Masters degree in Education from San Diego State University, where she focused on developing innovative teaching methods to engage and inspire students.

Prior to her work in education, Aya spent several years as a continuing education consultant for KPMG, where she honed her skills in project management and client relations. She brings this same level of professionalism and expertise to her work as an educator, where she is committed to helping each of her students achieve their full potential.

In addition to her work as an educator, Aya is a devoted mother who is passionate about creating a nurturing and supportive home environment for her children. She is an active member of her community, volunteering her time and resources to support local schools and organizations. Aya is also an avid traveler, and loves to explore new cultures and cuisines with her family.

With a deep commitment to education and a passion for helping others succeed, Aya is a true inspiration to those around her. Her dedication to her craft, her community, and her family is a testament to her unwavering commitment to excellence in all aspects of her life.

Find your perfect value college is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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