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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about going to college as an undocumented student

If your mentee is an undocumented student, they probably have a lot questions about college. Here are answers to some common questions undocumented students have about paying for college. The questions and answers that follow provide information about student financial aid for undocumented students (sometimes referred to as Dreamers) as well as guidance for a specific subgroup of undocumented students who have received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). We have grouped the questions and answers into three categories: General Information, Eligibility for Financial Aid, and Completing the FAFSA.  

Sources: BigFuture and U.S. Department of Education

Click on one of the questions below, or feel free to browse the information.

General Information

Eligibility for Financial Aid

Completing the FAFSA

Paying for College

General Information

Q. Who are undocumented students?

Undocumented students are students who are not U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or “eligible noncitizens.” 

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 and 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.

Q. What is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)?

DACA is the name used of a process announced by the Secretary of Homeland Security on June 15, 2012. Under this process, if you came to the United States as a child and meet several key guidelines, you may contact U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a component of the Department of Homeland Security, to request consideration of deferred action. “Deferred action” refers to a decision to defer (delay or put off) removal action of an individual. DACA may be granted by USCIS for a period of two years and may be renewed under certain circumstances. Deferred action does not provide an individual with lawful status; however, recipients of deferred action may obtain work authorization. Click on the links below for more information on:

Q. Who is a DACA student?

A DACA student has received deferred action under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals process. Most DACA students are also granted work authorization; and if a student has work authorization, the student may be eligible to obtain a Social Security number. (More information about obtaining a Social Security number is in Question C.1.)

Thus, if a DACA student is granted deferred action and employment authorization, the student may be eligible for a Social Security number. For more information about obtaining a Social Security number, click here. 

Eligibility for Financial Aid

Q. My mentee is an undocumented student or DACA student, are they eligible for federal student aid?

No. Undocumented students, including DACA students and Dreamers, are not eligible for federal student aid. However, your mentee may be eligible for state or college financial aid. Most states and colleges use information collected on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) to determine whether they are eligible for aid. If they have a Social Security number, they may complete the FAFSA. However, we first recommend that your mentee check with their high school counselor or their college or career school financial aid office to see what types of financial aid they may be eligible to receive and whether completing the FAFSA is the way to apply for that aid.

Q. As an undocumented student or DACA student, is my mentee eligible for in-state tuition?

It depends. In some states, undocumented students, or specifically DACA students, are eligible to receive in-state tuition. Have your mentee check with their high school or your college or career school financial aid office.

Completing the FAFSA

Q. To complete the FAFSA, does my mentee need a Social Security number?

Yes. A Social Security number is necessary to complete the FAFSA. If they are completing a FAFSA online at 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 they have a Social Security number, your mentee should check with their high school counselor or the college or career school financial aid office to see whether completing the FAFSA is the way to apply for state and college aid.

Q. Does the citizenship status of my mentee's parents affect their eligibility for federal student aid?

No. Parents’ citizenship status does not affect eligibility for federal student aid. In fact, the FAFSA doesn’t even ask about parents’ status.

Q. In order for my mentee to complete the FAFSA, do their parents need Social Security numbers?

No; since parents’ citizenship does not affect their ability to complete the FAFSA, they do not need Social Security numbers. If parents do not have Social Security numbers, they must enter 000-00-0000 when the FAFSA asks for parents’ Social Security numbers.

If parents do not have Social Security numbers, they must print out the signature page from the online FAFSA so that the parents can sign it and send it in.

Q. On the FAFSA, how does my mentee 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.”

Q. On the FAFSA, how does my mentee answer the question that reads, “What is your state of legal residence?”

The state of legal residence is your mentee's true, fixed, and permanent home. The fact that they are a DACA student does not affect how they should answer this question for purposes of completing the FAFSA. Note that each state determines legal residency differently. Your mentee should contact their high school counselor or college or career school financial aid office for assistance with state of legal residence qualifications.

If your mentee lives in a shelter or housing is otherwise insecure, then they should list the address of their high school.

Q. On the FAFSA, how does my mentee answer the question that reads, “What is your parents’ state of legal residence?”

Their parents’ answer should reflect their true, fixed, and permanent home. Their parents’ legal immigration status does not affect how your mentee should answer this question for purposes of completing the FAFSA. Again, each state determines legal residency differently, and your mentee should contact their high school counselor or college or career school financial aid office for more assistance.

Q. On the FAFSA, how does my mentee submit their tax information?

If your mentee is completing the FAFSA online at fafsa.gov and their parents filed their income tax return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), your mentee may be able to access the information through the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. If their parents 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.

Q. On the FAFSA, how does my mentee's parents submit their tax information?

If they are completing the FAFSA online at fafsa.gov and their 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 their 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.

Paying for College

Q. Do colleges offer financial aid or scholarships to undocumented students?

Yes, some do. Private colleges often have special funds available. To apply for this financial aid, your mentee may have to fill out the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE or the college’s own forms. Check with the admission or financial aid office at each college your mentee is interested in to find out its requirements.

Q. Are undocumented students eligible for scholarships?

Yes, your mentee just needs to find ones that they are qualify for. Have your mentee start by talking to their high school counselor and checking out the Scholarship Resources page on the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) website.

There are many scholarship opportunities, and some private scholarship organizations allow undocumented students to apply. There are even a few scholarships specifically meant for undocumented students. Be sure to look into local scholarships offered by community groups, such as the Kiwanis, that might be open to all students living in the local community.

Q. Can undocumented students get federal financial aid?

No. Your mentee can’t get federal financial aid unless they’re a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen. This means they should not fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Q. Can undocumented students get a Pell Grant?

No. Pell Grants are a type of federal financial aid.

Q. Can undocumented students get financial aid from their state?

It depends on where your mentee lives. Some states offer financial aid to undocumented students and some don’t. The rules often change, so be sure to get the latest information. The Repository of Resources for Undocumented Students has information about policies in several states.

Q. Do undocumented students pay the in-state or out-of-state rate at a public college in their home state?

It depends on where your mentee lives. Some public colleges may offer them in-state tuition rates based on proof of residency in the state. Others may treat them as an out-of-state or international student and require them to pay the higher rate.

Q. How else can undocumented students cut down on costs?

Your mentee may be able to save money on tuition by earning college credit before starting college. Check with the colleges they’re considering to see if they award credit for qualifying scores on AP® or CLEP® exams or for successfully completing International Baccalaureate (IB) courses and earning qualifying scores on IB exams. Find out more about the AP Program and CLEP.