Can DACA students apply for college?

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While there are limits to how much financial aid is available to students involved in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, there are no federal laws or regulations that prevent DACA students from pursuing higher education in the United States. If you’re a DACA student hoping to learn more about qualifying for college, you have plenty of options.

Where DACA recipients can apply for college

DACA recipients can apply to almost any institution of higher education they want to attend. However, a few states have restrictions around the type of school and the tuition options DACA students have access to:

  • In Alabama and South Carolina, undocumented students cannot attend public colleges.
  • In Arizona, Georgia and Indiana, undocumented students cannot receive in-state tuition.

Restrictions around in-state tuition could influence your college application decision, especially with the limitations around federal student aid.

If you’re a DACA student considering college, it might be worth reaching out to your prospective school to ask about your options. Many schools have resource centers for undocumented students, and these centers can help guide you through the specifics of your school’s application and how it assesses undocumented students’ eligibility.

Financial aid options for DACA students

DACA students will need to take some extra steps to find funding assistance or aid for school. With that being said, there are more sources that help cover college for DACA students than many realize.

State-based aid

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 19 states allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities. However, some states base eligibility on whether the student graduated from a state high school and meets long-term residency requirements.

Additionally, at least seven states offer state aid to undocumented students: California, Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Washington. To apply for this aid, DACA students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). While the FAFSA form does ask if the student applicant is a U.S. citizen, parental citizenship status is not required. If your parents do not have a Social Security number (SSN) because they are undocumented immigrants, you can enter all zeroes on the FAFSA form where it asks for their SSNs.

School-based financial aid

By filling out the FAFSA, you’ll also have the chance to earn school-specific aid, such as grants and scholarships. This type of aid is typically disbursed based on financial need, which is why you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA to access it. Schools will have their own criteria for what type of aid DACA students are eligible for, but you can always reach out to your school’s financial aid office if you have questions.

Private and foundation scholarships

Many private and foundation scholarships are open to DACA students. Scholarships are a great first step to take for financial aid, since they don’t need to be repaid; earning several scholarships can cut down your tuition bill significantly.

Online, you’ll find an array of scholarships for DACA recipients; you can access these by doing a Google search or using a scholarship search engine. The amount of funding available and eligibility requirements can vary widely.

Private student loans

Depending on the lender, it’s possible for DACA students to qualify for private student loans. Private student loans tend to come with competitive interest rates and flexible repayment plans, though they don’t come with federal student loan protections like deferment, forbearance or access to income-driven repayment plans.

If you’re a DACA student considering private student loans, you will likely need to apply with a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen and who has good credit. This person agrees to pay back the loan if you can’t.

Next steps

DACA recipients have some hurdles to overcome if they plan to attend college, but this doesn’t mean that higher education is out of reach. Some states have made it easier for undocumented students to secure in-state tuition rates, and a range of aid options are available for those who take the time to apply.

If you’re a DACA recipient, start by filling out the FAFSA and reaching out to any potential colleges on your list — speaking with a school representative can help you approach the application with confidence.

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Written by
Holly D. Johnson
Author, Award-Winning Writer
Holly Johnson writes expert content on personal finance, credit cards, loyalty and insurance topics. In addition to writing for Bankrate and CreditCards.com, Johnson does ongoing work for clients that include CNN, Forbes Advisor, LendingTree, Time Magazine and more.
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