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Attending college in the U.S. can be difficult to navigate if you are undocumented. You do not have to be a U.S. citizen to apply for and attend college in the U.S., but undocumented students cannot qualify for federal financial aid. There are also restrictions in certain states that make it more difficult for undocumented students to attend college.
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 Missouri, 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. That said, more sources help cover college for DACA students than many realize.
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, nineteen states currently offer state aid to undocumented students: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Washington, D.C. 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 individual 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, DACA students can 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.
DACA recipients have hurdles to overcome if they plan to attend college, but this doesn’t mean that higher education is out of reach. Many 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 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.