Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is notoriously difficult. Not only is it a long process, but it requires a lot of very specific information about both parent and student that can only be found by dredging up tax documents and other financial paperwork.
If you or your child is involved in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, things get even messier. For most immigrant families, this extra layer of complexity probably comes as no surprise. This guide outlines the type of aid available, details on filling out the FAFSA and where else to look for financial aid.
What financial aid are DACA students eligible for?
DACA and other undocumented students do not qualify for federal financial aid, including student loans and grants. However, DACA students may be eligible for state- or college-based aid.
It may be tempting to ignore the FAFSA altogether with such a limited scope of financial aid available, but state- and college-based aid programs often have significant tuition assistance to offer, and some scholarships receive very few applicants. Many of these programs use information from the FAFSA to determine financial aid eligibility; without the FAFSA, you may not qualify to receive need-based or merit-based aid.
The following states provide financial assistance to DACA students and other undocumented immigrants:
- New Jersey.
- New Mexico.
- New York.
Some states let DACA students pay in-state tuition, but other states charge out-of-state tuition, even if the student is a resident of that state.
To qualify for in-state tuition, DACA students usually need to have graduated from a local high school and pledge to apply for citizenship after they graduate college.
How to fill out the FAFSA with DACA status
Only DACA students with a Social Security number (SSN) can fill out the FAFSA. If you have DACA status, you can apply to get an SSN if you don’t have one already.
The FAFSA will ask if you’re a citizen, so DACA students should answer no for that question. While the FAFSA will ask for your parents’ SSNs, it won’t ask if your parents are citizens.
Parents without an SSN should use the number 000-00-0000 when asked for their SSN. Even though undocumented immigrants often have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), they cannot use that in place of an SSN.
Parents who don’t have an SSN will not be able to sign the FAFSA electronically. They will have to print out the signature page of the FAFSA, sign it manually and mail it to the Federal Student Aid Programs address.
DACA students have to include information from their parents’ previous tax return on the FAFSA, along with their own income and tax information. They can link to those details directly through the IRS data retrieval tool or manually input the figures.
Other resources for financial aid
The FAFSA is not the only way to find financial aid for college. Below are some other programs DACA students may be eligible for.
State-based financial aid programs
The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators compiles a list of state-based grants and scholarships. The amounts and eligibility rules vary depending on the state.
For example, California offers the Dream Act scholarship, which provides up to $12,630 a year for students who are not eligible to file a FAFSA and who graduated from a California high school.
Many schools that offer financial aid to DACA students require that students fill out the College Board CSS Profile to become eligible. The CSS is similar to the FAFSA, except students without an SSN can fill it out.
DACA students are eligible for private scholarships and grants. Here is a partial list of scholarships available to DACA recipients.
TheDream.US Opportunity Scholarship
This scholarship is available to DACA students who live in a state where they are ineligible for in-state tuition.
These states include:
- North Carolina.
- North Dakota.
- South Carolina.
- South Dakota.
- West Virginia.
Applications for the current scholarship round are due on Jan. 28, 2021. The scholarship will pay up to $20,000 a year for four years. Scholarship winners have to use the funds at one of the following partner colleges:
- Christian Brothers University.
- Delaware State University.
- Eastern Connecticut State University.
- Trinity Washington University.
TheDream.US National Scholarship Program
Unlike the Opportunity Scholarship Program, this scholarship is for DACA and other undocumented students who are eligible for in-state tuition at the college they want to attend. The deadline for scholarship applications is Feb. 25, 2021.
The money can be applied toward tuition at one of the 70-plus partner colleges, including schools like Rutgers University, Hunter University, Arizona State University and the University of Houston. A full list can be found on TheDream.Us’ website.
The scholarship will pay up to $16,500 annually for an associate degree and up to $33,000 per year for a bachelor’s degree, up to four years in total.
Hispanic Scholarship Fund Scholarship
High school seniors, undergraduate students, graduate students and community college students transferring to a four-year college are eligible to apply for this scholarship. The amount awarded is between $500 and $5,000, depending on the student’s need.
Students must be of Hispanic heritage and can major in any subject, but STEM majors are preferred.
Ascend Educational Fund Scholarship
This scholarship is available to immigrants with either undocumented or documented status. Students must have graduated high school from one of New York City’s five boroughs.
The scholarship amount ranges from $2,500 to $20,000 per year, depending on the cost of tuition, room and board, books and other expenses. Funds can be applied to any accredited two-year or four-year institution in the U.S.
PepsiCo Cesar Chavez Latino Scholarship
Undocumented and documented students of Latino descent from Arizona or California can apply for this scholarship. It provides $5,000 a year but will be discontinued after 2021.
DACA students should also search for city, regional and state scholarships in their own area. A partial list of smaller local scholarships is available on the Immigrants Rising website.