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DACA recipients are not eligible for federal aid, but they may still be able to get financial aid for college through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). DACA students may be able to receive non-federal aid from state programs, scholarships and grants that still require students to fill out the FAFSA to determine eligibility.
The FAFSA requires a lot of specific information about both parents and students. This information may be harder to find or feel more intimidating if you are involved in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Some DACA students may worry about filing the FAFSA, but it’s a relatively simple process that could help them afford college.
Can DACA students fill out the FAFSA?
Yes, DACA recipients can fill out the FAFSA. They just need a Social Security number (SSN) to apply. DACA students may be able to obtain an SSN if they don’t have one already.
The student’s parents applying for aid are not required to have an SSN. If they don’t, they won’t be able to sign the form electronically. Instead, the student should enter “000-00-0000” for their parents’ SSN and print out a paper copy of the form for their parents to sign.
What financial aid can DACA students get through the FAFSA?
DACA and other undocumented students do not qualify for federal financial aid, including federal student loans and grants. However, DACA students may be eligible for state- or college-based aid. 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.
State-based financial aid comes from your state of residence rather than from the federal government or a private organization. State-based aid can come through grants, tuition reductions or scholarships. State aid can be both merit- and need-based.
The following states provide financial assistance to DACA students and other undocumented immigrants, according to the Higher Ed Immigration Portal:
- District of Columbia.
- New Jersey.
- New Mexico.
- New York.
- Rhode Island.
Some states let DACA students pay in-state tuition, which is cheaper than out-of-state tuition. Other states charge out-of-state tuition, even if the student is a state resident. 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.
College-based financial aid comes directly from funds allocated by your college. Colleges offer a wide range of scholarships that can be both need- and merit-based. You may be offered scholarships automatically when you receive your financial aid package from the school, though there are typically others that you can apply for independently.
Check your school’s scholarship resource page or call the financial aid office to see what scholarships are offered.
How to fill out the FAFSA with DACA status
Only DACA students with a Social Security number (SSN) can fill out the FAFSA.
The FAFSA will ask if you’re a citizen, so DACA students should answer no to 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 returns 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 up to four years of college for students who are not eligible to file a FAFSA and have been a California resident for at least one year.
Many schools that offer financial aid to DACA students require that students fill out the College Board CSS Profile to become eligible. The CSS Profile 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
The Opportunity Scholarship from TheDream.US is available to DACA students who live in a state where they are ineligible for in-state tuition.
These states include:
- New Hampshire.
- North Carolina.
- North Dakota.
- South Carolina.
- South Dakota.
- West Virginia.
Applications for this scholarship open on Nov. 1 of each year, and you could get up to $80,000 to cover college costs, with an annual limit of $20,000. Scholarship winners have to use the funds at one of the following partner colleges:
- Christian Brothers University.
- Delaware State University.
- Dominican University.
- Eastern Connecticut State University.
- Trinity Washington University (Women’s College).
TheDream.US National Scholarship
Unlike the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the National Scholarship is for DACA and other undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition at the college they want to attend. Applications for this scholarship open on Nov. 1 every year.
The money can be applied toward tuition at one of the 70-plus partner colleges, including schools like Rutgers University, Hunter College, 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 for an associate degree and up to $33,000 for a bachelor’s degree.
Hispanic Scholarship Fund
High school seniors, undergraduate students, graduate students and community college students transferring to a four-year college are eligible to apply for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Scholar Program. The amount awarded is between $500 and $5,000, depending on the student’s need, and applications open on Jan. 1 of each year.
Students must be of Hispanic heritage and can major in any subject.
DACA students should also search for city, regional and municipal scholarships. A partial list of smaller local scholarships is available on the Immigrants Rising website.
Private student loans
Although DACA students aren’t eligible for federal student loans, they may be eligible for some private student loans. Still, private student loans should be your last option to pay for school, as these loans tend to have higher interest rates than federal student loans and lack flexible repayment options.
To apply for a private student loan as a DACA student, you’ll need to provide the following:
- A state-issued ID.
- Income information (pay stubs, W-2s, tax returns, etc.).
- Your Social Security number.
- Statements of assets (savings accounts, CDs, IRAs, checking account, etc.).
- Proof of DACA status.
You’ll also need excellent credit or a creditworthy co-signer to be approved for the loan. However, some companies, like Ascent, offer outcomes-based loans, which don’t require a co-signer and may be easier to qualify for.
The bottom line
While DACA recipients cannot receive federal financial aid, it is still worth filling out the FAFSA as you may still be eligible for some state-based programs and aid from schools and institutions. Some states offer in-state tuition to undocumented students, and there are scholarships and other programs available to receive financial support.