8 Things All Undocumented Students Should Know About Applying to College

No matter what your status: get ready to apply for college!

Elizabeth Hoyt

July 19, 2016

8 Things All Undocumented Students Should Know About Applying to College

If you’re a soon-to-be high school graduate, you should get ready to apply to colleges, regardless of citizenship status!

According to Best Colleges, “while it is true that undocumented status limits a student’s choices, it is possible to find a college or university that accepts undocumented students and provides the sort of funding that makes attending feasible.” Here’s what any undocumented student considering applying for college should know, based on an article from Admissionado, along with additional relevant research.

1. You’re not alone.

According to the American Immigration Counsel, there are approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school annually in the United States. These first-generation students are known as the “1.5 generation,” most of whom have the following in common: they grew up (for the most part) in America, are fluent in English and tend to culturally identify as American. Some of these students aren’t even aware of their undocumented status until they discover it later in life after needing a social security number to do things like apply for a driver’s license or sign up for a bank account. Know that you’re not alone and that many students are going through similar experiences throughout the country!

2. Undocumented high school graduates CAN legally attend college in the United States.

Undocumented students are not only guaranteed an education from K-12 within the U.S. public school system, but they can also legally apply to college as any other high school graduate that’s with official U.S. citizen status. There are some states, however, that have restrictions (for example, South Carolina) when it comes to undocumented students attending public universities. Some states also make it a little more difficult to get financial aid or in-state tuition when you’re a student with undocumented status, such as Georgia or Arizona. The important thing to remember is that, as an undocumented student, you do have rights when it comes to your education. It’s important to know them so you don’t miss out on opportunities within higher education due to fear or because you’re unable to navigate the difficulty of the college process (you can do it, we can help!).

3. The college application process for undocumented students is almost the exact same as the process for a student with American citizen status.
The college application process is mainly the same for all high school graduates, regardless of citizenship status. Here’s the main headline you need to know: there is NO federal law requiring proof of citizenship in order to be admitted and/or enroll at a U.S. college.

That being said, it’s important to know that two areas will be relevant to this: Country of Citizenship and your social security number. It’s recommended that students with undocumented status select the “No Selection” option for their Country of Citizenship, which will allow you to skip questions pertaining to visa status and permanent residency (those are not applicable to undocumented students). It’s also recommended that you skip the Social Security number section. Please note that you cannot use any other number, like an Individual Taxpayer Identification (ITIN) or Alien Number (given with DACA status), as a substitute for a social security number.

4. Legally speaking, high school guidance counselors are not permitted to ask about your immigration status.

Best Colleges notes that the “Family Education Rights and Privacy act, school officials can’t disclose personal information (including immigration status) about students.” That means you can be honest about your status with your counselor since he or she cannot legally “withhold judgement and biases about immigration status” and must “convey openness and assuredness of confidentiality,” as directed by the U.S. Department of Education to teachers, administrators and other education officials. As a result, you can be upfront and they must help you with your college goals – or they are breaking the law.

5. All undocumented students should apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

What is it? DACA is a limited immigration benefit program for undocumented individuals who arrived in the US before they were 16 years old.

In order to be eligible for this benefit program, the applicant but be currently enrolled in school or have graduated from a U.S. school, along with some other specific requirements. You can get the detailed requirements on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website here.

6. Undocumented students’ college eligibility varies based on the state.

As aforementioned, it is completely legal for you to attend college in the U.S. (with a few minor stipulations). In fact, only three states – Arizona, Georgia and Indiana) have specific language prohibiting in-state tuition for undocumented students. Two states, however, (Alabama and South Carolina) prohibit undocumented students from enrolling in public colleges.

7. There are plenty of financial resources, such as aid and scholarships, available to undocumented students – many of which are specific to undocumented students.

Discover your specific state policy via The National Immigration Law Center (NILC), which also provides information on the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, (DREAM) Act. According to the NILC, this act provides “young people who were brought to the U.S. as children with a path to citizenship and access to the higher education they need to be able to contribute fully to the only country they know.”

Where can undocumented students find information on these financial resources and scholarships? Start by speaking with your counselor about organizations that assist undocumented students in accessing funds and resources for college. He or she should be able to point you in the right direction of said groups along with scholarships that do not have U.S. citizenship or residency requirements.

There are many important organizations that specifically help with scholarships for undocumented students, such as the Mexican America Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and Educators for Fair Consideration (EFC). Again, talk to your high school counselor about which organization are best to utilize for your specific situation.

8. Laws, restrictions and policies may change for undocumented students!

It’s important to note that issues involving undocumented students, such as whether or not undocumented status individuals should receive the same financial aid benefits as legal immigrants and U.S. citizens, are considered ever-changing since America, as a whole, doesn’t agree on the issues. That’s why it’s important students with undocumented status to stay informed on the latest policies, regulations and look out for news since laws are constantly evolving – many of which could impact your plans for the future.

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