The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a deferred action policy aimed at protecting qualifying, undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. These children, known as “Dreamers,” are afforded certain legal rights. One of these rights is the right to obtain a college education.
Even as a DACA protected “Dreamer”, you are considered an undocumented immigrant. As such, attending a college or university poses unique challenges. While attending college may be challenging, it is certainly not impossible.
Be sure the college or university you want to attend admits undocumented immigrants. If so, the application process is straightforward, even for Dreamers. Your high school counselor or college admissions officer can help you complete this application process.
But attending college as an undocumented immigrant requires you to consider issues beyond the normal application process.
We suggest the following to help you achieve your college dreams:
- Be honest about your immigration status. Many undocumented students are afraid to reveal their immigration status for fear of repercussions. However, federal law bars colleges and universities from disclosing any information you provide during the admissions process. Explaining your status can help your admissions officer direct you to private and public financial aid, as well as other services provided by the school and through other resources.
- Ask admissions officers how your status as an undocumented immigrant will affect your application process. Some schools welcome undocumented students. You will be barred from other schools by state law. So, it’s important to know how your immigration status will affect your college admissions process.
- Ask colleges if you qualify for financial aid. As an undocumented immigrant, you are not eligible for federal student aid, grants, and loans. But many states and colleges offer state and college funded financial assistance to undocumented immigrants, some of which are specifically meant for Dreamers.
- Ask if the college waives any fee due to financial need. Many colleges have policies that waive or greatly reduce tuition and other fees for students in financial need, even if they don’t advertise it. Don’t assume that every school is unwilling to provide you with some type of financial support.
- Look for private scholarships while still in high school. Scholarships are different from financial aid. While financial aid is usually provided by the federal or state government, scholarships generally come from private sources and community organizations. For undocumented students, private scholarships can offer important coverage for things like meals, housing, transportation, and books in addition to tuition. Look for scholarships from civic organizations in your hometown as well as your prospective college or university. The ideal time to look for scholarships is during your junior and senior years of high school. Use your high school’s resources in your search. Teachers and counselors can draw upon a wealth of resources to help you find the right scholarship for your specific situation.
- Consider the student population and the surrounding community. Remember, the school you select is more than just your college. It’s going to be your home for the next few years. Are there other students like you? Are there resources that support an immigrant student body? Is the community welcoming to immigrants? Is there an off-campus immigrant population you can network with?
- If you have a valid Social Security Number, contact your school’s admission officer to discuss completing the FAFSA application. While you may not be eligible for federal financial aid (FAFSA), submitting a FAFSA application can help your school direct you to other forms of financial aid for which you may be eligible. Remember, before completing the FAFSA application, verify that you have a valid Social Security Number, and contact your school’s admissions officer to discuss your specific situation.
- Follow federal, state, and college policy changes. Today, immigration policy is in flux. Gain an understanding of immigration policy not only at your college or university but in the United States as well. Be sure to keep abreast of any changes and pending changes. If you are unsure of the policy, ask and then ask again to verify the answer. Get involved. Be an advocate for policy change—not only for immigration policy but for nonimmigrant public policy as well. Stay informed! Check Self-Lawyer.com and other immigrant based groups for the latest immigrant news and policy changes.
- Most importantly, embrace your identity. Fear plays a large part in everyone’s college application process. While you may be reluctant to reveal your immigration status for fear of repercussions, don’t be afraid to identify as an undocumented student where appropriate. Sometimes your identity arises from a compelling story that only you can tell about yourself, like in an admissions essay. It’s your story; it’s what made you who you are. Take pride in it.