Are you a non-citizen trying to pay for college? Here’s what you should know.
Figuring out how to pay for college can be a confusing process for anyone, but it can be especially complicated for students who are not U.S. citizens.
Your high school’s guidance counselors or your college’s financial aid office can be great resources for you to utilize. They can help you understand what you are or aren’t eligible for, what aid or scholarships you should apply for, and what type of college is right for you. For now, here’s some information to get you started:
Note: All of this information is subject to change due to the topical and political nature of this issue. For the latest updates, review the links below and/or ask qualified college counselors for information. Please contact us with corrections or revisions!
General Eligibility Information
Many non-citizens qualify for federal and state financial aid for college. These people are referred to as “eligible non-citizens.” According to the U.S. Department of Education, you are generally considered an eligible non-citizen if you are a:
- U.S. permanent resident, with a Permanent Resident Card (formerly known as an Alien Registration Receipt Card or "Green Card”)
- Conditional permanent resident (I-551C)
- Other eligible noncitizen with an Arrival-Departure Record (I-94) from the Department of Homeland Security showing any one of the following designations: “Refugee,” “Asylum Granted,” “Indefinite Parole,” “Humanitarian Parole,” or “Cuban-Haitian Entrant”
- A citizen of the Republic of Palau (PW), the Republic of the Marshall Islands (MH), or the Federated States of Micronesia (FM). You can receive federal and state financial aid if you are an eligible non-citizen. You must enter your eight or nine-digit Alien Registration Number (ARN) on the FAFSA.
Undocumented students, including DACA (Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients, are not eligible for federal aid. However, DACA recipients can still fill out the FAFSA. By submitting the FAFSA, DACA recipients will recieve a Student Aid Report (SAR), which analyzes family need. The SAR is required for many scholarships and private funding, so having it can open the doors to more funding opportunties for DACA recipients. If the parent of the DACA recipient is undocumented and does not have a Social Security Number, the parent can enter all zeros for the SSN on the FAFSA form.
More guidance for DACA recipients can be found here.
Let’s talk about New York State
Political debate makes for some uncertainty for students in New York State. New York is one of 20 U.S. states which currently extend in-state tuition benefits to undocumented students.
The NYS DREAM Act, which would offer state financial assistance to undocumented students, has consistently passed through the NYS Assembly, but has yet to get past the state Senate. This means that state financial aid is still not available to undocumented students in New York State.
What about the Excelsior Scholarship? The new NYS Excelsior Scholarship offers free in-state tuition to New York State residents whose family income is less than $100,000 per year (along with several other stipulations). Unfortunately, this scholarship is only available for U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens (see above), so undocumented students (including DACA recipients) are not eligible. More information on the Excelsior Scholarship can be found here.
Other State Policies
While undocumented students are not eligible for federal aid, many states have policies in place to help in other ways.
According to National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 20 U.S. states currently extend in-state tuition benefits to undocumented students- 18 by state law and 2 by state university system. These states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, Michigan, and Hawaii, as well as Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and Rhode Island’s Board of Governors for Higher Education. To qualify, students generally must attend and graduate from a state high school, gain acceptance to a state college or university, and promise to apply for legal status as soon as eligible.
California, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington offer state financial aid to undocumented students. Oklahoma offers its own version of the FAFSA for undocumented students. In Minnesota, DACA recipients and students who meet all requirements of the MN DREAM Act are eligbile to recieve state aid for college.
On the other hand, some states have adopted policies to make things more challenging for undocumented people looking to go to college. Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, and South Carolina have laws in place that bar undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition benefits. Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina bar undocumented students from attending their public colleges altogether.
Other ways to receive money for college
Beyond federal or state financial aid, many private colleges allow undocumented students to receive institutional scholarships. Cornell, Emory, Wesleyan, Brown, Williams, Georgetown, Harvard, and Yale are among the private institutions that open up their scholarships to undocumented students. Information about specific colleges can usually be found online or by calling the college’s financial aid office directly.
Undocumented students can also apply to a number of scholarships that are unaffiliated with specific schools. Some scholarships require DACA status, so students should be sure to check specific scholarship eligibility and requirements before applying.
To sum it all up...
Paying for college as an undocumented student is challenging, but it’s not impossible. State financial aid, institutional scholarships, and external scholarships may be available to help undocumented students make higher education a reality.
In an ever-changing political climate, students and their families should be sure to keep up with current policies regarding education, immigration, and other topics that are subject to change. High school guidance counselors, college financial aid offices, and online resources can be incredibly helpful for undocumented students seeking more information about their options.
Helpful Online Resources