Undocumented students, immigrant students, and refugees have a constitutionally protected right to public education in the United States, including the right to seek college admission.
In 2019, 10.5 million undocumented immigrants lived in the United States. Of those, 700,000 are DREAMers. Every year, tens of thousands of undocumented high schoolers earn their diplomas, and many want to attend college. However, navigating higher education as an undocumented college student can feel overwhelming.
We created this series to help undocumented students, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, find the right colleges, thrive on campus, and earn their degrees safely. Throughout the series, we address the admissions process for undocumented applicants, legal and practical challenges of enrolling as an undocumented college student, and how to access financial aid as an undocumented learner.
Colleges for Undocumented Students
Every year, nearly 100,000 undocumented immigrants graduate from high schools in the U.S. Many of those students go on to college. Today, more than 454,000 undocumented immigrants attend U.S. colleges and universities, accounting for about 2% of the total number of students in higher education.
Undocumented students have a legal right to attend many public colleges in many states, but even there, choosing a college while undocumented immigrant poses several challenges. Our guide to colleges for undocumented students offers tips for choosing the right state for college, finding sanctuary campuses, and navigating the legal and practical challenges of college.Colleges for Undocumented Students
Online Colleges for Undocumented Students
As an undocumented student, you face a unique set of challenges when searching for an inclusive learning environment, financing your college education without access to federal aid, and locating critical support services that can help you succeed.
Online colleges and graduate programs are well suited to undocumented and immigrant students seeking secure, affordable, and inclusive learning conditions. However, acclimating to online college comes with its own set of challenges.Online Colleges for Undocumented Students
Financial Aid for Undocumented Students
The financial aid system can feel overwhelming for an undocumented student, especially with federal financial aid off the table, but persistence pays off. Access to state financial aid varies depending on the state and the student's legal status, but undocumented students also qualify for many private loans and scholarships.
Our guide to financial aid for undocumented students explains which students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), how financial aid works for DACA recipients, and what states guarantee in-state tuition rates for undocumented students. Our guide also includes scholarship opportunities available to undocumented learners.Financial Aid for Undocumented Students
How Colleges Can Help Undocumented Students
Undocumented students aren't alone on college campuses. Their fellow students and their colleges can help in many different ways. This guide explores how colleges, educators, and classmates can support undocumented college students.
Check out this resource to educate yourself on immigration law in higher education, learn how to support undocumented students, and become an advocate for undocumented learners. It also includes tips for colleges on creating a culturally inclusive educational environment and providing student services for multilingual students.How Colleges Can Help Undocumented Students
Support, Advocacy, and Resources for Undocumented Students
Many organizations, networks, and advocacy groups will help undocumented students navigate the process of applying to college, adjusting to campus life, exploring financial aid and scholarship opportunities, and earning degrees.
Our support, advocacy, and resources guide connects students with advocacy networks, legal support organizations, and scholarship opportunities for undocumented students. It also includes support networks and resources designed for immigrant and undocumented students.Support, Advocacy, and Resources for Undocumented Students
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Go To College If You Are an Undocumented Immigrant?
Yes, undocumented immigrants can attend college in the U.S. Many public and private universities admit undocumented applicants.
However, actual policies vary by state and school. For example, some states prevent undocumented students from paying in-state tuition rates, while others guarantee access to state financial aid and in-state tuition rates. As a result, undocumented immigrants face unique obstacles in choosing a college and navigating higher education.
What Does It Mean to Be an Undocumented Student?
An undocumented student does not have U.S. citizenship or legal immigration status. This includes both people who legally entered the United States but remained in the country without authorization and those who entered the U.S. without inspection or valid entry documents. Most undocumented students came to the U.S. as children and have lived in the country for years.
Can You Get Financial Aid if You Are Undocumented?
Undocumented college students may qualify for state financial aid, private loans, and scholarships, depending on the state and organization. However, undocumented students, including DACA recipients, are not eligible for federal financial aid.
How Can I Help Undocumented Students on Campus?
Colleges, educators, and classmates can take several steps to help undocumented students at their schools. For example, fellow students can educate themselves on legal protections for undocumented college students and become advocates in their campus communities.
Colleges and educators can provide multilingual resources for students and take steps to foster culturally inclusive environments. Schools can also invest in campus outreach and legal advocacy to support undocumented and refugee students.