6 Things Undocumented Students Need to Know About College

Think that if you’re undocumented you can’t go to college? Think again. Get the facts and learn how to make it happen.

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If you’re a high school student who’s undocumented — that is, you were born outside the United States and you’re not a U.S. citizen or legal resident — you probably have a lot of questions about going to college. Here are some important facts.

1. You Can Go to College

The first thing you should know is that no federal law prevents U.S. colleges from admitting undocumented students. And only a few states — including Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama — have placed any kind of restrictions on undocumented students attending public colleges and universities.* In most cases, colleges set their own rules on admitting undocumented students, so you should research the policies of colleges you are interested in attending.

You should also know that undocumented students cannot receive federal financial aid for college — the type of aid that many college students rely on. However, undocumented students can get financial aid or scholarships for college in other ways. To find out more, read For Undocumented Students: Questions and Answers About Paying for College.

Your undocumented status might limit your choices — but college is still an option if you have a plan. Your best strategy is to start planning early, do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions.

2. You Are Not Alone

You’re the one who will have to put in the work it takes to get to college — but building a support network is key.

Start with your family. Make sure they know you want to go to college. Talk with them about your options for choosing a college and paying for your education.

You can also seek advice from trusted teachers and counselors at your high school. Along with giving you guidance, they might be able to put you in touch with other undocumented students who have successfully enrolled in college or with college admission counselors who can help you.

If you’re worried about telling teachers and counselors that you’re undocumented, be aware that, by law, school officials cannot disclose personal information about students — including their immigration status. Find out more about the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act at ab540.com.

3. You Can Find a College That Fits You

As you look for colleges that match your wants and needs, you might want to find out if the colleges you’re interested in have programs, student organizations or centers that support first-generation immigrant students. Checking out college websites and publications is a good place to start.

Here are some things to remember when looking at colleges:

  • Different colleges have different policies on admitting undocumented students.
  • Different colleges have different policies on awarding nonfederal financial aid to undocumented students. Read For Undocumented Students: Questions and Answers About Paying for College for more information.
  • Public colleges must follow their state’s laws on issues such as whether undocumented students who live in the state can pay in-state tuition or must pay out-of-state tuition. Download the Repository of Resources for Undocumented Students (.pdf/1MB) to see information and resources for several states.

4. You’ll Apply Like Any Other Student

The college application process is usually the same for all students. You’ll need to find out colleges’ admission requirements regarding testing, grades and the high school classes you need to take. Most likely, you’ll be asked to write a personal essay and get letters of recommendation, among other application requirements.

Learn more by reading Quick Guide: The Anatomy of the College Application.

The best way for any student to prepare for college is to work hard in high school. Colleges look at your grades and the kinds of classes you take, so it's a great idea to take college-level courses such as Advanced Placement® classes. Many colleges award credit based on scores on AP Exams, which can save students money on tuition.

5. Your Options May Change

Laws and regulations regarding undocumented students change. It’s important to keep up with the news about how these changes may affect your college plans.

In September 2017, the Trump administration announced it was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program beginning in early 2018.  DACA was implemented in 2012 and allowed certain undocumented students who came to the U.S. as children temporary permission to stay in the country. 

For more information on changes to DACA and other policies affecting undocumented students visit the US Department of Homeland Security or the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

6. You Can Find Resources to Help You

Here are some additional websites with helpful information: