Scholarship Opportunities for Undocumented Students

A close-up of the American flag

4Max /

After a vitriolic election season, many young undocumented students want to know if they can go to college. The future is uncertain, unfortunately, but for now, students without authorized immigration documents can absolutely pursue higher education in the United States, whether they have DACA or not. That being said, these students often face many more legal and financial obstacles than their peers. They may not be eligible to work, and their states may not allow them to access in-state tuition. Fortunately, there are funding opportunities that can help undocumented students overcome these barriers. You might be eligible for one (or more!).

For undergraduates or incoming college freshmen who hold DACA and maintain a GPA of at least 3.0:

While undocumented students can most certainly attend college, some states make it more difficult than others. All public universities and colleges in Alabama and South Carolina (and some in Georgia) outright prohibit undocumented students from enrolling in college. Other state public school systems, like the ones in North Carolina and Arizona, allow undocumented students to apply but do not offer them in-state tuition rates. This makes attending college near impossible. That’s where the Golden Door Scholars Program comes in. Every year, it helps undergraduates and incoming college freshmen with at least a 3.0 GPA afford their education at schools that will support them, be they public or private. While Golden Door accepts applications from students with DACA living across the country, it gives preference to those who live in North Carolina and other states that charge undocumented students out-of-state tuition rates. The 2017 scholarship application will become available in September of 2017.

For DACA holders who will have finished at least one full year of postsecondary education (college, university, or vocational school) with a 3.0 GPA at the time of application:

The Scholarship America Dream Award acknowledges that funding opportunities decline after a student is initially accepted into college. It therefore provides funding to second-year students to encourage them to finish their degrees. You must complete at least one year at an accredited two- or four-year college by the time of your application. Awards range from $5,000 to $15,000 based on financial need, and they are renewable, which means that a recipient’s award will increase by $1,000 each year. While most of the funds available are designated to general scholarships, a portion are specifically for students majoring in STEM while a portion are for Chinese-American students.

For first-time college students with DACA and financial need who are preparing to begin an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program at a partner college:

The Dream.US National Scholarship Program is available to students with DACA who have never before enrolled in college. It is aimed at students living in states where undocumented immigrants can pay in-state tuition rates. The scholarship provides up to $25,000 so that award recipients can complete a degree at one of the organization’s partner colleges (there are more than 70 to choose from). Applicants needs to have an unweighted GPA of at least 2.5 and have already graduated from high school or earned their GEDs before receiving the scholarship. The application opened on November 15, 2016.

For students with DACA who are transferring to a four-year college after graduating from community college:

If you are preparing to graduate from an accredited community college program, think about applying to the Dream.US National Scholarship Program for community college students. (You cannot apply for the scholarship once you are enrolled in a four-year school, so you must plan ahead.) To qualify, you must have earned a 3.0 GPA or higher by the time you graduate with your associate’s degree. You must also be eligible for in-state tuition in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Texas, or Virginia and attend one of the partner colleges in your state upon receipt of the scholarship. The application opened on November 15, 2016.

A folder of undocumented student scholarships.

Tahatuvango /

For DACA holders who cannot legally attend a public college in their own states or for those living in a state that bars undocumented students from accessing in-state tuition rates:

The Dream.US Opportunity Scholarship Program wants to help undocumented high school graduates and graduating seniors (especially those in states where in-state tuition is out of reach) earn an affordable bachelor’s degree. To do so, it has partnered with Christian Brothers University, Delaware State University, Eastern Connecticut State University, Trinity University, and Western Oregon University. Scholarship recipients must agree to enroll in one of these five programs to receive a scholarship of $20,000 a year for four years. To be eligible, you must have a high school GPA of 2.8 or higher, demonstrate financial need, and take the ACT or SAT.

For talented students (college-bound high school seniors, community college transfers, undergraduates, and graduate students) of Hispanic heritage with or without DACA:

  • The Becas Univision Scholarship Program recognizes Latinx and/or Hispanic students living in the United States, documented or otherwise, who plan to enroll in an accredited four-year college (or graduate program) in the fall after the application cycle. Graduating high school seniors need at least a 3.0 GPA to be eligible; all other applicants must maintain a 2.5 GPA or higher. Scholarship award amounts are determined, in part, by a student’s financial need but range between $500 and $5,000. In 2015, Becas Univision was able to bestow 34 awards. The application period opens January 1. In the meantime, get answers to frequently asked questions here or contact the program here.
  • The Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) is much like the Becas Univision Scholarship Program, which means you just might be eligible to apply for both! Priority is given to those in the STEM fields, but all applications are considered. Graduating high school seniors must demonstrate a 3.0 GPA or higher; all other applicants need a GPA of at least 2.5. As far as your immigration status is concerned, you can be a U.S. citizen, permanent legal resident, DACA holder, or eligible noncitizen (as defined by the FAFSA). The application period opens January 1.

For students who want to expand their funding searches to include scholarships that don’t ask about their immigration statuses:

While some scholarships, like the ones above, specify that they are available to undocumented students, other scholarship programs simply don’t care about an applicant’s immigration status. These programs want to support students who demonstrate merit or financial need, regardless of whether they live in the United States legally.

  • Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC), a nonprofit that empowers young undocumented students to achieve their goals, has compiled a list of scholarship opportunities that do not require proof of U.S. citizenship or legal residence. Some are very specific, while others are nationwide. Comb the list and you will surely find multiple opportunities for which you are eligible.
  • The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) has compiled a scholarship resource guide for students, parents, and counselors. While some opportunities are available for students of Mexican descent, it extends the reach of its list to include opportunities for students of all nationalities as well. It is organized by scholarship due date, and it clearly states the requirements of each scholarship so that you can follow up with the ones for which you seem to be eligible.
  • The Asian Pacific Fund administers a dozen scholarships for which undergraduate and graduate students may be eligible. Some of the scholarships are open to students of a certain ethnic heritage, while others are available to students residing in certain states or counties. Check out your options here.

About Gwen Elise

Gwen is an avid traveler who feels most at home in Kentucky and Argentina. Her closet is full of dark dresses, and her walls are papered in colorful maps. She likes to make puns, read, write, and translate to and from Spanish, and she misses Vassar College, her alma mater, which helped her get better at all of those things.

Leave a comment