Essential College Guide for DACA and Undocumented Students

More than 430,000 undocumented college students have been allowed to reside in the United States and pursue a degree because of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Some politicians strongly oppose the program, which has seen its fair share of criticism and media attention. This can leave many students who depend on the program confused about its current status. This post will cover everything you need to know about DACA-friendly colleges, the application process, and seeking financial aid.

What is The DACA Program?

DACA stands for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a policy that protects about 800,000 young people, known as “DREAMers,” who came to the U.S. illegally as children.

While DACA does not grant these DREAMers official legal status or a pathway to becoming a United States citizen, it does allow them to live in the U.S. and apply for a driver’s license, social security number, and work program.

President Barack Obama established the DACA program in 2012. When President Donald Trump entered office in 2016, he repeatedly tried to dismantle the program. The Trump administration even stopped accepting new DACA applications for a time. But, in 2020, a federal judge ruled that first-time DACA applications could resume.

In 2021, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued regulations to preserve and fortify the DACA program by codifying it into law. The final rule will go into effect Monday, October 31, 2022.

What is the DREAM Act?

When looking for DACA-friendly colleges, it’s essential to know about the DREAM Act.

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, is a legislative proposal to grant temporary conditional residency with the right to work to undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. If they satisfy further qualifications, the DREAM Act would later grant these DREAMers permanent residency.

Eleven different renditions of the Dream Act have been introduced to Congress over the past two decades. While there are variations between these versions, they all have the common goal of providing a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.

Can Undocumented Students Enroll in U.S. Universities?

Here are some quick facts from the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education Immigration on undocumented students and U.S. universities,

  • More than 427,000 undocumented students are enrolled in postsecondary education in the United States.
  • Of those 427,000 students, 181,000 are DACA-eligible.
  • California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois are the states with the highest number of undocumented students enrolled in higher education.
  • 90% of undocumented students are enrolled in undergraduate programs, while 10% are enrolled in graduate programs.

It’s important to note that no federal or state law prohibits undocumented immigrants from being admitted to American colleges.

Resources

Scholarships are extremely important for students looking for DACA-friendly colleges. Here are a few resources:

Steps for Undocumented Students Applying to DACA-Friendly Colleges

If you are an undocumented student who is ready to start your search for DACA-friendly colleges, follow these steps:

Finding DACA-Friendly Colleges 

As we mentioned earlier, there is no federal or state law that explicitly bans undocumented students from attending U.S. universities, and there is also no requirement for proof of citizenship to be admitted to U.S. universities, but undocumented students can still face a unique set of challenges during the application process.

The good news is that some colleges are going the extra mile to let undocumented students know they are happy to accept them. 

Below is a list of some private colleges with public policies affirming their acceptance of undocumented students:

  • Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia
  • Pomona College in Claremont, California
  • Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio
  • Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts 
  • The University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, Georgia 

Filling Out the Application Form

If you need help filling out a college application form as an undocumented student, there are resources available to help you. We recommend contacting the school’s admissions office. You can also reach out to any of the organizations mentioned in this article. Many were created to help immigrants navigate the complex immigration and education systems in the United States and help undocumented students find DACA-friendly colleges.

The Annotated Initial DACA Application Packet is an excellent resource for undocumented students filling out college applications. It is an annotated application packet that gives advice via helpful notes on the application form.

Financial Aid

Unfortunately, undocumented students cannot legally receive federally funded financial aid in the United States. But, some states offer in-state tuition to DACA recipients and other undocumented students, including:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Illinois
  • Florida
  • Kansas
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Texas 
  • Utah

Additionally, undocumented students can also receive state-level financial aid in many states. This is why reaching out to the admissions office, and financial aid office is a vital part of the application process when you’re applying for DACA-friendly colleges.

Resources

If you’re an undocumented student looking for DACA-friendly colleges, there are a number of resources available for you, such as:

College Tips for DACA and Undocumented Students 

As an undocumented student, your college experience may look a bit different than your peers. Follow these expert tips to make the process as smooth as possible:

  • Connect with others in similar situations: The great part about most college campuses is that they are home to a wide range of international students and faculty. Try to join as many international clubs and organizations as possible so you can meet other immigrants, DACA recipients, and international students to build a community of peers going through similar situations and experiences.
  • Take advantage of on-campus support: From health clinics to tutors to resources for learning English, college campuses have a number of resources to help students of all kinds succeed. Take advantage of as many of these as you need — they’re also a great way to connect with like-minded people.
  • Career assistance: Students who are eligible for DACA can also apply for employment authorization and a social security number, two things that can help you find work in the United States during and/or after college.

Additional Resources

Keep this list of resources handy during the application, admissions, and enrollment process at DACA-friendly colleges:

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