Supporting Undocumented Students to Pursue a College Education

Obstacles that can prevent DACA and undocumented students from accessing higher education and a comprehensive list of available college scholarships and resources regardless of immigration status.

Author: Sarah Perowne

Last update: 6/23/2023

Undocumented College Students Header

N.B: Please note that the information around the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program provided in this article pertains to the most recent legislative updates and renewals concerning DACA. While new applications are no longer being accepted, the program remains active, and current DACA-authorized students can continue to benefit from its services until FDAs provide further notice.

Furthering your studies at a higher education institution is a dream for many. However, undocumented students or those without legal citizenship status in the United States face significant barriers and obstacles, such as inequitable policies, emotional and social challenges, and legal status. This can create a minefield for these students.

Here we aim to shed some light on these challenges and provide up-to-date information on resources and immigrant policies that can assist prospective college students and current students with DACA and TPS status to pursue higher education and employment opportunities successfully.

Additionally, we will explore various financial aid options, including private scholarships and state-specific programs like California's Dream Act, with deadlines. We will also highlight organizations that provide support services to undocumented students and students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.

Considering The Barriers to Accessing Higher Education & College Opportunities

Firstly, to debunk a common query, there is absolutely nothing in the federal or state law that legally prevents undocumented immigrants from attending and applying for U.S. colleges, public schools, or private schools. Despite this, there are four main obstacles and concerns on the path to higher education for students and families with undocumented status to keep in mind.

Applying for College Programs & Universities

When applying for your chosen college and university, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. The great news is that legally you don't have to declare or disclose any proof of citizenship on your admissions application or to get accepted into a U.S. college. However, some states, like South Carolina and Georgia, don't allow undocumented students to attend public colleges, and others have limits. For a full list of eligibility requirements state by state, the HigherEd Immigration Portal is a great place to start.
Financial Aid

Undocumented students, including DACA seeking postsecondary education, aren't eligible for federal financial assistance, Federal Student Aid. However, this immigration-related barrier to furthering education doesn't mean dreams of attending college need to be put on hold. In some states, undocumented students or specifically DACA, are eligible for in-state tuition for those school students who want to attend a public or state college or university in their state of residence, regardless of resident status. However, immigration policies, assistance, and admission vary from state to state.
Legal Resources & Support Assistance

Navigating the ever-changing and inconsistent immigration laws at the state and national levels is one of the biggest hurdles for immigrant students, especially considering how quickly these laws can change. Some issues related to your legal status could be unlawful detention, family separation, institutional discrimination, finding your community, and being the first-gen student to attend college, as well as issues with your residency and threats to finishing your education.

However, many local and regional groups are committed to helping the undocumented community access opportunities and information fairly. Depending on the college you choose, many campuses have invested time into campus resources for undocumented students that you can find through your college directory. So, before choosing a college, look at what kind of support they offer.

Red Cards

Advocacy is important, and all people based in the United States have specific protections and rights under the U.S. Constitution, regardless of immigration status. 

As an undocumented community member, the Immigration Legal Resource Center has created portable Red Cards with information to help people assert their rights and defend themselves when needed, which are translated into 13 languages.

Understanding The DREAM Act

The Dream Act is a bill that aims to give young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and who have lived in the States for most of their lives deportation protection and an opportunity to get legal status if they meet specific requirements. The Dream Act of 2023 would also be available for current DACA recipients. To keep up to date with all the changes, head to the Immigration Forum.

Breaking Down The Acroymns

When it comes to U.S. immigration policies, the acronyms are almost as confusing as the neverending changes, so here is what DACA means, as well as the meaning of TPS status.


TPS, or Temporary Protected Status,  allows certain immigrants who are unable to return to their home countries due to ongoing armed conflict, environmental disasters, or other extraordinary conditions to legally stay, work, and study in the United States for a temporary period. The Department of Homeland Security grants TPS, and it can be extended or terminated based on changing conditions in the immigrants' home countries.


DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a program that provides temporary protection from deportation and work authorization to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, known as Dreamers. To be eligible for DACA, individuals must have arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16, have continuously lived in the U.S. for a certain period, have a high school diploma or GED, and have a clean criminal record. Current DACA recipients must renew their status every two years and may be eligible for other benefits such as a driver's license and in-state tuition.

Educate Yourself on Terms

Language is ever-evolving and changing, meaning that immigration policies often change names and meanings. So, using a words with friends cheat could keep you up to date with the terms while also helping you learn new words and keep your vocabulary sharp - great for all those college interviews and scholarship applications.

What are the Available Resources for Undocumented Immigrants?

The good news is that there are a lot of services that people can access, regardless of legal status, that can help you on your journey to further your education.

Financial Aid and List of Scholarships with Deadlines

Here, we've included a list of available institutional scholarships, private scholarships, and grants available for undocumented students or general scholarships not restricted by citizenship. However, it's worth noting that students will need to research further, as state and college policies can vary as policies and legislation change.

California Dream Act

As part of the California Student Aid Commission, they have created a package of California state laws under the name California DREAM Act. This act allows those brought into the US under 16 without legal visas/immigration documentation, regularly attending school, and meeting GPA and in-state tuition requirements to apply for state-student financial aid benefits.
Hispanic Heritage Scholarship Fund

The Hispanic Heritage Foundation is an organization that is passionate about investing in educational opportunities to support Hispanic students in Central Florida in achieving their dreams. To apply for their scholarship, you must be an eligible non-citizen or have DACA status and apply between January and February.
10,000 Degrees

10,000 degrees offer undergraduate scholarships for students with financial need pursuing their first higher education study course. One application guarantees you will be entered for their partner scholarships. Their priority deadline is March every year.
Education First

If you are a senior at one of Education First's partner high schools, you can apply for one of their scholarships; each year, the awards vary, but online applications open in January, and recipients are awarded in May/June.
Golden Door Scholars

Golden Doors offers yearly scholarship programs for undocumented students and mentorship and community-building opportunities. Eligibility requirements include being a DACA, TPS, or undocumented, meaning you don't have lawful status in the US at the time of application.
Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund

This needs-based scholarship fund provides financial support for students actively engaged in work around self-determination, social and economic justice,  systemic harm, and oppression. Applications must be submitted by no later than April 1st.

QuestBridge's College Prep Scholars Program, currently attending high school within the U.S., are eligible regardless of legal status. Educators can also refer students to the program. To be eligible, applicants must graduate from high school during or before the summer to enroll in the fall of the same year.

MALDEF, or The Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America, is committed to the legal rights of immigrants in the USA, including education equality. Their Law School program is open to all law students enrolled in a full-time course at an accredited U.S. law school for those who demonstrate commitment to advancing Latino civil rights. The deadline is February each year.
Ted & Holly Rollins Scholarship

A 501 C-3 nonprofit organization that provides biannual scholarships to students in the USA. This scholarship fund is passionate about accessible education for those who need help funding college. They have two openings each year, by June for their Fall scholarship and by January for their Spring scholarship.
Global Citizenship Scholarship

Annually awarded scholarships for international and DACA students enrolled in schools that MPOWER partners with. MPOWER selects winners for its Global Citizen Scholarship from an essay submission through each scholarship period.

The scholarships are for highly motivated undocumented students who dream of attending college but can't fund it. They offer two scholarships, the National Scholarship and the Opportunity Scholarship, the latter which is for students who live in states that don't offer in-state tuition to undocumented students.

Scholarships & Grants Directories

Immigrants Rising

Immigrants Rising is a platform and community for undocumented students and immigrant families to learn about policy changes, resources, and support to help them to pursue higher education. They offer programs like the SEED Grant and services like a California In-State Tuition Tool for students to equip themselves with information about their college finances.

Bold is a third-party directory of private scholarships where donors create scholarships, fellowships, and grants for the causes and people they most care about. Applying for scholarships is completely free by creating your Bold profile, and you can filter through education and category.
Fiscal Tiger

Fiscal Tiger has a comprehensive list of nationally recognized scholarships available for students without proof of residency in the United States, with deadlines and requirements.
DREAMers Roadmap

Gaining access to national scholarships is now at the touch of a button with the free DREAMers Roadmap app. This national mobile app aims to help undocumented students find college scholarships to apply for, empowering and equipping them with knowledge of how they can go to college and fulfilling their full potential.

Legal Assistance & Advocacy for Undocumented Students


Immi is an organization and platform that helps immigrants in the U.S. to understand their legal options, gives access to free legal information, and a directory network for subsidized or free legal help.
American Immigration Council

Get legal advice and support from the American Immigration Council. They work on strengthening public perception, updating legislation, and reviewing acts to make the immigration system fairer and more protective of immigrants.
Immigrant Legal Resource Center

The ILRC is committed to working with and educating communities on their legal rights and local policies so undocumented, TPS, and DACA immigrants can advocate for themselves and their families. They created Red Cards for people to defend themselves in situations, like when ICE agents go to a person's home.
Inner Work Collective Freedom

The Inner Work Collective Freedom, led by Laura Bohórquez García, is a space and collective for undocumented immigrants and formally undocumented immigrants. You can listen to Laura's work on the A Shot of Truth podcast, hosted by Victoria Matey, which explores the limited narratives around being undocumented and opens up real conversations about the undocumented experience and imperialism.
National Immigration Law Center

Established in 1979, the NILC leads the way in defending and advancing the legal rights of immigrants in the U.S. with low income. They believe that everyone living in the U.S. should have the opportunity to achieve their dreams and potential. They offer a few different programs and community education resources on their site.
Undocumented Student-Led Network

The Undocumented Student Network based in LA is a California statewide front of immigrant leaders working under the UCLA labor center, formed by undocumented students from different campuses. They are actively engaged in advocacy for undocumented students at UCLA.

Thinking Beyond the Campus - Career Assistance & Employment

It may seem like undocumented students have limited options after graduation. However, there are initiatives and choices to help make the next step less scary and more achievable.

Immigrants Rising - Life After College

For undocumented graduate students leaving college can seem scary. Immigrants Rising have produced this life-after-college guide that could help you with the next steps. Check their website for updates.
The Higher Ed Immigration Portal

The Higher ED Immigration Portal is a platform that gives advice, policy analysis, data, and resources to support DACA and undocumented, refugee, immigrant, and international students. As part of their platform, they bring together 12 organizations.
Undocumented Graduate Students Initiative

In collaboration with organizational and university partners, the President's Alliance established the Undocumented Graduate Student Initiative in 2019 to help institutions recruit, enroll, and support undocumented graduate and professional students, improving students' access to greater opportunities to fulfill their potential.

Additional Supportive Resources

A list of private and government organizations that can help you navigate state-specific queries, legislation, and navigating different education institutions.

United We Dream

United We Dream is one of the largest immigrant youth-led networks in the United States. They are led by youth and create welcoming spaces for young people regardless of their legal status and up-to-date information about DACA policies and changing legislation.
The Immigrant Learning Center

The Immigration Learning Center is based in Massachusetts and offers state support for immigrants and refugees. Their English Language program provides ESOL classes in Greater Boston, and the Public Education Institute is constantly updated for Americans to learn more about U.S. immigration.
My Undocumented Life

Keep up-to-date with U.S. immigration laws with My Undocumented Life, a resource for students with information on stories, scholarships, health resources, and state-specific initiatives.
Income Generation Options for Undocumented Students

For students looking for income-generation opportunities and ideas to fund college and other expenses, Immigrants Rising, in collaboration with UCLA, has produced an Income Generation Guide for Undocumented Students to have in their toolkit.

N.B: Please note that the information provided in this article pertains to the most recent legislative updates and renewals concerning the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and immigration policies. While new applications are no longer being accepted, the program remains active, and current DACA-authorized students can continue to benefit from its services until FDAs provide further notice.