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DACA Financial Aid: How ‘Dreamers’ Can Get Help Paying for College

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No federal law forbids undocumented immigrants from seeking a degree in the U.S. However, only 5% to 10% of the estimated 65,000 DACA students who graduate from high school annually end up attending college, according to the nonprofit Immigrants Rising.

The low college attendance rate is partly because the federal government doesn’t make grants and government loans available to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and other undocumented students.

But DACA financial aid might be available from your state, school or local or national scholarship organization. So-called DACA student loans could also be available from some lenders. Here’s what you should know:

There’s no federal financial aid for DACA students

There are obstacles to federal financial aid for immigrants, even if they’re eligible noncitizens.

But nearly 700,000-plus beneficiaries of DACA — a former President Obama-era program allowing “Dreamers” to stay in the U.S. — aren’t eligible at all. That’s despite the fact DACA students gained a new footing in June 2020, thanks to a pivotal Supreme Court ruling stopping the current administration from ending the DACA program.

Can DACA students apply for the FAFSA?

If you’re in the DACA program and have received a Social Security number, you’re able to complete the FAFSA. You’ll even receive a Student Aid Report outlining your eligibility to receive nonfederal aid.

However, the Department of Education recommends that you check with your high school counselor or college financial aid office before you fill out the FAFSA. You might live in a state with an alternative financial aid application specifically for undocumented students.

Not a DACA student but wondering about financial aid eligibility? Review our complete guide to federal aid for immigrants.

Your state or school might have DACA financial aid

Financial aid eligibility rules vary from state to state. Learn about your state’s financial aid programs by using the map curated by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

In Minnesota, for example, you’d be instructed to avoid the FAFSA and complete the state’s Dream Act application instead. Then you’d be eligible to receive a Minnesota State Grant, which awards undergraduates an average of $2,603.

During your research, you might learn that you’ll need to find college grants and scholarships because some schools require DACA students to pay higher out-of-state tuition despite living in-state. In fact, 27 states don’t award in-station tuition rates to undocumented residents attending public colleges and universities, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

View your state’s position on awarding in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants via uLEAD’s useful map, or ask your school’s financial aid office about its policy.

Some organizations provide financial aid for DACA students

You might live in a state that’s light on financial aid for DACA students. Or maybe you built a college list full of schools that don’t offer enough aid to “Dreamers.”

Fortunately, there are organizations dedicated to your cause.

TheDream.US, for example, partners with 70 colleges in 16 states to help DACA students complete their education. The organization also received a $33 million grant in January 2018 from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his then-wife to continue its efforts.

If you’re a high-performing high school student who is undocumented, also seek scholarship opportunities via:

You can find more national and local opportunities using the Dream Educational Empowerment Program’s list of resources.

Private lenders may also have DACA student loans

If you’ve exhausted your hunt for scholarships and college grants from your state, your school and other organizations, you could resort to private student loans.

Unlike financial aid, loans need to be repaid over time with interest. So it’s wise to borrow only what you can reasonably expect to repay once you leave school. Plugging your potential loan’s balance, interest rate and repayment term into a monthly payment calculator can help you estimate affordability.

Although you’re ineligible for federal loans as a DACA student, you could find top-rated lenders of private loans willing to lend to non-U.S. citizens. For example:

  • Citizens Bank requires that international student borrowers have a creditworthy cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
  • MPOWER Financing is one lender that doesn’t require DACA students to have a cosigner.

Shop around and compare multiple private student loan companies to ensure you receive your best possible rate and repayment term.

At the end of the day, DACA students can get financial aid. Take the time to investigate your options. That way, your lack of citizenship won’t leave you lacking a great education.

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