Applying to College for Undocumented Students

By Alejandra Pérez

Systemic racism has made it challenging for undocumented students to access higher education. This article is all about how to navigate these challenges and get to college for undocumented students! Throughout the last two decades, our community has worked very hard to ensure that undocumented students can better access higher education. The tuition equity laws and access to state financial aid have happened because undocumented students, like you, have fought hard for them.

Plyer v. Doe is the Supreme Court case that determined that students across the United States had the right to a free public K-12 education regardless of their immigration status or their parents’ immigration status. Unfortunately, there isn’t a similar law when it comes to higher education. Each state gets to make their own decisions when it comes to access to higher education for undocumented students.

For example, Alabama and South Carolina are two states in which undocumented students are not allowed to attend a public higher education institution. On the complete opposite, we have states like Washington, Oregon, and California that have in-state tuition and state financial aid for undocumented students. Some states only have in-state tuition for undocumented students and others do not have any education equity laws, but you can attend school at an out-of-state or international student tuition rate.

Check out this article for step by step instructions for how to fill out the WASFA for Washington State financial aid for undocumented students.

We know that as a community we have long way to go to ensure our community has the proper access to attend higher education. However, it is not impossible. So here is what you have to know as an undocumented student applying to college:

Find out what education equity laws are in your state, if any

United We Dream has created a great resource where you can see if your state offers in-state tuition or financial aid, drivers licenses, professional and occupational licenses, or healthcare access to undocumented individuals. Often to access these resources, you must have been in the state for a certain amount of time or be under a certain age.

When applying to college, you will be asked about your immigration status and a Social Security Number. It’s ok if you do not have one.

Public schools must protect all your information under FERPA, meaning that even if you apply to college and disclose you are undocumented, they will not be able to share that with anyone. Your information is protected. If undocumented isn’t an option on the citizenship question, you can always put “other”. If you do not have a valid SSN, make sure you put all 0s. Nothing else about your college application should be different than a U.S. citizen applying. 

There are many ways you can pay for college

Paying for college is one of the biggest challenges for undocumented students. Since our community does not qualify for federal financial aid, we must rely on state financial aid (if applicable) and scholarships.

In addition, there are many scholarships to help with costs of college for undocumented students. Websites like,, and are great places to start your search for private scholarships that can help you pay for college. Remember to also check for scholarships (from endowments and foundations too!) offered by the colleges you want to attend. If the scholarship application does not not ask for citizenship status, you are most likely eligible!

You will have to be your biggest advocate

Depending on where you live, saying you are undocumented to the world may not be the safest thing to do. But do not let that stop you. The undocumented community is loved and supported by many more than not. If you do not have access to the resources you need, be creative in finding ways to be employed, especially if you do not have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Immigrants Rising has created amazing entrepreneurship and freelancing resources on how you can create your own business and be a contractor for you to be able to be employed. 

You will have to advocate for yourself because no one else will. Sometimes, this will mean that you will have to disclose that you are undocumented. Make sure you are sharing with a person you can or believe you can trust. Remember you have rights!

Make sure you build a community on campus

Being a college student is a completely different experience from high school that can often feel lonely if you do not build a community. Many colleges across the United States have become very vocal to express their support for undocumented students. Many, have even created undocumented resource centers or created a specific position dedicated to work with and alongside undocumented students. Join clubs, build your friend group, and if there is something you need on campus and doesn’t exist, create it. Student organizing and activism always leads to systemic change!