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Articles / Applying to College / College Advice for Undocumented Student

College Advice for Undocumented Student

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Oct. 13, 2011

Question: I am currently a junior in high school. I was wondering how I can get into college without a SSN or ID. I was brought to the U.S. illegally 11 years ago. I also want to know if I will be able to apply for scholarships.

Yes, you can apply to college without a Social Security Number, and you will have access to some financial aid opportunities although federal funds are currently not available to undocumented candidates. However, most colleges will consider you as if you were an "international" student, which means that you will be eligible for any scholarship money that they have for non-citizens, whether from outside the U.S. or within.

A couple things that you should know about getting this money that comes directly from the colleges themselves:

-It is very hard to receive this sort of scholarship. Those who get funded as international or undocumented students often have a GPA and test scores that are well above the grades and scores of the typical admitted freshman at that college. Some schools are interested in undocumented students because of the “diversity" that they will bring to campus and thus do not expect the undocumented students to be stronger that the average student there. However, you will commonly find that it is only the top undocumented students (if any) who are admitted, regardless of where you apply.

-The colleges that have the most money to give away to international and undocumented students are often the ones that are the toughest for anyone to get into, so the bar is set very high for all applicants but especially for international and undocumented students who are often expected to exceed the norm. However, admission officials are usually sympathetic to the hardships that many undocumented applicants have faced, and this can be a plus in the admission process.

Although you will not be able to receive federal grants and loans, if you live in a “Dream Act" state and meet certain other residency and high school criteria, you may be eligible for in-state tuition and other forms of support. See http://sundial.csun.edu/2011/10/gov-brown-signs-second-part-of-calif-dream-act/ for information on the Dream Act recently passed in California as well as for a list of other Dream Act states.

As for “outside" scholarships (those offered by corporations, private foundations, civic organizations, etc.), you'll find that many (but definitely not ALL) will restrict their applicants to U.S. citizens. If you haven't done so already, go to www.fastweb.com and complete the questionnaire. One you have submitted it, you will generate a list of scholarships that match your interests and strengths. Note, however, that you will have to read instructions and regulations carefully to make sure that citizenship is not a requirement.

On these Web sites below, you will find more information for undocumented college-bound students as well as lists of other scholarship resources:




There are also many threads on the College Confidential discussion forum that offer advice to undocumented applicants. If you do a Search on the discussion forum, you can find them easily. Here are a few examples:




Finally, although you may be worried about disclosing your undocumented status to college officials, you need not fear exposure. The staff will treat your application with confidentiality. The college admissions maze can be daunting to navigate, even without the extra complexities of your situation. Along the way, you may encounter many who will cheer you on as well as others who might question your right to a U.S. college education. So steel yourself for this as best you can. If you are persistent, you can reach your goals.

Good luck!

(posted 10/13/2011)

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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