Can You Receive College Aid If Not Yet A US Citizen?

3 March 2015
 Categories: Law, Articles

If you're one of the 3.7 million individuals no longer subject to deportation under President Obama's executive order on immigration, you may be wondering what you can now do to help improve your economic standing. Receiving a college degree can often be a bright start toward a higher income and more rewarding career. However, federal and state student aid (including subsidized and unsubsidized student loans) has not traditionally been made available to undocumented residents. Are these standards changing under the new executive order? What should you do if you want to attend college but can't afford to finance it out of pocket? And should you worry about potential legal ramifications of attending college in the US or accepting student aid? Read on to learn more about the opportunities that may be available.

Is college aid available to undocumented or unauthorized residents?

In general, to qualify for federally- and state-subsidized student loans, grants, or scholarships, you'll need to fill out the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you're an undocumented immigrant, you won't be eligible for any federal or state aid (even after the issuance of the executive action on immigration). However, you'll still want to fill out this FAFSA, as most colleges use it to determine aid packages. Although you're unable to receive federal funds, many colleges and universities have chosen to extend scholarships and grants to undocumented immigrants out of the private donations and other funds they receive.

Before filling out your FAFSA, you'll need to speak to the admissions offices of the colleges in your shortlist -- which will mean doing some research into local colleges that offer aid packages to undocumented immigrants. Each college's procedure is a bit different, and if you fill out your FAFSA outside their guidelines, you may find yourself barred from receiving aid. For example, some colleges may want you to leave the Social Security Number line of the application blank, while others might want you to enter a placeholder number (such as 000-00-0000).

While doing your research into immigrant-friendly colleges, you might find that you'll be able to receive the in-state tuition rate for certain colleges, even though you are not technically a legal resident of the state. Because the in-state tuition rate is nearly always substantially cheaper than the out-of-state rate, choosing a college with a generous aid package and an in-state tuition rate can save you thousands.

Are there any potential legal ramifications to accepting this aid?

Some sources have heavily criticized these colleges' choice to offer aid to undocumented immigrants, arguing that it takes potential funding (particularly grants and scholarships) away from legal citizens. Others have peered carefully into these institutions' financials to ensure that no federal, state, or city funds are being indirectly used to provide aid to undocumented immigrants. It is possible that in the future, the federal government could pass legislation limiting these colleges and universities from providing any aid to individuals who are not legal citizens or permanent residents.

Although this is currently not the case, you may wish to speak to an immigration counseling lawyer about your other immigration options. This is particularly true if you're unable to find a college with an acceptable or affordable aid package that is within a reasonable driving distance. And in some areas that are not overly friendly to immigrants, you may find that even with your newly minted college degree, you can have trouble finding a job.

If you choose to go through the citizenship or permanent resident process, you'll find that many more choices can open up to you -- including the option to receive federal- or state-backed student loans, grants, and other protections and benefits.