While the federal government never passed the DREAM Act, former President Barack Obama signed an executive order titled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in 2012, which opened up many options for undocumented or “DREAMer” students.
DACA, as the executive order is known, allows certain individuals to stay in the United States provided they meet the conditions. Those who are allowed to stay are offered a work permit and two years of protection from deportation. They can renew those benefits as long as they continue to keep their record clean.
Even though DACA students are not deported back to their home country and can continue to pursue higher education goals, they don’t have access to the same federal student aid programs as U.S. citizens do. That lack of funding availability can make it difficult for DACA students to attend college.
There are an estimated 790,000 recipients of DACA deferral since the program began in 2012, with a total of 1.1 million people eligible for those benefits. Many undocumented students want to attend college but their immigration status can stand in the way. This guide will review financial aid for DACA students from the federal government, states, and private companies.
On this page:
- Federal & State Financial Aid for DACA Students
- Private Student Loans for DACA Students
- Other Financing Options for DACA Students
Federal & State Financial Aid for DACA Students
DACA Students Should Still Fill Out the FAFSA, If Possible
Unfortunately, students under the DACA program are not eligible for any federal financial aid including Pell Grants, Direct Loans, or any other federal offerings. That also includes any federal program dependent on completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA—typically seen as the first step to receiving federal aid.
That doesn’t mean, however, that DACA students shouldn’t complete the FAFSA anyway. There are many other state and local programs dependent on FAFSA data that are available to DACA students, so not filling out the FAFSA can result in missed opportunities and lost funding.
In order to complete the FAFSA, you need a Social Security number. Many DACA students may not have one; those who do, however, can complete the FAFSA and effectively sign-up for state and local student financial aid. When completing the FAFSA, consult the guidelines at studentaid.gov for instructions on how to fill out the tax and residence information.
Talk to Your Intended College’s Financial Aid Office or High School Guidance Counselor
You should also talk to the financial aid office of your chosen school or your high school guidance counselor to see what state-based options you may have.
Some states have their own forms. Minnesota, for instance, has a specific DREAM Act application that awards students a Minnesota State Grant worth almost $2,000 of funding that doesn’t need to be paid back. The state also offers in-state tuition rates for DACA students; many other states, however, charge DACA recipients out-of-state tuition rates even if they reside within that state.
Private Student Loans for DACA Students
While many lenders will only offer loans to U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents, there are a few private loan lenders who will work with DACA benefit recipients.
Stilt is one such lender. The company’s eligibility criteria for application only includes a requirement that you be physically located in the United States with an address in one of the states they are licensed to loan in, have a U.S. based bank account in your name, and have a U.S. based telephone number account in your name. You must also have at least six months of DACA deferral time remaining.
Discover is another lender that is willing to loan to DACA students—as long as they have a qualified, creditworthy cosigner with an SSN. The cosigner must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in order to be qualified. In addition to helping the student qualify, the cosigner may also help him or her receive a lower interest rate on the loan.
Citizens Bank also offers private student loans to DACA students with a qualified cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The cosigner doesn’t have to be a parent (which could pose an obvious problem for DACA recipients); it can be an extended family member, friend, or other contact who is willing to cosign that has a good credit score.
Other Financing Options for DACA Students
Even if you find yourself unable to get a private student loan or state aid, there are still several options. There are personal loans and scholarships in the private sector; some of them are even specifically geared for DACA students.
While they aren’t private student loans, you can also get a personal loan as a DACA student. Certain lenders, such as LendingPoint, SoFi, and Earnest offer personal loans to non-residents; some even have DACA-specific loans.
The Dreamers Scholarship, offered by the Immigrant Law Group, provides money to first-year college students who have qualified for DACA, have a GPA of 2.5 or better, and are applying to one of 12 partner schools that include colleges in New York City, Florida, Washington, D.C., Texas, or California. There is also an online partner school.
Golden Door Scholarships & Support
Golden Door offers not only scholarships for undocumented DACA students, but also mentorship throughout college and beyond with internships and professional development help. They’ve given over 200 students money for college, and their student-scholars go on to attend colleges like Wake Forest University, Emory, and more.
TheDream.US is another scholarship available to you as a DACA student. Their National Scholarship Award will cover tuition and fees up to $14,500 for an associate degree and $29,000 for a bachelor’s degree. There are over 75 partner colleges across 15 states that participate in the program.
It’s true that recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals benefit will have a harder time than a U.S. citizen when it comes to financing their education. It’s not impossible, however; with some effort, you can find the funding you need for the education you want, regardless of your immigration status.
Author: Dave Rathmanner
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