I am undocumented- How do I pay for graduate school? (Part 2 of 2)


Welcome to Part 2 of “I am undocumented- How do I pay for graduate school?” Last week I shared four tips on affording graduate school as an undocumented student, including the use of in-state tuition, state financial aid, scholarships, and more. Missed Part 1? Don’t forget to check it out here: Part 1

And now, here are two more key pieces of advice on paying for graduate school as an undocumented student:

5. Consider fundraising- online and offline

Undocumented students across the nation have turned to fundraising to help them cover the cost of pursuing a higher education (myself included!). A popular website for hosting online fundraisers is GoFundMe where you can create your own fundraising page, add a description and goal, share your page with family and friends via e-mail and social media, and ultimately withdraw your donations.  For more details definitely check out their main website (linked above).  In the meantime, here are some things to consider when creating your online page:

– Share with your online audience a bit about yourself. Who are you? What school do you plan to apply to/attend? What degree are you pursuing and why? What are some of the achievements and challenges you have experienced as an undocumented student? 

– Determine how much money you need to fundraise. Do you need to fundraise for tuition, fees, books, living expenses, and/or moving away to college? Get a close estimate of how much you need to raise and share your ultimate goal with others.

– Consider adding “rewards” for people who donate. For example, a person who donates $20 will get a personalized thank you e-mail from you. Someone who donates $50 will get a postcard from the University you plan on attending. Brainstorm and think creatively. This is a great way to engage and thank possible donors.

– Be ready to spread the word. Consider sending out an e-mail to family members, friends, professors, and organizations that you know of/have worked with.

Here are a few online fundraisers by undocumented students to serve as examples and get you started:

Get Yosi Out the Hood Fund” “Roberto’s College Education Fund

Personally, my friend (fellow undocumented student) and I fundraised to apply for and attend graduate school. Offline, we sold shirts, bracelets, and tamales. With the help of many, we also organized a garage sale, art gallery show, and a Christmas get-together and collected donations. Online, we also set up a fundraiser page. We simply can’t thank everyone enough for having helped us by spreading the word and donating to our fund.

6. Contact graduate program(s) for application fee waivers

Many times, graduate school programs will only offer application fee waivers to U.S. Citizens or Legal Permanent Residents. Nevertheless, it does not hurt to ask if they can also provide undocumented students (with or without DACA) with an application fee waiver. Graduate school applications can range anywhere from $50 to $100+ each. Many students will often apply to 10 or more schools. If you are undocumented and don’t qualify for application fee waivers, application fees could very well add up to more than $1,000 (this is not even including related costs, such as sending official transcripts and taking the GRE). It’s not a guarantee that graduate school programs will offer you a fee waiver when applying, but you will never know if you don’t ask. Many of my friends and myself have reached out to graduate school programs about fee waivers and have gotten some (or most) application fees waived.

Who should you contact? You can look for the Graduate School Admissions Office, Diversity Office, Graduate Program, and/or Financial Aid Office. A lot of times there won’t be one specific person who is in charge of application fee waivers, but you want to reach out to someone who can help you navigate the process and be likely to understand/help you.

How should you contact them? E-mail works just fine. In your e-mail you want to tell them about yourself, your interest in the program, your financial difficulties as an undocumented student, and ultimately make your request for an application fee waiver. Here is a sample that you can use to begin drafting your e-mail (many thanks to a dear friend of mine for sharing her template!):

“Dear Mr./Ms./Mrs. ________,

My name is _________. [It’s even better if you had contacted the person earlier on regarding your status, so they remember you and thus be more willing to help you] I am applying to the [enter the name of the graduate school program that you are applying to] program graduate admission for [enter the semester/quarter and year you would be entering, e.g. Fall 2015].

I recently checked the school’s admission website and noticed that only U.S. citizens and permanent residents are eligible for application fee waivers. I would like to confirm with you, and perhaps the Office of Graduate Admission, in regards to the case of undocumented students/DACA-eligible students on this restriction.

Receiving the fee waiver would relieve a great financial burden for me and my family. I thank you for your response in advance.


[your name]

When should you contact them? The sooner the better. Don’t wait until the day when you are submitting your application online! As soon as you know you are interested in applying to a particular program, reach out to the program/school to find out if you qualify for an application fee waiver.

Missed Part 1 of these tips? Don’t forget to check it out here: “I am undocumented- How do I pay for graduate school? (Part 1 of 2)

To get up-to-date scholarships that are available for undocumented students, make sure to check the Graduate School Resource Guide and the Grad School Funding category on this platform!

Carolina grew up undocumented in the U.S. since the age of twelve. In 2011, she created My Undocumented Life as a platform for undocumented communities to obtain up-to-date information and resources on pursuing higher education, immigration policies, and much more. Currently, she is a doctoral student at Harvard University whose scholarly work centers on immigration, race and ethnicity, law and society, families, and social movements.


Don’t miss out on the latest resources available for undocumented students, make sure to “like” our page on Facebook. Please consider donating to our platform so we can provide more information and resources to help undocumented students and their families. Any amount helps!

logo3ver2At My Undocumented Life we provide up-to-date information and resources for undocumented immigrants and allies. We post scholarship opportunities that are open to undocumented students, strategies for navigating the educational system, information on how to apply for DACA/Advance Parole, news on DAPA, and much more. Most importantly, we want to provide a sense of community to our diverse group of readers. Learn more about our work here: “About Us

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