Tips for applying to college as an undocumented student


As undocumented high school seniors, college can be a scary thing. We are not only challenged in the classroom, but outside of it as well. We face fear, lack of encouragement from school authorities and financial barriers. Also, as first generation students, we might not know how to navigate the admissions process and we lack support from our parents, that do not know anything about college. From my own experience, there were many times in which I felt like giving up. I felt like it was impossible to attend college or find the support necessary to succeed. However, let me tell you what a teacher told me once. It is going to be difficult. There would be times in which you might feel you can’t do it, in which you will question if you fully belong, but I want you to know that it is okay to feel that way. Just know that you have many others willing to help you in your journey. Here are some tips that were very helpful for me when applying to college as an undocumented student without DACA.

1. If you qualify for DACA, make sure you apply for it before you get to college.

Applying for college with DACA is a little easier. Although you still do not qualify for federal aid, there are many scholarships available and the process is easier. Depending on the state you live, you may also be able to pay in state tuition and receive state aid.

2. Be prepared for extra work

As undocumented students, we are considered international students in many universities. Meaning we have to submit extra paperwork or constantly explain universities that in reality we are not international students. You might also have to explain that you do not qualify for FAFSA or you can not provide them with certain documentation . Make sure you constantly call the universities to ensure they receive everything and are fully aware of your status. It is gonna be overwhelming at times, but I promise you it would be worth it.

3. Work on your grades and standardized tests

I know you have heard this a lot, but believe me when I tell you it is the best advice you can receive. As undocumented students, we need to work the double and sometimes the triple to be noticed. Earning high marks increases your probabilities in receiving scholarships and getting into highly competitive schools which can grant you with institutional aid and better financial aid opportunities. Usually schools that are hard to get in, can give you the most money, so make sure to improve your grades and scores the best you can.

4. Apply to undocu-friendly schools

From my experience, I believe it is very important to feel welcomed in a college campus in order to succeed and give your full potential. There are some schools that have pledged to assist undocumented students and it is important to know what schools can help you the most. It is important to check their policies and if they have said something about supporting undocumented students. Some schools have websites with specific information or have a representative that guide you through the process of applying while undocumented. I also recommend that you talk to representatives and ask them if you can talk to current undocumented students to know about their experience in campus. Lastly, apply to colleges that consider you a domestic student. If you are considered a domestic student, you can receive financial aid from the school and are not required to summit extra paperwork, which makes the process a lot easier. Click here or here to learn more about them. It is extremely important to apply to schools that where you will feel comfortable and welcomed.

5. Work on your essays ahead of time, and always have an English teacher read them

Essays are very important in the application process. It is the time in which you get to shine, and own your narrative. Approaching your undocumented status in college applications is very personal, and for many difficult, however, I highly encourage you to do it. Universities want unique students, willing to give back to the community and become future leaders despite challenges. Essays give you the opportunity to show your personality and that you want this more than anyone else. To ensure you are coherent in your writing, always ask a teacher to read it and correct grammar and punctuation or ask your counselor to give you advice.

6. Apply for scholarships and state aid if applicable

When applying to college, you need to keep in mind the cost of attendance and personal costs. The best way to be prepared for this is, is by constantly applying to scholarships and minimizing college costs. There are many scholarships available, specifically for undocumented students. You should also look if the schools you are applying offer scholarships you can apply for. Also, keep an eye on state aid and if your state offers it. States such as Texas, Washington, California, Oregon and others provide financial aid for eligible undocumented students. Check the application and if the colleges you are applying to can grant you with state aid (usually only public schools, but also some private). Remember to apply as soon as possible for state financial aid, because it runs out fast, and if you apply late you might not receive any.

7. Always have a backup plan

Although attending college can be extremely exciting, as undocumented students we need to always think about other options available for us. We do not know if we will have the money or the resources necessary to attend a certain university. My advice is to apply to safe schools (which you know you can easily be accepted and afford). A target school (which is a little hard to get in to but you have a chance) and a reach school (highly selective university). Always consider all your options, so you can make the best decision when deciding what college to attend.

8. Never give up!

Know that you are not the only one, many of us have gone through the same experiences and we are willing to help you. Never feel ashamed to ask for help and get a support system. What got me to college was having people that truly care for me, and gave me the best advice they could. Even if it doesn’t work out, know that you are not in this alone, we can support you in your journey. Ask lots of questions and take advantage of every opportunity presented in life.

Alejandra was born in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon Mexico and immigrated to the Rio Grande Valley in TX when she was 14 years. Soon after, her visa expired and she became one of millions of undocumented individuals living in the shadows. After facing numerous challenges because of her status, she decided to own her narrative and come out of the shadows. With the support of her community and an incredible network of undocumented students and allies around the nation, Alejandra was able to apply to college, and is excited to start her new journey as a freshman at Tufts University. She hopes to become more active in the immigrant rights movements and earn a degree that would allow her to assist other students like her.


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

Subscribe to My Undocumented Life (it's free!)

Enter your email to subscribe to notifications from this site

Categories: Applying to College

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Discover more from My Undocumented Life

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue Reading