Going to College as an Undocumented Student in California

By CAROLINA

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If you are an undocumented student living in the state of California, check out the following resources that can help you offset the costs related to pursuing a college education:

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Picture from: ab540.com

1. In-state tuition (Assembly Bill 540)As of 2001, eligible undocumented students can pay in-state tuition fees (as opposed to out-of-state) if they attend a public college in the state of California. To be eligible for in-state tuition under AB 540, students must have completed at least 3 years in, and graduated from, a CA high school. They must also register or be currently enrolled at an accredited institution of public higher education in California. Students must file an affidavit (this is where you state that you will apply for legal residency as soon as possible). Lastly, students must not hold a valid non-immigrant visa (F, J, H, L, A, E, etc.).

As many of you may already know, after I graduated from high school and enrolled in college, I was able to qualify for AB 540. Although it did become increasingly difficult to pay for college without access to federal and state financial aid, being able to pay in-state (as opposed to out-of-state) tuition fees definitely helped.

If you think you may be eligible for in-state tuition, I would recommend checking out this website, which offers comprehensive information on AB 540, what it means for undocumented students, and how to apply for it. For more information on AB 540, you can also check out the University of California and MALDEF

2. Expansion of in-state tuition (Assembly Bill 68)

Starting in 2018, this new bill will expand access to in-state tuition rates in California to include: “(1) Students who didn’t go to three years of high school in California. SB 68 will allow students to count full-time attendance at a California Community College, Adult School, Department of Rehabilitation and Correction School, High School, or combination of these schools to meet the 3 years required to be eligible for in-state tuition. Students who have three years of high school coursework can also count attendance at an elementary school; (2) Students who don’t have a California High School Diploma or didn’t get their GED in California. Students will be able to use an Associate’s Degree or the fulfillment of the minimum transfer requirements for the UCs or CSUs to meet the requirements. Contact the school you plan to attend for further information.” For more information on SB 68, check out E4FC’s fact sheet.

3. State financial aid (Assembly Bills 130 and 131 California Dream Act)

Although under current law, undocumented students are not eligible to receive federal financial aid (FAFSA), you may be eligible to receive state financial aid under the CA Dream Act. In order to qualify for the CA Dream Act, students must (1) have attended high school in California for at least 3 full years OR graduated early from a California high school with the equivalent of at least three years of credits; (2) graduated or will graduate from a California high school or passed the California High School Proficiency Examination (CHSPE) or obtained a General Educational Development (GED) certificate in California; (3) will register or enroll in an accredited and qualifying California college or university; and (4) if applicable, complete or have completed an affidavit to legalize immigration status as soon as you are eligible to do so.

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To learn more about how I paid for grad school as an undocumented student, check out this post.

For more information on the CA Dream Act, I recommend checking out this page by E4FC, which offers a detailed discussion of the types of aid eligible undocumented students may benefit from, including information on how to apply. You should also check out the resources provided by the California Student Aid Commission. Note: The deadline to apply for the CA Dream Act is typically during early March so make sure to mark your calendar!

4. Loans (Senate Bill 1210 California Dream Loan Program)

Under the California Dream Loan Program, eligible undocumented students at a University of California (UC) can apply for a loan (up to $4,000 each year). A loan “is borrowed money that you have to pay back with interest”.  Here are a couple of important things to note: According to the University of California website, you can borrow every year that you are an eligible student at UC or until you receive a maximum of $20,000 in DREAM loans. The interest rate is 4.29% in 2015-16 (this rate is subject to change in the future). Interest will not accrue on the loan you receive as long as you are enrolled at least half time in school. Once you graduate (or you cease being at least a half-time student), there is a 6-month “grace period” before you have to start paying back the loan.

To be eligible for a Dream Loan, you must be an undocumented AB 540 undergraduate student, demonstrate financial need, and be enrolled at least half time at a University of California. For more information, check out the University of California website.

Undocumented students are encouraged to look into scholarship opportunities, as well as AB 540 and the CA Dream Act first before taking out a loan. However, even with scholarships and state financial aid, undocumented students may still struggle to afford their college education and may have to opt for loans. Be sure to look into all of your options and seek advice from your mentors to make the best decision for your particular case.

Don’t forget to visit our website http://www.MyUndocumentedLife.org from your computer (not just mobile phone) so you can have access to the wide range of resources we provide. Be sure to subscribe (it’s free) for up-to-date information and resources for undocumented immigrants.


Carolina grew up undocumented in the U.S. since the age of twelve. In 2011, she created this blog 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.



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