Making Your Way into a Graduate Program



This roadmap is intended for undocumented undergraduates who are interested in learning more about the graduate school application process. I created this mini roadmap after having gone through the process myself two years ago. I also want to take the time to make it clear that this roadmap is far from being an extensive guide and should only be treated as a point of departure. Moreover, I want to emphasize that it is okay to feel overwhelmed and ask for help. You are not alone.

Step #1: To what states are you willing to move to for graduate school? Location Matters for Undocumented Students.

There are no federal policies in place that afford undocumented students’ access to higher education. Therefore, the educational opportunities that are available to students vary widely from state to state. Students who are interested in either applying to out-of-state schools or seeking long-term opportunities (i.e., educational or employment) should look at the immigration-related policies in states of interest.

Students can visit uLEAD to learn more about the types of immigration-related policies that are in place in each state.

Step #2: Look for Summer Programs

Summer programs are vital in helping students from underserved communities learn more about the graduate school application process. Below are some programs that have been known to accept undocumented students.

Institute for Recruitment of Teachers (IRT)

IRT seeks to address the lack of diversity in the nation’s teaching faculties by recruiting outstanding students of color who are committed to diversity. IRT seeks to provide in-depth counseling to program participants throughout the graduate school application process and help them advocate for graduate school. Applicants can apply to become either a summer intern or an associate.

PIKSI: Philosophy in an inclusive Key

The goal of the program is to recruit underserved undergraduates who are interested in pursuing an advanced degree in philosophy. This program is a residential program that will allow program participants to attend a variety of seminars to engage with philosophers, scholars, peers, and mentors.

Public Policy & International Affairs (PPIA at Berkeley)

The Junior Summer Institute at UC Berkeley is a rigorous seven-week program of coursework designed to improve participants’ analytical, quantitative, and legal skills that are vital to helping students succeed in top-level graduate programs in public policy, international affairs, and law school. Additionally, the Institute includes a variety of activities intended to give participants comprehensive knowledge of the opportunities for professional careers in public service. Each year the program admits approximately 30 undergraduates from across the nation.

UCLA Law Fellows Program

The UCLA Law Fellows Program is an educational initiative that aims to demystify the law school admissions process. Participants attend a series of Saturday “Academies” in which they interact with admissions professionals, current law students, and faculty members. Academies are held once a month. Fellows must attend all six academies in order to participate in the Program.


Trials is a residential scholarship program that is open to DACA recipients. The program helps talented and highly motivated college students from underrepresented communities learn more about the law school admission process. This rigorous five-week summer course enhances opportunities for students of underrepresented backgrounds by bolstering their skills and focusing their goals. For five weeks in the summer, Trials students take residence at Harvard or New York University.

UC Irvine’s Pre-Law Outreach Program (POP)

POP helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds understand the demands of law school and prepare for the law school application and admissions process. Participants attend six (6) Saturday classes during June and July. At the end of the program, all participants receive a free online LSAT review course, donated by Blueprint LSAT, Inc. POP classes include speakers, panels, lessons, experiential learning, and mentorship, all focused on inspiring participants and making them competitive law school applicants.

Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO Law Fellowship Program)

The SEO Law Fellowship Program is open to DACA recipients. The SEO program targets Black, Hispanic, and Native American incoming law school students who demonstrate great accomplishments in their undergraduate and professional careers. Fellows receive intensive academic prep through workshops, lectures, and seminars, all before starting their first year at law school. Please visit the program’s website for specific requirements and further information.

UCLA Law Fellows Central Valley

The UCLA Law Fellows Central Valley Program is open to DACA and non-DACA students. The program selects 20-30 Fellows through a highly competitive application process. Fellows attend two full-day Saturday academies held at the University of California, Merced. The Academies expose students to law school‐level instruction taught by law faculty and offer information about the admissions process, financial aid, and LSAT preparation.

Step #3: Select a graduate program that has faculty members who will support your academic pursuits

Unlike undergraduate school, you will be working very closely with faculty members in graduate school. As such, it is important that you apply to graduate programs where you will find faculty members who are engaging in work that fits your interests and who will advocate for you. Below, I listed some general tips to keep in mind when looking for faculty members in graduate schools.

  • Figure out which faculty have a track record of working with first-generation, low-income, and undocumented graduate students.
  • Try to meet faculty members at conferences and reach out to them in advance. Let them know you admire their work and ask them any clarifying questions.
  • Make early evaluation: contact faculty members and let them know about your interest in applying to their program.

Step #4: Look for Online Resource Guides on how to Apply to Graduate School

There are undocumented students who have gone through the graduate school application process. Luckily for us, many of these students who are now graduates have created online resource guides that can help you apply to graduate school.

Grad School Decoded: The Undocumented Way

This online document provides an extensive overview of the graduate school application process specifically for undocumented students.

Life After College: A Guide for Undocumented Students

This online document is an in-depth post-baccalaureate guide for undocumented students. The guide covers everything from applying to and preparing for graduate school, earning a living, internships, health and immigration resources, etc.

Finding the right graduate program takes time and effort.

As such, remember that everyone’s educational journey will be different from yours and do not compare yours with that of your peers. Take the time to make the right choice for YOU. Lastly, do not get discouraged by hurdles along the way.

downloadThis post is part of the series UndocuGrads: Navigating Graduate School as an Undocumented Student where undocumented graduate school students and alumni share tips and knowledge about navigating graduate school. Many thanks to UndocuScholars for making this series possible. As an extension of the UndocuScholars project launched in 2014 at UCLA, the ongoing efforts of UndocuScholars are to engage institutional agents, college and university students, scholars, and community advocacy partners to create and further build on sustainable and effective best practices for undocumented students in higher education.

And many thanks to Elspeth Michaels for her design of the image for the series. To see more of her work, check out her website here.

Frida is a first-generation doctoral student in the Graduate School of Education at MU University. At MU, she has conducted qualitative research that seeks to shed light on the unique experiences of undocumented graduate students. Prior to arriving to MU, Frida served as a Coordinator for Undocumented Students Services at another institution. In her capacity as Coordinator, Frida was responsible for effectively reviewing, understanding, and implementing university policies pertaining to undocumented students. Frida wants to obtain her Ph.D. to become a faculty member and eventually serve as an administrator who works with and for underrepresented students.


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Categories: Applying to Grad School, Navigating Grad School, UndocuGrads: Stories of former and current undocumented grad students

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