Financial Aid

One of the biggest challenges facing undocumented students is finding money to pay for college. Federal and state sources of financial aid are normally unavailable to you. Applying for federal or state aid using false identification or social security numbers can lead to serious legal problems and denial of citizenship later and should not be done. There is some good news, though.

Normally, an undocumented student would have to pay non-resident tuition and fees to attend state colleges and UC’s. California has passed a law called AB 540, however. This law allows you to pay the lower, residential tuition rate if you meet all of the following conditions:

  • Attend a California high school for 3 or more years
  • Graduate from a California high school or receive the equivalent, such as a GED
  • Submit an affidavit (a written promise) to the California public college or university you are attending or plan to attend. In this statement you declare that you meet all AB 540 requirements and if you are undocumented, that you have filed an application to adjust your immigration status or will do so as soon as you are eligible to do so


The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is normally a required document for college students who file for financial aid but undocumented students should notfile it as doing so can lead to problems. If a college is insistent about it, talk to their financial aid department and explain your situation there to someone knowledgeable.

Public vs. Private Colleges and Universities

Public institutions in California, under AB 540, are able to offer the reduced, residential tuition rate but are barred from offering any type of financial aid to undocumented students (although this may change). Private institutions, however, do not face this restriction. Think about applying to private colleges as well as public ones, even if they seem expensive. Some may offer you exceptional financial aid packages which may result in an education that costs less than the residential tuition rate at public institutions. Remember: if a college application asks you for a social security number, enter 000-00-0000. Entering a false number can come back to haunt you when applying for citizenship later.


Private scholarships, like private colleges and universities, do not have to follow the same legal restrictions that state and federal aid do. Some private scholarships restrict themselves to citizens only, but others do not. Some are even specifically created to help undocumented students. There are thousands of private scholarships, some of which even go unclaimed because no one applies for them. Apply for as many of these as you can to help offset your lack of federal and state aid. Some undocumented students finance their educations by making it their “job” to spend five or more hours a week finding and applying for scholarships.