Paying for college is the toughest issue for undocumented students and their families. Families often can only provide room and board for their students, so raising funds for books, supplies, transportation, tuition and fees, and other costs of college fall onto the students' shoulders. However, there are now two state laws called the California Dream Act that undocumented students can use to access more scholarships and state financial aid. For complete information on AB 130 (became effective 1-1-12) and AB 131 (becomes effective 1-1-13) - together are called the Cal Dream Act - go to the California Student Aid Commission at http://www.csac.ca.gov. Please note that there are application deadlines that determine a student's eligibility, so don't miss out on this new form of assistance.
A student's unprotected status can seem insurmountable for many, but there is help. Students can apply for scholarships and state aid, take advantage of installment plans, and build a peer and mentor support network so that other forms of help are readily available. Some students become entrepreneurs, and many work at jobs that pay them "below the table." If students earn money it is vital that they keep track of their earnings and scholarships, so that they can use their Individual Tax Payer Identification Number (ITIN) to file taxes on income. (See the section on Paying Your Taxes)
Installment payments at colleges and universities are accepted to pay for registration fees/tuition, only with an APPROVED installment agreement. A non-refundable administrative fee is charged to sign up for Installment Plans. The Installment Plan is normally paid in three or four installments over three months. Failure to complete the payment schedule does not normally result in disenrollment in the current semester, however students will be charged an additional fee and will not be able to enroll for the next semester until the balance is paid in full. Inquire at the college Cashier's Office or Admissions and Enrollment Services for information on how to apply.
Examples of Eligibility Requirements for installment plans:
- You do not have a past due balance for a prior term.
- You are admitted for the term.
- You are not awarded Financial Aid for the term.
- You have not already paid your Registration Fees for the term.
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The Office of Financial Aid
The Office of Financial Aid will process the Cal Dream Act application for state aid that is available to undocumented students. Applications for state aid are at the California Student Aid Commission. (link to http://www.csac.ca.gov)
College and university Financial Aid offices provide financial and advisory assistance to enable students to pursue a quality education. They administer funds that are awarded to students that demonstrate a need to cover educational expenses. Most funds administered by Financial Aid offices are available from the Federal government and require proof of US citizenship or legal residency. This information is verified with the Federal government to ensure proper use of Federal and State funds. Undocumented immigrant students are not currently eligible for any federal aid and should NOT complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as this may be interpreted as seeking to use a public benefit for which they are not eligible. This is grounds for deportation.
Students that are in the process of becoming legal citizens may be eligible for these funds depending on their status. If a student has filed a US residency application, he or she will receive an I-797 Notice of Action letter from the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS). At this point, the student can begin the financial aid application process. Students become eligible for financial aid upon receipt of notification that their status has changed to one
of the following:
Students are eligible to receive financial aid retroactively for an entire aid year as long as US residency status is established within that aid year. The obtaining of one of these statuses would also allow the student to establish California Residency for tuition purposes. However, residency for tuition purposes cannot be applied retroactively.
- A US permanent resident (I-551)
- A conditional permanent resident (I-55C)
- A holder of an Arrival-Departure Record (I-94) indicating a refugee, asylum granted, or parolee.
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On-campus Scholarship Information
The Centers for Scholarship Information provide: advising on the scholarship application process; access to a scholarship database containing information for on and off-campus scholarships; proofing of scholarship applications, personal statements and essays; access to the Internet and a typewriter. The Centers also administer several scholarship programs and generate funds for scholarships. Many of them have a website such as that at California State University, Long Beach (www.csulb.edu/scholarships). Students may also visit the Financial Aid Office regarding scholarships.
Every student should use the services to develop a personal statement and essay, and learn how to apply. Once a student has applied for one or two scholarships, they have the makings of a “template” to apply for other scholarships and the task becomes more efficient and less time consuming. Regardless, it is time well spent; compared to the return on the investment of time, a scholarship application can generate from hundreds to thousands of dollars in scholarship funds.
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Scholarships for AB 540 Students
AB 540 students can apply for any scholarship that does not require U.S. citizenship and/or state residency. Even if the application asks for this, it is wise to inquire as to whether an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) will be sufficient. ()
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Important information about applying for scholarships
Here is some important information about applying for scholarships:
- Prioritize your findings by month, according to application date.
- Record deadlines on a calendar and check regularly.
- Keep track of scholarship inquiries you make to various sponsors.
- As applications arrive, check and record the due date immediately.
- Schedule time to:
- Obtain transcripts
- Secure letters of recommendation
- Write requested essays
- Complete the application
Remember that scholarships typically take 6 to 8 months to payout. Start today. An hour of your
time may get you a significant amount of money for your education.
Another important way to become informed is to join AB 540 peer groups on your campus, should
they exist, as they can provide guidance, support, and access to scholarship information.
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Selected Scholarship Websites
These two websites have interactive tools to refine your search:
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