Got Papers? Got Dreams?
Know that you can go to college regardless of your immigration status
State Law: The California Dream
Act of 2011

Cal Grant Primer

Installment Plans

The Office of Financial Aid

Scholarships For Undocumented

Federal Executive Order: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

Paying for College

Paying for College is the toughest issue for undocumented students and their families. Families often can only provide room and board for their students who live at home, so raising funds for tuition, fees, books, supplies, transportation and other costs of college fall onto the students’ shoulders. However, there are two state laws called the California Dream Act that AB 540 students can use to access financial scholarships and state financial aid. For complete information on the California Dream Act go to the California Student Aid Commission web page at Please note that the application deadlines determine students’ eligibility, so don’t miss out on this new form of state assistance.

State Law: The California Dream Act of 2011

The California Dream Act is the name of laws created by two bills (AB 130 and AB131) authored by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, passed by the California Legislature and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in 2011. The California Student Aid Commission developed the Dream Application form for AB 540 students to apply for California state financial aid. Applicants are required to complete this form. The completed forms determine eligibility for state financial aid for AB 540 eligible students. The application is processed by the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) and sent to the campus Financial Aid Office.

The Dream Application can be found on line at It is NOT an application for federal financial aid. Undocumented AB 540 must NOT complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) because they are not eligible for federal financial aid. Filing a FAFSA can be considered by Homeland Security as an application for a public benefit for which an undocumented student is not eligible. Penalties can be severe, including jail and deportation.

Only legal permanent residents, naturalized and US citizens eligible to file for federal aid should apply using the FAFSA to maximize their opportunities to receive state and federal student financial aid. The FAFSA application is on line at

Cal Grant Primer

There are two types of grants available as Cal Grants: the entitlement grants and the competitive grants. Each has its own requirements.

Under entitlement grants, eligible student are guaranteed a Cal Grant A if they have at least a 3.0 grade point average and apply by March 2 either of the year they graduate from high school or the following year. The Cal Grant A guarantee provides for tuition and fees at the California State University, the University of California and tuition support at participating independent colleges and universities and career colleges. If a student receives a Cal Grant A but attends a California Community College first, his or her award will be reserved for up to three years until the student transfers to a four year college, if the student continue to qualify. These students must notify their transfer school that they have a reserved grant. High school seniors and community college transfer students are a targeted group for Cal Grants, however all other undocumented students are encouraged to apply as there are other university support programs for which the students may be eligible.

Cal Grant A and B Competitive Awards are available for students who do not qualify for the entitlement grants. The competitive grants are not guaranteed. Each year 22,500 competitive grants are awarded. . Half of the grants are awarded to eligible students that apply by March 2. The remaining half is set aside for California Community College students who meet the September 2 deadline. For a complete description, go to the page.

There is a third Cal Grant for Technical and Vocational Students. Cal Grant C awards assist with tuition and training costs for occupational, technical, and vocational programs. The award includes funds for books, tools and equipment , tuition and fees if the student will be attending a school other than a California Community College (community colleges don’t charge tuition and fees will be waived as a Cal Grant recipient). Funding is available for up to two years, depending on the length of the program. To qualify, one must enroll in an occupational, technical, or vocational program that is at least four months long at a California Community College, an independent college, or a vocational/career school. Even though a GPA is not required to apply for a Cal Grant C, students are still encouraged to submit that information because it can only help their chance of receiving an award.

Part One: AB 130
Signed into law on July 25, 2011, AB 130 allows privately funded scholarships offered by the campus to be open to AB 540 students. The only scholarships that are not available to AB 540 students are those where a donor has specified the eligibility requirements.

Part Two: AB 131
AB 131 was signed into law on October 8, 2011. This law allows students who meet the AB 540 criteria to apply for and receive institutional grants like the State University Grant, Educational Opportunity Program and Services fee waivers and the University of California Grants. California Community College students can apply for and receive Board of Governors fee waivers. AB 540 eligible students can also apply for and receive state financial aid, including Cal Grants and Chafee Foster Youth Grants for use at eligible public and private institutions.

A student’s undocumented status can seem insurmountable, but there is help. Students can apply for scholarships, state aid, and 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 have been granted the Presidential Executive Order “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA). If you earn money it is vital to keep track of earnings, scholarships, aid, etc. so that you can use your federal government issued Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Tax Payer Number (ITIN) to file state and federal tax forms on income.

See for information on how to apply for a US issued ITIN for those without a US issued social security card.


Installment Plans 

Partial payments are accepted only with an approved installment agreement. A non-refundable administrative fee and a down payment are usually required to sign up for a campus Installment Plan. Every campus has its own Installment Plan. 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.
Installment payments are accepted only with an APPROVED installment agreement and administered by the campus’ Bursar’s Office. 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 necessarily 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.


The Office of Financial Aid 

The office at each campus provides financial and advisory assistance to enable students to pursue a quality education. It administers funds that are awarded to students who demonstrate a need to cover educational expenses. Most funds administered by the Financial Aid Office are made available by the Federal and State governments, and by private sources, and federal funds require proof of US citizenship or legal residency. The information submitted by US citizens and legal residents is verified with the Federal government to ensure proper use of Federal and State funds.

Unprotected immigrant students are not currently eligible for any federal aid and must NOT file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA). However, AB 540 students are now eligible for State aid. Effective January 1, 2012, AB 130 was passed into law making State administered scholarships available to AB 540 students. On January 1, 2013, AB 540 students became eligible to apply for State financial aid through the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC). Information and the application are found at

Apply for financial aid using the California Dream Application
  • Several state financial aid programs and many private scholarships are open to AB 540 students. The application for state based financial aid is available at
  • Completing the Dream Application and applying on time are vital as there are limited state funds available. Students who delay filing may jeopardize their chances of receiving state and or institutional aid. The deadline is March 2nd, but the application is available in early January, and you are encouraged to complete it as soon as possible
  • If you or your parents are required to file taxes, and have not yet done so, you may still complete the application using last year’s tax information, or by estimating.
  • Be sure to go back in and update your income information on your application once you have filed your federal taxes with the IRS.
  • For Cal-Grant eligibility your GPA must be verified by March 2nd. Check with the Financial Aid Office at the campus that admits you about submitting your GPA, or if you are a new student, follow-up with your High School or Community College.
  • Questions about your application? Contact the Office of Financial Aid at the campus where you are admitted.
Students that are in the process of becoming legal citizens may be eligible for Federal 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 United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 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:
  1. A US permanent resident (I-551)
  2. A conditional permanent resident (I-55C)
  3. A holder of an Arrival-Departure Record (I-94) indicating a refugee, asylum granted, or parolee.
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 statutes would also allow the student to establish California Residency for tuition purposes. However, residency for tuition purposes cannot be applied retroactively.


Scholarships for Undocumented Students

Students can apply for any scholarship that does not require U.S. citizenship and/or state residency. Even if the application asks for a social security number, it is wise to ask whether an Individual Taxpayer Number (ITIN) will be sufficient. (See how to obtain an ITIN.) Visit your campus Scholarship Office to identify which scholarships you can apply for and other resources available to you as a college or university student.

Important Information about Applying for Scholarships

Please note that the following information will help you get your applications organized:
  1. Prioritize your research on scholarships by the month of the application deadline.
  2. Record deadlines on a calendar and check regularly
  3. Keep track of scholarship inquires you make to various sponsors.
  4. As applications arrive, check and record the due date immediately.
  5. Schedule time to: obtain transcripts, secure letters of recommendation, write, requested essays/complete the application
  6. When you receive a scholarship award, it is highly recommended that you immediately write a letter of appreciation to the donor or foundation telling them how you will use the award. There are many scholarships that are awarded on a priority basis to students making academic progress because once they have made an investment in you, your progress in pursuing your education is important to them and may result in continuing support.
  7. 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.
  8. Another important way to become informed is to join AB 540 peer groups on your campus, should they exist, as these associations can provide guidance, support, and access to other scholarship information.

On-campus Scholarship Information 

Examples of services offered by On-Campus Scholarship Centers include: 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; and access to the Internet. The Centers also administers several scholarship programs and generates funds for scholarships.


Federal Executive Order: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) 

There is a group of AB 540 and other undocumented students who may apply for work authorization, a Social Security card, and a California Driver’s License if they have qualified for the presidential executive order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). For information on DACA initiated in 2012, by President Barak Obama go to the DACA is a policy for “Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion with Respect to Individuals Who Came to the United States as Children”. It is intended for individuals “who lack the intent to violate the law”. The criteria include:
  • Came to the United States under the age of sixteen;
  • Has continuously resided in the United States for at least five years preceding June 15, 2012;
  • Be currently in school, or have graduated from high school, or have obtained a general education development certificate, or be an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
  • Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise poses a threat to national security or public safety;
  • Not be above the age of thirty.
DACA approved students are not able to apply for federal financial aid and may not receive services of federally funded university programs. Other restrictions may apply as the executive order evolves. Advisors should consult with experts when confronted with complex questions that students may present. Some DACA approved students may be eligible to apply for California state aid if they are California AB 540 students.

A Word of Caution

Some students have been ill advised by well-meaning people who do NOT understand the importance of adhering to immigration law as it relates to undocumented students. Even some parents have been mistaken about the meaning of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the issuance of Social Security Numbers (SSN).
  1. DACA does not change a youth’s immigration status. It only defers deportation should a youth be picked up by immigration and/or receives a deportation notice.
  2. SSNs issued to DACA approved students are for the time that DACA is in effect. The SSN does not change a youth’s immigration status and is ONLY for employment and for identification purposes upon applying for a California Driver’s License. Once your DACA expires you can only use your SSN for identification purposes and to file tax returns.
  3. DACA gives youth work authorization. However, youth are advised NOT to seek work with the federal government nor programs funded with federal funds.
  4. DACA used to allow students to seek permission to travel outside the US, but it was NOT guaranteed that an immigration officer will allow the youth to return to the US. Re-entry is at the discretion of immigration officer at the port of entry. Permission to travel was known as Advanced Parole, but it has been suspended and applications are no longer taken.
  5. DACA and the SSN do NOT give a youth permission to apply for any federal benefits, including federal financial aid through the FAFSA application. Application for and use of federal benefits is grounds for fines and deportation. Apply only for California state financial aid through the California Dream Act of 2011. Several state financial aid programs and many private scholarships are open to AB 540 students. Other undocumented students are encouraged to apply as there are often campus-based aid and private scholarships available to them.
  6. Students must complete the California Dream Application on time. It is vital as state funds are limited. Qualified students who delay will get no state aid.
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