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How to Apply for Financial Assistance as an Undocumented Student

Undocumented students entering college can’t apply for federal financial aid, but some local and national scholarships and assistance attempt to bridge this gap.

Michelle Kanaar/Borderless Magazine
Harry S Truman College, one of the seven City Colleges of Chicago, on Dec. 9, 2021 in Chicago, Ill.

Undocumented students entering college can’t apply for federal financial aid, but some local and national scholarships and assistance attempt to bridge this gap.

Access to higher education can be difficult, especially for noncitizens who are not eligible for financial aid from the federal government.

Politicians, local colleges and community groups have worked to expand financial assistance for undocumented students but challenges persist.

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More than a decade ago, former President Barack Obama passed sweeping legislation known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The law shielded young people, often referred to as DREAMers who arrived before turning 16, from deportation and gave them temporary work permits. 

Several years later, many DACA recipients still face numerous barriers including challenges in accessing financial support for college. DACA recipients are not eligible for federal financial aid. Some states and colleges offer scholarships specifically for undocumented students or students with DACA status.

Borderless compiled a list of local and national scholarships that help undocumented students pursue higher education.

If you don’t see your scholarship or financial assistance program, feel free to reach out at to be added to the list.

Local Scholarships

Counselors and career centers at local high schools and colleges have a list of scholarship opportunities that are typically announced in the fall and winter. Check with your high school counselor for help finding a list of potential scholarships. Review eligibility requirements before applying.

Chicago Star Scholarship 

The Chicago Star Scholarship offers financial support for graduating seniors of a Chicago Public High School. The scholarship covers tuition for students pursuing higher education regardless of status.  

Eligible students must:

  • Graduates from a CPS or Charter high school with a GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • Enroll in one of the City’s Colleges available here
  • Earn a score of 17 or higher on the English and math ACT, a 460 or higher on the English SAT and 440 or higher on the math SAT or tests “completion ready” through the CCC placement exam.
  • “Completion Ready” reflects that a student is able to take college-level courses 

Students who earn the scholarship will have until three years to use the money, beginning in the first fall semester following their graduation from CPS. Recipients of the scholarship also have the opportunity to receive additional scholarships and benefits from four-year partner colleges and universities.

Students should submit a scholarship application under the “Financial Aid” section of the City Colleges of Chicago online admissions application. Applicants should also fill out the FAFSA form, however, if ineligible for federal financial aid, students can complete the Star Certification of Ineligibility form on the student portal here

The deadline to apply is the final day of registration for the upcoming semester’s full term.

Alternative Application for Illinois Financial Aid (Alternative Application)

The Retention of Illinois Students & Equity (RISE) Act provides undocumented Illinois residents who are ineligible for state and institutional financial aid to apply for alternative financial aid programs known as the Illinois Student Assistance Commission’s (ISAC) programs. These include the Illinois Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants – the state’s largest need-based grant program for low-income college students. The grants offer a maximum award of $8,400 for full-time enrollment (15 hours). 

Undocumented students are eligible to apply for MAP through the Alternative Application if:

  • They lived with a parent or guardian while going to an Illinois high school
  • They graduated or received the equivalent of a high school diploma, in Illinois
  • They went to school in Illinois for at least three years 
  • They submit an affidavit showing that they will apply to become a permanent resident of the U.S. as soon as they are eligible to do so
  • They do not have a residence outside of the state

Qualifying undocumented students who are not eligible for federal financial aid can fill out the Alternative Application to apply for the MAP grants. 

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Dream Fund Scholarship

The CPS Dream Fund helps undocumented students graduating from CPS who have excelled academically The need-based scholarship is only open to students who are undocumented or Dreamers. Scholarship amounts range from $1,000 to $2,500.

To be eligible for the scholarship, students must:

  • Have a recommendation from a principal, counselor or college coach
  • Have a GPA of at least 3.0
  • Have a minimum ACT score of 17

Eligible students can apply through the Chicago Public Schools portal. The next application will open in the fall. 

National Scholarship 

The Dream US’s National Scholarship covers recipients’ tuition and fees at any of its partnering colleges. The financial support is up to $33,000 for a Bachelor’s degree and $16,400 for an associate’s degree. The award is renewable each year, so long as recipients continue meeting the eligibility requirements. 

Eligible students must: 

  • Be undocumented 
  • Have arrived in the United States before November 1, 2018, and have continuously lived in the country since then, or have DACA or TPS status
  • Have arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16
  • Have financial needs
  • Have graduated from a high school in the U.S. or received a diploma equal to a high school diploma
  • Earned a high school GPA of 2.5 or higher 
  • Enroll full-time at a partner college in an associate or Bachelor’s degree program

This award emphasizes community service and academic success despite barriers and adversities. The amount of a student’s scholarship is determined by the tuition, cost of books, and transportation. 

Read more about the 2024-2025 application here. Students can apply at the student portal once applications for the 2025-2026 school year are open.