Can I go to college even though I am undocumented?

The answer to this question is a resounding yes. Many colleges take undocumented students each year, and the difficulties and experiences that undocumented students bring contribute greatly to the diversity of any student body.


Why should I go to college? Isn’t it pointless if I’m undocumented?

“Man…is a tame or civilized animal; never the less, he requires proper instruction and a fortunate nature, and then of all animals he becomes the most divine and most civilized; but if he be insufficiently or ill- educated he is the most savage of earthly creatures.” — Plato

In “The Republic,” Plato argues that a good life for a human being is that which is spent learning and seeking “the truth.” As undocumented students, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to educate ourselves and uphold the values of compassion and perseverance that have made the integrity of the American people so immutable.

The practical case for college is this: Those who go to college earn about 60% more than those who do not. Going to college is so important in today’s job market, and entering the work force without a college degree puts one at a distinct disadvantage. Many undocumented students skeptical about the advantage of going to college with its upfront cost and lost opportunities to get a head start in the work force often cite college drop-out billionaires such as Gates or Zuckerburg, but forget that these are outliers with a brilliant idea that brought them great wealth.

Going to college isn’t just about increasing one’s fit in the job market. I encourage you to read Harvard University President Drew Faust’s speech on the value of a college education. Going to college teaches you ideas, people, and opportunities that you forgo by not attending. College may avail you to opportunities you have no idea even exist, and the real value of college, especially as an undocumented student, isn’t all in what you gain academically, but everything in between.


What is the DREAM Act? DACA?

The DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) is a bill first introduced in the Senate in 2001. This is a piece of legislation, and would provide conditional permanent residency to beneficiaries that satisfy these conditions:

  1. Not have entered the United States on a non-immigrant Visa.
  2. Have proof of having arrived in the United States before age 16.
  3. Have proof of residence in the United States for at least five consecutive years since their date of arrival.
  4. If male, have registered with the Selective Service.
  5. Be between the ages of 12 and 35 at the time of bill enactment.
  6. Have graduated from an American high school, obtained a GED, or been admitted to an institution of higher education.
  7. Be of good moral character.

15 states have their own versions of the DREAM Act, those states being Texas, California, Illinois, Utah, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Washington, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, and Oregon.

DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is a deportation policy that would allow immigration officials to use prosecutorial discretion in deporting unauthorized immigrants. DACA does NOT confer immigration status to an individual, but rather protects recipients from deportation. It also authorizes recipients to work in the United States.


Should I tell the schools to which I’m applying whether or not I am undocumented?

Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, schools are under no circumstances permitted to release the citizenship status of students to colleges when releasing academic records. That said, it may be important for schools to know your status when it comes to eligibility for in-state tuition. If you check “international student” as the only alternative to “Citizen” or “Permanent resident,” you may become ineligible for in-state tuition. Although schools may have you apply that way, an international student is NOT the same as an undocumented student.

Other than these considerations, I encourage students comfortable with revealing their status to do so wholeheartedly. When admissions counselors ask questions to get to know the students that apply to their schools, talking about your experiences as an undocumented student and what you gained out of an experience can be more advantageous than you could imagine. Being undocumented manifests itself differently for every family and for every student. However, it can be an extremely character building challenge, which is a powerful thing to talk about.


What do I write if an external school application requires a social security number?

You should ask the school or program to which you are applying, but if all else fails or you are in a rush, you may want to fill out 000-000-0000 as the SSN, and NOT the individual taxpayer number given by the IRS, unless explicitly stated.