Finances are often the biggest barrier for undocumented students to complete a university degree. Since they are not eligible for most conventional financial aid options, it’s necessary to develop cost-saving measures and targeted funds, as well as to help undocumented students access the resources that are available.

There’s a wide gap to bridge

The costs for higher education greatly exceed the financial capacities of many undocumented students. For example, the average annual income of an undocumented student’s family is $24,000, which is $9,000 below the $33,000 cost of attending UC Berkeley for a single year. Add to this the fact that undocumented students do not qualify for federally-sponsored financial aid programs, and many undocumented students do not qualify for in-state tuition, institutional scholarships, or student loans.

Undocumented Undergraduate Student Household Income

Household Income  USP Students
Below $20k 31.15%
$20-40k 35.36%
$40-60k 14.29%
$60-80k 4.68%
$80-100k 1.17%
More than $100k 0.47%

California’s DREAM opportunities

For undocumented students in California, the DREAM Act has provided significant financial relief and enabled more undocumented students to pursue a higher education.

In 2001, the State legislature passed AB 540, which allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition prices. In 2011, the legislature passed the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, AB 130 and 131, which enabled eligible AB 540 students at California public colleges and universities to apply for and receive scholarships derived from non-State funds, and to receive financial aid from State funds. UC Berkeley students apply for this financial support by filling out the DREAM Aid application.

Work Study for undocumented students

UC Berkeley offers Work-Study assistance of up to $4,000 to undocumented students who have obtained status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The Work-Study program enables DACAmented students to obtain quality jobs on campus to cover some of their major expenses, such as housing. Work-Study jobs ensure they won’t risk exploitation or face undue challenges. As well, Work-Study funds put the financial package for undocumented students on par with that of other UC Berkeley students.

The USP helps students who are not DACA-eligible apply for other scholarships to bridge the $4,000 gap in their financial aid, and reduce their loan burden.

UC Berkeley students do not need to submit a Work-Study application in order to participate. Instead, the process is built into their Dream Aid package, requiring only that they show their work authorization (DACA, TPS, etc.) to the Financial Aid Office, and request the full amount of work-study in their package. Students can then search and apply for any Work-Study job on campus through the Work-Study search engine.

The UC Berkeley Financial Aid Office opened the Work-Study benefit for undocumented students using state dollars to fund the program rather than relying on federal money. Since undocumented students cannot access federal work-study assistance, this program removes a major financial barrier.

Emergency Grants meet basic needs

The USP offers Emergency Grants of up to $800. These grants help ensure that students’ basic needs are met so they can concentrate on maximizing their education.

Emergency Grants are available to students who

    1. Are not receiving federal Financial Aid and loans
    2. Are Dream Aid recipients
    3. Are undocumented

The USP offers two types of grants of up to $800 each per semester. Students can apply for both, up to a combined total of $1,600. The first is a general emergency grant for extenuating food security, medical, dental, computer, and other unforeseen emergencies. The second is a housing emergency grant for extenuating housing-related costs, such as security deposits or temporary/transitional housing between semesters or during the summer months.

From fall 2014 through summer 2020, USP awarded over 1,110 emergency grants for a total of approximately $817,222.

The most common uses of these grants were housing and medical needs. While $500 may seem too small to make a difference, Emergency Grants have provided significant relief for students, helping them avoid crisis situations.

I do my best, finding odd work, saving every penny, but when a life emergency needs its money, it can’t wait until you have enough. The emergency grant helped me pay for my rent when I had no other options. USP taught me that I am not the only one who believes in my potential – Political Science student

The application is online. Grants are awarded based on need and on a first-come first-served basis. Students can receive one of each type of Emergency Grant one time per academic year. We post the application near the start of every semester and the Emergency Grants are available from the beginning of the sixth week of a semester until funds are exhausted. These popular grants tend to be depleted within a few weeks of being announced.

Considerations for Getting Started

  • Does your institution have a body that oversees financial aid resources?
  • Can that body commit to prioritizing the needs of undocumented students?
  • Who are the possible champions for undocumented students in your institution’s financial aid office – people who could help establish special programs for these students (e.g., work study) or provide additional guidance?
  • Which scholarships could your institution dedicate to undocumented students?
  • What are the most pressing needs for undocumented students attending your institution (e.g., housing, food, textbooks etc.)? Which of these needs can the institution help address?

Additional Resources Download Financial Aid

Includes: Emergency Grant application, paying for UC Berkeley graphic