Uncovering the FAFSA Mystery and Student Aid for DREAMers

Written by Carmen Cornejo

One of the most confusing forms a DACA-DREAMer going to college needs to confront is FAFSA. This form drives crazy not only students but advocates and college advisors.

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and the name itself presents a problem because undocumented students, even DACA beneficiaries, are not eligible to receive any federal aid.

So why can college administrators ask a DACA student to fill out FAFSA?

Most states and institutions use FAFSA to determine whether a student may be eligible to receive aid from other sources of funding. Some private donors also require FAFSA to determine the student’s financial need.

In reality, by submitting FAFSA, the student will be denied federal aid, receiving a “C” code.

DACA students will not have an Expected Family Contribution Number (EFC) calculated in their Student Aid Report (SAR) due to the fact that the SAR will appear incomplete for answering “I am not a citizen or eligible noncitizen.”
If the students need the EFC, because a scholarship requires it, the financial aid office of the college or university may provide ways to manually calculate it. There is an online tool by the US Department of Education called a FAFSA4caster that can help you calculate the EFC number before submitting FAFSA. Here is an article about the FAFSA4caster. 

There are important considerations a DACA-DREAMer must take note of when filing the form. Here are the most important:

1. You will use your social security number obtained from DACA. The SSN is requested in the application, and it is required to get an FSA (Federal Student Aid) Identification to manage the information.

2. Your parents’ legal status is not taken into consideration. If your parents do not have a social security number, you must fill in 000-00-0000.

3. Students must answer the question “Are you a U.S. citizen?” with “No, I’m a not a citizen or eligible noncitizen.” Truthfulness is a must when filing all governmental forms.

4. All questions regarding “state of legal residency” are referring to your home (or your parents’ home) place of residence.

5. Previous tax information filed by the student or their parents with a social security number may be retrieved by a tool on the site. In case there was no income tax filed, the requested financial information may be manually entered on the FAFSA website. If the student or parents file taxes with an ITIN number, that number should not be entered; instead, choose the field “Filed a Foreign Tax Return.” Read our guide to filing taxes with an ITIN here.

Do not be afraid. The information brought forward will not bring bad implications with immigration or another agency, unless you are under criminal investigation. Technically speaking, immigration information is not asked about on the forms.

Students must be in communication with their college or university financial aid office before and during the process of filing FAFSA to ask about sources of funding they can tap, along with information each institution requires of the students, since all this varies widely from state to state.

As always, if you have legal questions, consult a trusted lawyer. Here is Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund’s guide to finding a good lawyer. 

*Note: Filling FAFSA does not warranty there will be private funds available for you. But DREAMers should try to get private funds or scholarships that may be available.