Your student loan options are slightly limited if you’re a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) student. But there are still lenders willing to work with you — even if you don’t have a cosigner. But you might want to consider your other financial aid options first to avoid borrowing more than you need.
Can I get student loans as a DACA recipient?
Yes, you can get student loans as a DACA recipient from private lenders, your school and possibly your state. But you likely aren’t eligible for federal student aid — including federal student loans — since it’s only open to US citizens, permanent residents and eligible noncitizens.
The Department of Education (DoE) considers students with the following statuses eligible noncitizens. If one of these applies to you, that means you can receive federal student aid:
T-nonimmigrant status. You or a parent hold a T-visa for victims of human trafficking — or can produce a certification letter from the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Battered immigrant-qualified alien. You or a parent were a victim of abuse from a citizen or permanent resident partner and received legal status under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). You must be able to demonstrate that you’re not just in the US temporarily, but have the intention of becoming a US citizen or permanent resident.
US national. Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau can receive limited federal student aid.
Eligible arrival-departure record (I-94) statuses
Conditional Entrant — only for visas issued before April 1, 1980
5 private student loans available to DACA recipients
Can’t qualify for federal aid? You might want to check out the following private student loans.
Eligibility requirements: Be employed, have a US bank account, live in a state where Stilt operates, hold one of the following visas: F-1 and OPT, H-1B, H4, O-1, L-1, TN, J-1, DACA or be a US citizen.
While technically not a student loan provider, this lender offers personal loans made for noncitizens living in the US. But you’ll need to be employed to qualify.
There’s also no option to apply with a cosigner, so your family can’t help you — unless they take out the loan in their name. These loans come in even smaller amounts than Mpower, so you might not be able to cover your entire degree.
APRs: 7.52% to 14.98%
Loan amounts: $2,001 to $25,000
Loan terms: Up to 120 months
Eligibility requirements: F-1 student visa, attendance at partner university and in last two years of degree program
This lender is one of the few student loan providers that specializes in financing for international students and DACA recipients. It doesn’t require a cosigner who’s a US citizen or permanent resident — and you don’t need to have a job or credit score.
The downside is that you need to be in the last two years of your degree to qualify. And its loans come with higher rates and lower maximum amounts than you might find with other providers.
APRs: 1.24% to 11.99%
Loan amounts: From $1,000
Eligibility requirements: Must be enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school with satisfactory academic progress and seeking a degree. Must be a US citizen, permanent resident or international student.
While you can’t qualify on your own, Discover treats DACA recipients as international students on a visa. This means you have to apply with an eligible citizen or permanent resident cosigner to qualify. Unlike Mpower, Discover offers funding for your entire program.
This lender might be a particularly good choice if you’re a strong student — it offers a cashback reward if you keep your GPA over a 3.0. It also has lots of options for graduate students and postgraduate expenses.
APRs: 1.04% to 10.25%
Loan amounts: $1,000 to $295,000
Loan terms: Up to 180 months
Eligibility requirements: Be the age of majority in your state, be enrolled as at least half-time at an eligible school, be a US citizen or resident and have good credit or a cosigner with good credit
Like Discover, this bank also allows DACA recipients to apply as international students with a US citizen or permanent resident cosigner. It offers student loans for undergraduate and graduate students — and you only have to apply once to fund your entire degree.
It also has some of the lowest rates out there available to DACA recipients. But its loans come with relatively short terms, so you might want to look elsewhere for more affordable monthly repayments.
APRs: 1.13% to 11.23%
Loan terms: Up to 180 months
Eligibility requirements: Not stated
Sallie Mae offers a wide range of student loans for everyone from undergraduates to doctors in their residency. While you have to apply with a cosigner who’s a US citizen or permanent resident to qualify, it offers cosigner release. This allows you to move the loan to your name if your legal status changes.
Its loans also come with more flexible repayment options than you might find with other private lenders, like allowing you to defer your loans when you go back to school or during an internship.
There are a couple of other places where you may be able to find student loans besides private lenders.
Your state or local government
While you might not be able to qualify for federal aid, you might be eligible for student loans offered by your state or city’s Department of Education. These often come with more competitive rates and terms, as well as more flexible repayment options than private lenders. Generally, all students get the same rate. And you typically don’t need to apply with a cosigner to qualify.
Some universities offer institutional loans to students, which may be available to DACA recipients. These tend to have rates and terms comparable to state options — and all students usually get the same rate. These might come in lower amounts, but they’re generally meant to supplement state and federal aid.
What are my other financial aid options?
Before you apply for student loans, you might want to look into free aid available to you first. This includes:
Scholarships. After the Dream Act was passed, many organizations such as TheDream.US and Golden Door Scholars started offering scholarships specifically designed for DACA students. Your school and state might also offer its own scholarship programs, which are usually based on merit.
Grants. Private organizations, your school, and your state and local government might also offer need-based funding you can qualify for if you’re a low-income DACA recipient.
Take advantage of online resources like those provided by United We Dream, which has a searchable list of financial aid designed specifically for DACA students on its website.
3 steps to find all of the financial aid available to you
Want to limit how much you need to borrow? Follow these steps to ensure you find all of the free aid you’re eligible for:
Research scholarships and grants while you’re in high school. Get started early — and enlist the help of your college adviser or guidance counselor to keep you aware of deadlines.
Submit the FAFSA and CSS Profile ASAP. Even if you aren’t sure you qualify, submit both of these financial aid applications to maximize your options. You might be surprised to find that you actually are eligible for federal aid.
Talk to your school’s financial aid office. Once you have an idea of where you’re going, reach out to the financial aid office to find out what other options you might have missed. Stay in touch to keep on top of new opportunities.
Don’t let the cost of applying to college get in your way
You can also skip the expensive test prep courses by taking advantage of free tutoring opportunities in your neighborhood or high school. Talk to your high school college adviser to learn about other options available to you.
While federal and some private student loans are off the table for most DACA students, you still have several options. But you might want to look into free aid first. Scholarships and grants might be more widely available to you — and you don’t have to pay them back.
You might be able to through lenders like Stilt or Boro — or by applying with a cosigner who’s a US citizen or permanent resident.
It might. While some schools might not accept DACA recipients based on their own standards, many schools do.
And there are no federal laws requiring schools to check students’ citizenship status. Check with the admissions office to make sure you qualify before you apply.
Fill out the FAFSA as soon as you can after October 1st of the year before you need aid. So after October 1, 2019 for the 2020-2021 academic year. You can learn more with our guide to all things FAFSA.
Anna Serio is a trusted lending expert and certified Commercial Loan Officer who's published more than 1,000 articles on Finder to help Americans strengthen their financial literacy. A former editor of a newspaper in Beirut, Anna writes about personal, student, business and car loans. Today, digital publications like Business Insider, CNBC and the Simple Dollar feature her professional commentary, and she earned an Expert Contributor in Finance badge from review site Best Company in 2020.
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