Anxiety comes with the territory of applying for college. Each year, students go through the process; writing a personal statement, listing extra-curricular activities and reporting grades.

For thousands, the question that may prompt unusual self-reflection is the line that asks for a social security number. That’s because they don’t have one and can’t get one. They are the 65,000 undocumented students the College Board estimates graduate from high school every year.

They cannot be prohibited from attending public elementary and high school, and no federal law bars them from attending college in the U.S. according to the College Board.

Through elementary and high school education, undocumented students are much like other students. They can excel in elementary school, take advanced placement classes and take qualifying exams such as the SAT and ACT, but when applying to college, they are forced to examine their status as undocumented.

2007 protest of NYU College Republicans. Rights protected; courtesy of Kathryn Kovach

2007 protest of NYU College Republicans. Rights protected; courtesy of Kathryn Kovach

Once accepted to a university, undocumented status will continue to affect a student’s experience. Financial aid, internship opportunities and jobs are all uncertain territory.

Ten states have passed laws that allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition costs “under certain conditions,” according to information compiled by the College Board.

Illinois is one of them. In May of 2003, then Governor Rod Blagojevich, signed into law an in-state tuition bill for undocumented students. It requires them to apply for permanent legal citizenship at their earliest opportunity. The Chicago Public School’s Department of College and Career Preparation, formerly the Department of Postsecondary Education and Student Development, offers information and guidance for undocumented students looking to apply to college.

However, other states have enacted legislation that makes it difficult for undocumented students to attend college.  In Georgia, the Security and Immigration Compliance Act requires proof of citizenship in order to use public services, including public colleges.

It is up to the discretion of private universities whether or not to offer aid to undocumented students. They have no access to federal student aid or loans. Scholarships from organizations such as MALDEF and are available, but these are few in relation to the number of students in need of them.

Many students put hope in the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors or DREAM Act which was introduced in Congress in 2001. The Act, if passed, offers an opportunity to pursue higher education and begin a path toward citizenship for certain undocumented students.

Even with a college education, undocumented students face uncertain futures; a work environment in the U.S. that prohibits them from getting jobs legally and the continuing risk of deportation.