As the school year goes by, millions of high school seniors across America are desperately working to complete college applications, fill out scholarships and decide where they want to take their lives after graduation.
But the question of how to pay for college still lingers for many students, so many begin filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, process to determine their eligibility for federal student financial aid.
Unfortunately, not all students qualify for federal student financial aid: some because their parents make too much money, but others because they are undocumented students or illegal immigrants.
Texas senior qualifies for financial aid
Maribel Cervantes, 18, was one of those undocumented seniors.
During her senior year at Jefferson Davis High School in Houston, Tex., she applied for FAFSA but was denied funding because she was not a legal U.S. citizen.
Cervantes’ scholarship coordinator discovered another way she could qualify for financial aid – the Texas Application for State Financial Aid, or TAFSA, that is specifically designed for students ineligible to complete the FAFSA.
“I tried to apply for FAFSA,” said Cervantes, who now attends the University of Houston. “I didn’t know I was ineligible until I applied.”
According to Leticia Sanchez, college access coordinator at Davis High School, students who have lived in Texas for 12 months or who have attended high school for three years are considered Texas residents for financial aid purposes.
“This is only for financial aid purposes. They are not eligible for federal monies but the state of Texas provides some funding in the form of grants,” Sanchez explained.
U.S. citizens, permanent residents with Alien Registration Cards, conditional permanent residents with visa type I-551C and eligible noncitizens with Arrival/ Departure Records -- showing that he/she is a refugee, asylum granted, parolee or Cuban-Haitian entrant -- are eligible for FAFSA.
Only students who have been classified as Texas residents are eligible to pay the Texas in-state tuition rate and are eligible for TASFA.
Cervantes said that the University of Houston assisted her with the forms for TASFA.
“I was surprised and excited,” she said with a laugh. “I didn’t think I would receive any help, but one day I checked my balance online and there it was. TASFA covered most of my tuition.”
Cervantes has been living in the United States since she was about four years old. She was born in San Louis, Mexico and later moved to Houston with her family.
“I have three brothers and they are all younger,” Cervantes said. “Two of my brothers will have to use TASFA when they go to college. But my youngest brother is a legal citizen, born in the U.S. so he won’t have to use TASFA.”
Most undocumented students have no idea that there is money available for them.
Cervantes said she had no prior knowledge of TASFA until Sanchez brought it to her attention. Without TASFA, Cervantes said she would probably not be in college today.
“If TASFA was not available, I would probably have to get a job or get private loans to pay for my tuition,” she said. “I don’t have to work to pay for my tuition at all.”
Cervantes said she knows some many feel undocumented students are not deserving of funding; however, she said she disagrees.
“I think it’s fair because I’m a student too and I worked hard,” Cervantes said.
“I’ve completed all of my work and I’ve done better than most. If we are allowed to attend and complete school and our grades are good, we deserve the same benefits.
“I think it would be unfair to not receive financial assistance,” she added.