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7 First-Rate Colleges for Applicants Who Aren’t U.S. Citizens

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As you go through the college application process, you’ll find that your academic and extracurricular qualifications aren’t the only parts of your history that become important considerations. Another factor that can come into play is your citizenship, particularly if you’re a U.S. resident, but not a U.S. citizen.


Immigration issues can be extremely complicated and stressful to manage, of course, but not having your U.S. citizenship doesn’t mean that you can’t attend a college, even a top-tier college, in the U.S. Some schools are particularly welcoming to students in your position, offering services from financial aid to legal support to make their campuses more accessible for you. 


Read on for our best college recommendations for non-citizens, as well as some tips for evaluating other colleges that you might be interested in.


An Introduction To College For Non-Citizens

In this post, we’ll be talking about students who currently live in the U.S., but are not U.S. citizens. That includes students who are undocumented immigrants, whether they entered the U.S. without documentation or on a visa that has since expired, but it can also include students with a variety of different legal statuses.


Students who are not U.S. citizens but who currently reside outside the U.S., regardless of where they actually live, aren’t included in this category. Colleges will simply consider these students “international.” (For more information about what this means for college applications, read our post How is the Admissions Process Different for International Students?)


If you’re a resident of the U.S., but you’re not a citizen, your experience will be somewhat different from that of citizens applying to schools in the U.S. You’ll most likely have some special legal, practical, and financial-aid-related concerns to manage along the way, particularly if you’re an undocumented student.


Some colleges are better equipped to deal with your particular concerns than others, and some colleges are more interested than others in welcoming, supporting, and advocating for applicants and students in your situation. The schools we’ve listed below represent some top colleges that are particularly notable in how they’ve chosen to address students like you.


As we present this information, bear in mind that many colleges don’t have explicit, publicly accessible policies regarding how they deal with applicants and students who aren’t citizens. They may not have formulated general policies for their applicants, meaning they likely evaluate these situations on an individual basis.


It’s always a good idea to ask the college directly about their policies regarding non-citizens. If you’re worried about your privacy, you can keep in mind that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, better known as FERPA, prohibits colleges from releasing your citizenship information. You can also decline to give your name when calling, or have a trusted person call on your behalf.


At schools where policies and procedures are unclear, it’s hard to say what you should expect. The process can be confusing even for people within the college, and you might even find that different officials from the same school aren’t on the same page. However, you can use the suggestions we outline in this post to gather more information about whether that college is a good fit for you and your specific needs.


Evaluating Potential Colleges When You’re Not a Citizen

Later in this post, we’ll provide some specific examples of colleges that are both academically impressive and notably welcoming to non-citizens. You may notice that this list is fairly short, especially compared to the over 7,000 post-secondary educational institutions that currently operate in the United States.


However, the schools that appear on this list — or on any list — aren’t your only college options if you’re not a citizen. The majority of colleges will consider non-citizens for admission in one way or another; only a few schools in the U.S. specifically prohibit undocumented applicants. Some colleges, like those we’ve listed, are particularly appealing for non-citizen U.S. residents, but many others may also be viable choices for you.


Whatever colleges you consider, as a non-citizen, there are certain questions you’ll want to ask as you do your research and make your list. Below, you’ll find some of the criteria you should use to evaluate the colleges you’re interested in.


Will the school reveal my immigration status to the authorities?

Generally, no. Colleges are legally prohibited from releasing this type of information about students under FERPA. In addition to this legal protection, some colleges maintain “sanctuary campuses” on which college administrators, security, and other employees explicitly do not cooperate with immigration officials who are investigating their students. 


Does the school have a stated policy about college admissions for non-citizen U.S. residents?

There is no national law that governs this issue, so it’s up to state laws (for state schools) and individual colleges’ policies. A handful of colleges explicitly prohibit undocumented students, while some others offer special options meant to support and help undocumented students. Among state schools, some offer in-state tuition to residents of that state who aren’t U.S. citizens while others don’t.


Does the school require undocumented students to have DACA status?

The DACA program, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a program that grants protected status to certain undocumented students who were brought to the U.S. as children. Since the DACA program began in 2012, some colleges have begun requiring undocumented students to be enrolled in this program, which is called having DACA status. 


However, the DACA program was rescinded by President Trump in September 2017. As of this writing, the cancellation of DACA is being legally contested and several replacement programs have been proposed, but no resolution has yet been reached. If a school on your list has required DACA status for undocumented applicants in past years, you should definitely speak to the college directly for application advice and stay up-to-date as political developments unfold.


Will the college consider me an international student?

Some colleges simply consider most or all non-citizen U.S. residents as international students. This can come with downsides at some schools — for example, some colleges practice need-blind admissions for domestic students, but need-aware admissions for international students.


What are my financial aid options?

Only certain non-citizens can access federal student aid, including federal student loans, and if your school considers you as an international student, this may also limit your options. It depends a great deal on the individual school’s policies. (Outside scholarships can also be helpful in making a particular school affordable.)


Does the school community appear friendly to non-citizens?

You may feel more comfortable attending a college where the administrators or student groups have made an effort to welcome and support non-citizens. Being an undocumented student or other non-citizen can be stressful and lonely sometimes, but it can help to know that your school community stands behind you.



Exceptional Colleges for Non-Citizens

Even with these criteria in mind, you might still be nervous about approaching the college application process and choosing colleges for your list as a non-citizen. Never fear — CollegeVine is here with some recommendations to get you started. While our list obviously isn’t exhaustive, these are some colleges we can recommend both for their academic merit and for their approach to citizenship issues.


Here are seven examples of well-respected colleges that have actively shown themselves to be particularly invested in providing equal access to a high-quality education, regardless of citizenship status. Through efforts like sanctuary campus status, financial aid policies, and special resources for students facing immigration concerns, these colleges have demonstrated that they’re particularly good options for applicants and students who aren’t U.S. citizens.


1. Brown University

This Ivy League university in Rhode Island is known for its open curriculum and its eclectic student body. The school considers undocumented applicants (regardless of DACA status) and U.S. permanent residents as it would any domestic applicants, with the same requirements and need-blind admission practices. Brown also guarantees to meet 100% of the demonstrated financial need for all admitted students, regardless of citizenship or nationality.


2. Pitzer College

Pitzer itself is a small liberal arts college in California, but it’s also part of the Claremont Colleges consortium, meaning its students have access to a much larger pool of resources through the other member schools. It’s particularly well known for its programs in social sciences and media. The college is an official sanctuary campus, offers legal support for undocumented students, and also offers generous financial aid for non-citizens.


3. Smith College

One of the best-known single-sex colleges in the United States, this small, all-female liberal arts college is located in scenic western Massachusetts. It’s also a consortium member; through the Five Colleges system, its students can take courses and use resources at four other colleges in the area. Smith guarantees to meet 100% of the demonstrated financial need of all accepted students, regardless of citizenship and will provide additional institutional aid to make up for undocumented students not being eligible for federal aid.


4. Swarthmore College

A small college in Pennsylvania, Swarthmore is renown for its intellectual rigor and is currently ranked as the third-best liberal arts college in the United States by U.S. News and World Report. The school is a committed sanctuary campus and offers financial aid and other specialized resources to students who aren’t citizens.


5. University of California System

This state university system, which has branches throughout California, includes some of the best public universities in the United States, such as UCLA and UC Berkeley. While the policies of its individual campuses vary somewhat, many of its branches are particularly welcoming to non-citizens. Prospective students should also know that the state of California allows undocumented students who are California residents to access in-state tuition and state-provided financial aid.


6. University of Pennsylvania

Another member of the Ivy League, this large university in Philadelphia offers many highly-regarded undergraduate and graduate programs. UPenn is a sanctuary campus and offers financial aid to undocumented students and other non-citizens, as well as other forms of support.


7. Wesleyan University

There are many colleges in the U.S. with similar names, all named after John Wesley, but this Wesleyan is the first and best-known. Its programs in the sciences are particularly well-regarded, especially among liberal arts colleges, and it offers students quite a bit of freedom in choosing their courses. Wesleyan is a sanctuary campus, and undocumented students on campus can access legal support through the school.


Applying to college presents some unique challenges for undocumented high school students and other students who aren’t U.S. citizens, but these obstacles are far from insurmountable, and you should know that you have many options when it comes to college. To learn more about how your citizenship status might affect your college application process, take a look at our post A Guide to the Citizenship Section of the Common App (Can I Still Get Into College if I’m Undocumented?).


Curious about your chances of acceptance to your dream school? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

Monikah Schuschu
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Monikah Schuschu is an alumna of Brown University and Harvard University. As a graduate student, she took a job at the Harvard College Office of Financial Aid and Admissions, and discovered the satisfaction of helping students and parents with the often-baffling college admissions process. She also enjoys fiber art, murder mysteries, and amateur entomology.