Guide for Graduating High School Seniors

Created by Mrs. Scully, Attorney, Students Without Limits, 

A Message to San Diego’s Undocumented High School Seniors Heading to College

First of all, congratulations!! You have overcome the odds. Only five to ten percent of undocumented students continue their education to college. That means you are truly exceptional and your whole community – especially your parents – are so proud of you. As you know, the college application/financial aid process is unique for undocumented students, and now is even more stressful without daily access to your school counselors. Some day when you’re older, you’ll tell your kids about how you survived senior year during the COVID crisis and they’ll be amazed! I know you are all worried about what will happen next on your path to college because of the virus. With input from over 35 San Diego undocumented students and their counselors, we have prepared a guide addressing common issues and questions that typically arise prior to the May 1st decision deadline. This guide also includes information on important resources available to undocumented youth and families in San Diego. 

Seniors, you are the most resilient people I’ve ever known and you have been through WAY tougher challenges! You gotta finish the year strong to avoid college admissions being rescinded. Communicate with your teachers and check your college portals daily. If anyone has got this, it’s YOU! And I’m behind you 1000%! 

Mrs. Scully, Attorney, Students Without Limits, 

SWOL Facebook  In-School Resources for At-Risk Immigrant Youth Since 2012

Words of Encouragement to You from Inspiring Fellow Dreamers 

“There is an entire community here to support you as you pursue your dreams – your teachers, counselors, relatives, friends, and community members who are here to help answer questions, listen, connect you with others, find resources, and help guide you along the way. Don’t hesitate to reach out to others for help. These are uncertain and challenging times, but you are not alone!” 

Carolina Valdivia, UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Los Angeles, incoming Assistant Professor at UC Irvine, and Founder of My Undocumented Life My Undocumented Life Blog 

“Please do not hesitate to reach out to one of us for help! We are here to help! As an undocumented, DACA recipient, and now an educator – I know how difficult it is to navigate higher education and life after high school. The only way I got through it and continue to get through it is by reaching out to family, mentors, friends, and teachers for support. They are always looking for ways to support you! Yes, at times it is harder for us to pursue our dreams, but it is never impossible. Remember to In Lak’ech it up, journal, breathe, express yourself, and take it one day at a time.  We love you all and I know you will do great things in this world!”

Indira Hood-Esparza M.Ed. Undocumented Social Studies Teacher at The Preuss School UCSD


Financial Aid Award Says Non-Resident Tuition

“I just received my financial aid award and it says that I’m being charged out-of-state tuition because I’m not a resident. Help!”

Have no fear. This is a very common mistake with an easy fix. You simply need to complete and submit a quick form showing that you qualify for AB 540. AB 540 allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition if they have attended school in California for three or more years. You can be considered a CA resident for tuition purposes even if you are not considered a U.S. citizen for immigration purposes. 

For UC’s, check your online account/portal and complete the required forms to establish your California residency. Click here for how to complete the UC form. Example Responses to UC Residence Questionnaire 

For CSU, print, complete this form and submit it to each CSU to which you’ve been accepted. CSU Residence Questionnaire 

For an example of a completed CSU form, click here. Example CSU Residence Form 

IMPORTANT: Act quickly! If you delay in submitting the form, you may receive less financial aid and/or be prevented from enrolling in classes. 

Request for Verification 

“I received an email from a university that I have been selected for verification. What does that mean? They’re requesting additional information about my parents and their income. Does this mean my parents are in trouble? I don’t want to put my parents at risk.” 

Don’t panic. Don’t take it personally. Many verification requests are issued randomly. You are not being targeted. The information will NOT be shared with ICE. The CA Student Aid Commission has formally stated that information in your financial aid application is used “only to determine eligibility for state financial aid and is not shared with the federal government or used for immigration enforcement purposes.” 

Complete the verification worksheets as best you can or write a brief letter and submit it to the school as soon as possible. 

IMPORTANT: DO NOT DELAY! The worst move to make is to ignore the verification request. If you fail to comply, you may lose out on financial aid. If you need help responding, contact your school counselor/college advisor and/or Students Without Limits. 

Males Only – Selective Service 

“I’m a male and heard I have to register with selective service.” 

All males must register with selective service. Undocumented males CANNOT register online. Print, complete this super easy form and mail it. MEN WHO ARE AGE 18 THROUGH 25 ARE REQUIRED TO REGISTER PRIVACY ACT STATEMENT For social security number, leave blank. 

IMPORTANT: Act fast! Selective service is slow to process registrations by mail. Failure to register will hold up your college enrollment. 

Confusing Financial Aid Awards

“I received my financial aid awards, but I don’t understand them. How can I get help?” 

The amount of financial aid you receive will likely determine where you attend college this fall. So it’s important to understand exactly what’s covered and what you may have to pay. Each student’s award letter is different. Click here for an example financial aid award and explanation. UC Award Letter Example 

For help, reach out to your high school counselor/college advisor or Students Without Limits. Email the university’s financial aid office. We are all working remotely and checking emails daily! 

Colleges offer a wide variety of housing/meal plans at different costs. You can save money by selecting a less expensive housing/meal plan. Ask your college for a list of housing and meal options with an explanation of costs. 

Don’t be afraid to keep asking questions until you really understand the financial aid being offered to you. Virtually everyone finds financial aid packages confusing at first. 

May 1 College Decision Due

“How can I decide which college I’ll attend by May 1st? So much is uncertain. I don’t know what will happen with DACA and if I’ll be working. My dad just lost his job because of the lockdown. I need more time.” 

With millions of people laid off, families will need to reassess their financial situations due to the sudden hardship. While California universities are largely standing by their May 1 deadlines for deposits or commitments, many colleges across the nation have shifted the May 1 deadline to June 1, including CSUSM. Colleges with new deposit date  As of today, NOT on the list are SDSU and UCSD, but keep checking. In the meantime, if your school is not on the list, you should operate under the assumption that your deposit is due May 1. FYI – UCs and CSUs will waive the deposit fee if you already qualified for an application fee waiver.

Final Transcript

“Will I be able to graduate high school this year? Will colleges accept grades earned until early March or will they want the full year’s transcript after graduation? Will my emergency online classes be included if classes are not graded?” 

With so many people isolated, it is important for you to know that most other college applicants have similar fears. So much is unknown, it’s overwhelming. No one has all the answers right now. But rest assured that answers will be forthcoming. We hope and expect colleges to be accommodating to ease stress on students. Yes, you will be able to graduate this year. Finish the year strong to avoid a college rescinding your admission. Communicate with your teachers and counselors who are working remotely and check your college portals daily. Ask questions. Stay informed. 

College Far From Home

“I was accepted to my dream college and it’s far from home. I’m worried about my parents being detained by ICE. And now I’m also worried about their health. Should I choose a college closer to home?” 

The best thing you can do right now is to stay calm. Try to avoid making a rash decision to not attend your dream college because of the current pandemic. Things could look much differently by September. You will go to a college where you belong, and things will settle down once you get there. Stay calm and informed and you will make the best decision you can for your future. You can also help educate your family about how to stay safe if they encounter ICE. Know Your Rights | Immigrants’ Rights 

College Visits Cancelled

“How can I decide where to enroll now that college visits are cancelled?” 

Cancelled campus visits are upsetting many high school seniors. It is especially disappointing to not be able to check out the schools to which you’ve been admitted. To get a better feel for a school, you can do a virtual tour online and online chats with admission officers and current students. We highly recommend making the extra effort to connect with current students. Ask your teachers, counselors and Students Without Limits to connect you with students at universities. 

One of the best life skills is learning how to self-advocate. While going through a hard time, the best thing you can do is to advocate for yourself. Reach out for help. You have a whole community behind you that is rooting for you! 


“How can I make the most of my time during school closures?” 

Apply to scholarships. Check your college’s website for scholarship opportunities (see their counseling and financial aid department sites). Also click here for a list of scholarships held by one UCSD freshman. Scholarship List  

For a comprehensive list of scholarships that don’t require a social security number, click here. 2020 UNDERGRADUATE SCHOLARSHIPS THAT DON’T REQUIRE PROOF OF US CITIZENSHIP OR LEGAL PERMANENT RESIDENCY 


Please check here for updated resources for undocumented students and families. Resources for San Diego Undocumented Families and Students April 2020 

Here is a Guide for Immigrant Californians from the state of California. 

Public Charge Concerns 

Some worry that public charge rule stops them from receiving COVID-related benefits or services, or that using those benefits will hurt their ability to get a green card. The federal government has stated that using health care services for COVID prevention, testing or treatment does not make you a public charge. 

DACA Renewals

If you or a family member has DACA, Jewish Family Service is remotely assisting eligible recipients who need to renew. Contact Belen Mejia, Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator, for appointment availability: (858) 637-3366,

Funds Available to Laid Off Undocumented Workers

Many of your parents work in the hospitality industry and similar sectors that have been widely impacted by the lockdown. Unfortunately, those jobs do not offer paid time off or support to those whose hours are cut. And undocumented workers are not eligible for unemployment. A San Diego fund has stepped up and is ready to start providing $500 grants to immigrants who have lost work during the pandemic and are not otherwise eligible for other types of aid. To apply, click here. English SDIRC Immigrant Relief Fund Spanish SDIRC Immigrant Relief Fund Applying for the grant is 100% SAFE through the Immigrant Rights Consortium which provides immigration services throughout San Diego. Immigrant Rights Consortium

For a comprehensive list of resources available for undocumented workers, click here. Spanish Comprehensive List Relief for CA Undocumented Workers  English Comprehensive List Relief for CA Undocumented Workers

ICE Announcement 

ICE announced on March 18th that it would shift its focus to “public safety risks.” As we all know, ICE has been unusually aggressive over the last few years. In light of the COVID pandemic, ICE has stated that it will “temporarily adjust its enforcement posture” to detain only those who have been convicted of serious crimes. This announcement relieves some fear during a time of extreme anxiety, but please continue to be safe and make sure that you and your family know how to assert your rights if you encounter ICE. Know Your Rights | Immigrants’ Rights If you or someone you know is experiencing an immigration emergency (raid, arrest, checkpoint, and/or harassment) please call the 24-hour emergency hotline at (619) 536-0823.

A SWOL Senior Shares Her Struggles