Opinion: An Open Letter to the Immigrant Student Applying to College

By Nirmal Bhatt

April 27, 2022 

Dear immigrant student,

If you want to go to college in the United States, be prepared to fight. There is no way to sugarcoat it: Most colleges are not set up to understand your challenges and needs. I want to share my story and resources so that your path may be easier.

Despite living in the U.S. for nine years and graduating from high school in Tennessee, my home state considered me an out-of-state student when applying for college. This is common for immigrants.

So, why aren’t immigrant students considered in-state students?

In order to qualify for in-state tuition in most states, one must establish “permanent residence” by doing things like registering to vote. However, these prerequisites are often inaccessible to immigrants, because they are not citizens and are often stuck in a long line waiting for permanent residency, if that is even an option.

This means that no matter how long immigrants have resided in one state and no matter how much they have done for their community, they will still be forced to pay disproportionately more than their peers for the same opportunities.

At public colleges, students’ residencies are divided into three categories: in-state, out-of-state, and international. The cost of attending these schools varies drastically based on your residency. The average cost of in-state tuition is $9,580, but that number rises to $27,437 for out-of-state tuition, according to the Education Data Initiative.

In Mississippi, “All aliens are classified as nonresidents.” While there are exemptions for immigrants holding refugee status or temporary resident status, this rule precludes most immigrants from accessing in-state tuition benefits. Colleges in Mississippi offer out-of-state tuition waivers, but they depend on a student’s standardized test scores.

All hope, however, is not lost.

At least 19 states currently extend in-state rates to undocumented students, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In New Jersey, dependent children of certain visa holders can receive in-state tuition. Similar laws require that immigrant students attend and graduate from in-state high schools and plan to apply for legal status in order to receive in-state tuition. If other states want immigrant students to also have a shot at going to college in the U.S., they should consider following suit.

Working to raise awareness of these issues is critical to solving them. I was fortunate enough to find pockets of funding through advisers and college administrators sympathetic to my situation. Finding funding is difficult, but colleges and organizations like The Hidden Dream can be great tools. The Hidden Dream is a nonprofit organization focused on helping immigrant children by providing a variety of resources (scholarship lists, job referrals, etc.) designed to help immigrants navigate their lives. I have benefited from their resources, and I hope that you too will go to thehiddendream.org and take advantage of these resources as you navigate the higher education system.


Nirmal Bhatt is a senior at Mississippi State University where he studies mechanical engineering. He is also a Student Advocacy Corps Intern at the Woodward Hines Education Foundation. In the fall, he will pursue a Master of Science in Technology and Policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

This article was originially published through the National College Attainment Network

Posted by Ainsley Ash at 9:56 AM