Often when high school students are in their third, or junior, year of high school, they are advised to start thinking about their future after graduation. There are a number of possible paths for high school graduates, including undocumented grads. We know it can be stressful to think about what you want to do with your future, but you are not alone! Nearly 100,000 undocumented immigrants graduate from U.S. high schools every year, and they are all faced with the same questions about their futures. Below are a few possible paths for high school graduates and some resources to help you achieve them.
If you want to know your options for entering the workforce as an undocumented person, check out our section below, Working and Earning an Income While Undocumented which also provides information about how to start your own business or become an independent contractor.
If you are undocumented with DACA, you are eligible to apply for any jobs listed in the United States, with the exception of some U.S. federal government jobs, as long as you have a valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD). You cannot be discriminated against due to your immigration status when applying for jobs. It is your responsibility to make sure you continue to renew your DACA and maintain a valid EAD. Check out the Informed Immigrant guide, How to Renew Your DACA in 2021, for everything you need to know about maintaining your status as a DACA recipient. Additionally, you should know that lacking work authorization does not prevent someone from starting their own business or working as an independent contractor.
Technical and vocational schools differ from colleges and universities in that they are focused on job-specific training for students who intend to pursue a skilled trade. Such trades may include construction, nursing, HVAC, manufacturing, and many more. For some, technical schooling may even take the place of the last two years of high school. Learn more about vocational and trade schools through Online College Plan.
One option for career and technical training that is open to low-income young people is Job Corps, a U.S. government-run program. Unfortunately, Job Corps is not available to all undocumented individuals, but DACA recipients may apply. Learn more about Job Corps on their website.
We acknowledge that, despite gains made over the past few years, there are still some barriers to accessing higher education for undocumented folks. In the next section, Resources for Applying to College as an Undocumented Student, we will provide guidance about what you should look for and ask as a prospective college student, information about what states and institutions have policies that are most inclusive of undocumented students, links to scholarships available to undocumented students, and more. This section will also contain information helpful to immigrant and aspiring first-generation college students whether or not they are undocumented.
Most importantly, we want to make sure you know that college is attainable regardless of your undocumented status. Even before DACA was created, undocumented people were successfully enrolling in and graduating from college, and they did so without much of the legislation states have today. As of 2021, more states than ever before have implemented legislation that improves the ability of undocumented and DACAmented to students be admitted to colleges and universities, access in-state tuition, and complete their degrees. Click Resources for Applying to College as an Undocumented Student to learn more about accessing higher education.
As you decide what is next for you after graduating from high school, we encourage you to seek out allies who will support you. Allies may be guidance counselors, teachers, community leaders, local non-profit organizations, or even friends. There are folks out there who are ready and excited to support you and who know you have a bright future. To read more about vocational schools, community colleges, and four-year universities, go to Resources for High School Students Preparing for College or Trade School.
Any adult who has not received a high school diploma in the United States can earn their high school equivalency diploma by sitting for a high school equivalency exam such as the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET), Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC), or General Equivalency Diploma (GED). U.S. citizenship is not required to take these tests.
A high school diploma or equivalent is necessary to enroll in college or other post-secondary education opportunities, so if you didn’t graduate from high school but would like to enroll in college, sitting for a high school equivalency exam is your next step.
While acknowledging that being undocumented can restrict the work available to you, earning a high school equivalency diploma may also help make you more competitive in the job market.
Some states may require proof of residency to take a high school equivalency exam, and there are often other requirements, including that individuals may not be currently enrolled in high school and must be a minimum age (often 16-years-old). Other than that, these exams are open to immigrants of a variety of backgrounds, including individuals who started high school in the U.S., those who attended high school in a different country, or those who never attended high school at all.
Learn more about the high school equivalency exams offered in your state and discover which one is right for you at the Community for Accredited Online Schools.
If earning your high school equivalency diploma is not the right choice for you, there are other options for you to join the workforce. Jump to Working and Earning an Income While Undocumented.
There are opportunities beyond college or trade school that can further your education and provide skills and experience to help you launch your career, enter the workforce, or pursue higher education at a later date.
Tech and Coding Bootcamps offer intensive and accelerated learning opportunities for individuals interested in pursuing a career in technology. Most bootcamps get students job-ready in about 14 weeks.
How to Pay for a Coding Bootcamp: Loans, Financing, and Scholarships by the Flatiron School
Freedom University in Atlanta, Georgia is modeled after the tradition of “freedom schools” in the mid to late 20th century that organized African Americans to achieve social, economic, and political equality in the United States. Freedom University offers a tuition-free program for undocumented students that aims to fulfill their human right to an education.
Dream Summer Fellowship, an annual national fellowship hosted by the UCLA Labor Center’s Dream Resource Center, empowers immigrant youth and allies to be the next generation of social justice leaders through leadership and professional development, movement building, and on-the-ground experience in social justice organizations. Participants must be at least 18, but there is no educational requirement for enrollment.
The realities of the COVID-19 pandemic have changed the landscape of education, at least temporarily. While some students are still attending school in person or living on campus, a huge percentage are learning from home. We know that many students may not have the ideal study atmosphere at home or are wrestling with other responsibilities including working or taking care of family. How have you coped with continuing your education during COVID-19?
Applying to College During the COVID-19 Pandemic
As an undocumented person, it can be challenging to find mental health resources and professionals that can relate to you and your experience. If the mental health provider(s) at your high school, college, or university are not knowledgeable about the unique circumstances and challenges that undocumented students face, Informed Immigrant has created a guide–written by current and formerly undocumented mental health professionals–that you, a friend, or a trusted adult could share with to help educate them. Access it here.
Whether or not you are undocumented, there are ways for you to make a living and earn an income including becoming an entrepreneur or setting up an LLC and working as a consultant*. Regardless of your reason for working–to support your family, to put yourself through college, or to take the first steps towards your career after graduating– we collected resources to help students and graduates set themselves up for success.
NOTE: If you are not eligible for a social security number (i.e., you are undocumented), you will need an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) to pay federally required taxes on your earned income. In some circumstances, ITINs can also be used for things like opening bank accounts or taking out loans
Taxes and Your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
Entrepreneurship, Independent Contracting, and Freelancing
Credit, Financial Capital, and Banking
Non-Employment Based Student Funding and Fellowships
Thank you for your feedback. Your submission has been successful.