Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tips for Undocumented Students: Networking for College & Career Success

Over the course of my years working with undocumented students, I have come to realize that students with a strong network of support have been the most likely to get admitted to college, secure the funds they need to pay for college, complete their degrees, go on to attend graduate school, and secure paid employment.  For undocumented students, building a strong network of supportive individuals is key to college and career success.  This blog will provide information and insight about who should be part of your college and career network and how they can help you! 

In reflecting back on how my own personal network was developed, I realize that I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend various colleges and work in various professional environments where I built relationships with individuals who I continue to remain in contact with today. Over the course of my educatioal and professional careers, I have learned about the important role networking plays in one's college and career advancement.  However, the relationships we build with individuals throughout our educational and professional careers should not be built simply for the purpose of "networking."  Ideally, we naturally build relationships with individuals whom we share common work or interests with and maintain these mutually beneficial relationships over time.  The various social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter that most of us use already can also be great ways to make new connections and stay connected.

In my experience, many of my friends, colleagues, and mentors have later helped to point me to academic and professional opportunities or introduced me to other people who could help me in various ways.  I have also done the same for some of them.  Offering advice about networking is a bit subjective given that each of us has different experiences, has attended different college/universities, has worked in different places, or made contact with different organizations.  Therefore, one person's network may be made up of completely different individuals than someone else's.  Nonetheless, as an undocumented student, there are key individuals who should be part of your network and who can assist you in various ways as you pursue college and career.  Below is a list of individuals who may already be a part of your personal network and how they may be able to assist you.

  • Fundraising for college
  • College/graduate school applications
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Social/emotional support
  • Resume development
  • Professional opportunities
School Counselors/College Advisors
  • Fundraising for college
  • Scholarships
  • College/graduate school applications
  • Social/emotional support
  • Test prep (such as SAT, GRE,etc.)
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Resume development
College Representatives
Community Members/Organizations (Such as your local DREAM organization)
Family Members

The list above is by no means exhaustive.  That means that you may have relationships with individuals not listed above and/or the relationships you have my play a different role in your college and career advancement.  In some cases the person above may not be able to help you but they may be able to connect you with someone who can.  The intent of the list above is to help you to begin thinking about who you know, who you need to know, and how they can help you. 

I welcome your questions and/or additional insights based on your own networking experiences and how they have helped you!  Be sure to check out my next blog, which will provide advice on how to apply to and successfully move through graduate school.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fundraising Tips for Undocumented Students: Developing Your Fundraising Portfolio

One of the ways that many undocumented students fundraise for college is by developing a Fundraising Portfolio.  What is a Fundraising Portfolio, you may ask?  Well, I'm here to tell you everything you need to know about what to include in your Portfolio and how to use it to fundraise for college.  I also encourage any undocumented students who have developed their own Fundraising Portfolio to share their tips for students here!

What do I include?          Click here for: Sample Fundraising Portfolio
  1. Cover Letter - Your cover letter is a lot like a personal statement or biographical essay.  It tells the reader about you and your personal story.  It also lets the reader know that you will be attending college, what your costs to attend are, and that you have limited access to financial support due to your residency status.  You do not need to state anywhere in your cover letter that you are "undocumented."  Instead, you may simply say, "I am ineligible for financial aid due to my residency status."
  2. Letter of Admission - You should include a copy of your Letter of Admission or some other formal documentation to let the reader know that you have been admitted to college and/or are currently attending.
  3. Unofficial Transcripts - Whether you are a high school or college student, you should include a copy of your Unofficial Transcripts in your Portfolio.  If you are a strong student academically (i.e., you have good grades) then this will help the reader feel more confident about investing in you and your educational future.  However, even if you have struggled academically, you can still include your transcript to let the reader know where you are in school (i.e., high school senior, college student, graduate student).  You can also include an explanation for your academic struggles in your Cover Letter, if you wish to. 
  4. Resume - Developing a strong resume is something that will benefit you in many ways as you fundraise for college.  It tells the reader everything that your Cover Letter and transcripts do not.  It lets the reader know about your educational background, work experience, volunteer work, community service, honors & awards, etc.  Please see the link to the Sample Fundraising Portfolio for the proper formatting and content of your resume.
  5. Letters of Recommendation - You should include at least 2-3 letters of recommendation with your Fundraising Portfolio.  These letters should come from teachers, professors, counselors, advisors, community members, or others who can speak to your motivation to succeed in college and help the reader to understand why their investment in you and your education is important. 
Please see the Sample Fundraising Portfolio for an example of the items above.

Who do I give my Fundraising Portfolio to?

This will differ from student to student.  The reason is because each student has different relationships with different people.  You should think about who is part of your personal network.  Members of your personal network include teachers, professors, counselors, advisors, community members, family members, peers, or others who you have personal relationships with.  You should start by making 10-20 copies and sharing your Fundraising Portfolio with individuals in your own personal network.  When you do, you will also want to ask these individuals if they would be willing to share your Fundraising Portfolio with their friends or colleagues. 

You should not expect any one person to provide you with all of the funding you need for college.  More often, students are able to raise hundreds or even thousands of dollars by giving their Fundraising Portfolio to many people who each make small donations.  However, there are students with strong personal networks who have raised much of the money they need for college this way.  It really depends on the relationships you have with the people around you and the strength of your personal network and your Portfolio.

For more information about how to build a strong network, please check out my next blog: Tips for Undocumented Students: Networking for College & Career Success! 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fundraising Tips for Undocumented Students: Writing a Winning Scholarship Application

The question I hear most often from both undocumented students and those who work with them is: How can undocumented students raise the funds they need to attend college? 

The great news is that there are a lot of ways that undocumented students can raise money for college.  My next few blog posts will provide a number of tips on college fundraising, but please keep in mind that these are just a few suggestions that I have seen work for undocumented students I know.  They are by no means the only fundraising options available to you.  As an undocumented student, you MUST be creative and resourceful in order to raise the funds you need to attend college.  My hope is that some of you undocumented students out there will comment on this post to add fundraising tips and ideas that have worked for you because you really are the best resource for other students!

Because undocumented immigrant students are ineligible for state and federal financial aid, most rely heavily on scholarships to fund their college education.  However, it is important to remember that while scholarships are a great resource, they are unlikely to cover a student's entire college education.  This is partly because there are a limited number of scholarships that do not require applicants to be a US Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident.  The fact that there are a limited number of scholarships available to undocumented students also means that the application process for these monies can be extremely competitive.  For these reasons, it is important to make sure that your scholarship applications are as strong as they can be.  Below are a few tips to help you:
  • Research Scholarships - This can be a time-consuming process, so you need to be strategic when researching scholarships.  First, start with your own high school or college.  If you are in high school, visit your College Center to look for scholarships available to you through your high school, community organizations, or private funders.  If you are in college, visit your college's Financial Aid office, Scholarship office, or Foundation office and see if there are private scholarships that you qualify for.  You should also look to local community organizations for possible scholarship opportunities.  You can also find additional scholarship information on the following websites:

You can also Google "undocumented student scholarships."  You would be surprised how much scholarship information is available on the internet.

  • Check Residency Requirements - One mistake students sometimes make is not checking for residency requirements.  It can be a big waste of time to complete and submit a scholarship application just to realize that you are not eligible due to residency requirements.  However, some students do not take no for an answer.  If you meet all of the criteria for a scholarship except the residency requirements, you may want to contact the scholarship provider to find out if you can still apply.  Some undocumented students I know have called the provider for more information and been told that they can apply. Some of these students were eventually awarded the scholarship!  So, don't hesitate to give the scholarship provider a call to find out if you're eligible.  You don't have to tell them your name or provide any other identifying information if you don't want to.

  • Follow Directions - This may seem obvious but you would be surprised at how many students submit incomplete or incorrectly completed scholarship applications.  Make sure you are clear about what the application is asking for and that you complete all of the applications requirements, such as filling out the application, writing an essay, attaching a resume, acquiring letters of recommendation, etc.

  • Apply for Multiple Scholarships - Because scholarship award amounts vary and the scholarship application process can be very competitive, you should not rely on just a few scholarships.  The undocumented students I know who have been most successful in applying for scholarships are constantly looking for new scholarship opportunities and apply for scholarships throughout their high school and/or college years.  For undocumented students, applying for scholarships is an ongoing process.

  • Proofread Application - You are not always the best person to correct your own mistakes, so it is highly recommended that you have someone else proofread your application.  Ideally, you should have a teacher, counselor, advisor, mentor or some other professional take a look at your application before you submit it.  As someone who has reviewed the scholarship applications of hundreds of students, it is always obvious to me when a student has or has not had someone proofread their application for them.

  • BONUS TIP: Develop a Resume - Some scholarship applications will ask you to submit a resume along with your application.  Having a strong resume will help strengthen your scholarship applications and it can be used to apply for internships or other work opportunitites.  The resume is also a tool that will be very helpful to you as you engage in other fundraising strategies that will be described in future blog posts.  Please visit the following link for a sample resume: Sample Resume (see p.6-8).
Feel free to post comments or questions about any of the information provided above.  If you are an undocumented student who has successfully applied for and been awarded a scholarship, please feel free share your own tips and advice about how to write a winning scholarship application!

Visit this blog again soon for information and advice on raising money for college by developing your own Fundraising Portfolio.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

If you are undocumented & unsure about what the future holds, why should you go to college?

The question below is a common one asked by a lot of undocumented students, so I wanted to take a few moments to respond.  Check out the question below posted by an undocumented student and then my response.  If you are an undocumented college student who is reading this post, please feel free to provide your own response to this question.

"i know you guys are trying to get us all to go to college and i appreciate that. but i can't help to wonder what's the sense of doing that? my parents are illegal and so am i and my two brothers. i work since 8th grade and now i'm in 11th and going to college seems ridiculous given that i won't be able to pay for it or get a job after i graduate. My question is why bother? i thought for sure by now the dream act would've passed but it seems impossible for it to be approved."

I realize that the question above is a common one among undocumented students, particularly at a time in our country when the issue of immigration and undocumented immigrants is so controversial.  However, there are many undocumented students in the U.S. who have been here for most of their lives and worked very hard to do well in school and get to college.  Many of the undocumented students I work with have asked themselves this same question and here is their answer. 

While the DREAM Act has still not been passed, we get closer every year.  One day it will pass and when it does, I will have my college education and be able to reach my professional goals.  Why waste time now, when I could be continuing my education?  There was a time in our country's history when we didn't have state policies to make college more affordable for undocumented students and now in some states we do, so change is possible.

I know many undocumented students who have earned a Bachelors degree, Masters degree, and some are even in law school or pursuing a Ph.D.  I don't think that any of these students believe they are wasting their time.  In fact, many of them have significantly broadened their support networks by continuing their education.  These support networks have assisted the students in raising the funds they need to pay for their education and in some cases have even helped these students find paid internships and other work opportunities.

If you have questions or would like more information on this topic, please let me know!

Undocumented? You can attend and pay for college!

Are you beginning to despair because you think you won’t be able to afford college? Think again! There are thousands of undocumented students around the country who have been very successful raising the funds necessary to pursue higher education, even to attend elite colleges!  Their common denominator? They are great networkers.
What is “networking” you may ask?  Networking is the way in which individuals make mutually beneficial connections with others.  For example, many successful undocumented college students participate in clubs, community service, and other on-campus programs where they build relationships with peers, staff, faculty, and community members who can help them when it comes time to fundraise for college. 
This blog will walk you through the various activities that can help you raise the money you need to fulfill your college dreams. I will hold your hand until you have figured out the way. I will help connect you with useful organizations. I will point you in the direction of resources available to you.
If you are undocumented and want to know more about how to network and fundraise for college, post your questions here.  If you are an undocumented student who has been successful networking or raising money in your state, please share your tips and advice so other students can benefit from your experience!
Let’s meet back here next week.