We’re glad you’re here! In Maine and throughout the United States, higher education is one of the best ways to open the door to a better-paying job and more opportunities. But as a new Mainer, navigating higher education may include some additional steps or challenges. If you are the first in your family to attend college, the process may be unfamiliar and intimidating. If you attended college in another country, higher education in the United States might look very different.

Regardless of your starting point, FAME is here to provide information, resources, and personalized support. Let us know how we can help you reach your educational goals!

FAME Can Help New Mainers with Higher Education

FAME can help recent immigrants and refugees navigate higher education in the United States. FAME offers College Access and Financial Education staff working across Maine to help students reach their higher education goals. Floreka Malual is FAME’s dedicated college planning advisor working with new Mainers.


Floreka Malual (she/her)
PH: 207-620-3530

Paying for College

Whether you’re an immigrant, refugee, or a new U.S. citizen, there is money available to help new Mainers pay for higher education. However, where the money comes from largely depends on whether or not you are eligible for federal student aid.

Are You Eligible for Federal Student Aid?

To be eligible, you must be a U.S. citizen OR an eligible noncitizen.

Generally, you are an eligible noncitizen if you meet one of the following criteria:

  • You are a U.S. national (includes natives of American Samoa or Swains Island).
  • You are a U.S. permanent resident with a Form I-551, I-151, or I-551C (Permanent Resident Card, Resident Alien Card, or Alien Registration Receipt Card), also known as a “green card.”
  • You have an Arrival-Departure Record (I-94) from U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) showing one of the following statuses:
    • Refugee
    • Asylum granted
    • Cuban-Haitian Entrant
    • “Conditional Entrant” (valid only if issued before April 1, 1980)
    • “Parolee” (you must be paroled for at least one year, and you must be able to provide evidence from the USCIS that you are in the United States for other than a temporary purpose with the intention of becoming a U.S. citizen or permanent resident).
  • You hold a T nonimmigrant status (“T-visa“) (for victims of human trafficking) or your parent holds a T-1 nonimmigrant status
  • You are a “battered immigrant-qualified alien” who is a victim of abuse by your citizen or permanent-resident spouse, or you are the child of a person designated as such under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
  • You are a citizen of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, or the Republic of Palau.

Generally, you are not eligible for federal student aid if:

  • You have been granted DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status.
  • You have only a “Notice of Approval to Apply for Permanent Residence” (I-171 or I-464).
  • You are in the U.S. on an F-1 or F-2 nonimmigrant student visa, or on a J-1 or J-2 nonimmigrant exchange visitor visa.
  • You hold a G series visa (pertaining to international organizations).

YES! I AM Eligible for Federal Student Aid

If you are a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen, the next step is to file your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

To learn more about how to file a FAFSA, visit FAME’s FAFSA section or watch this short video (in Arabic). If you are an eligible noncitizen, you will need to enter your eight or nine-digit Alien Registration Number (ARN) on the FAFSA.

If your parent does not have a Social Security Number, enter all zeros (e.g., 000000000) in the Social Security Number question.

If one or more of your parents live outside the United States, learn more about how to complete the FAFSA. If you are considered a dependent student, you typically need to provide parent information. Your parents’ specific situation will determine whose information is required, so review the below information carefully:

  • If your parents are married and one parent lives outside of the United States, both parents’ information will be needed. Parents will indicate that they are “Married filing separately.” The U.S.-residing parent will include their requested tax information. The international parent will provide their income and asset information, converted into U.S. dollars, and indicate “Foreign Country” and “Foreign Tax Return” where appropriate.
  • If your parents are not legally married or are divorced, information will be required only for the parent you reside with in the United States.
  • If both parents reside outside the United States but continue to provide most of your financial support, you will provide information for both parents. Your parents will indicate “Foreign Country” and “Foreign Tax Return” where appropriate.

Important FSA ID Information

One of the first steps when filing a FAFSA is to create an FSA ID. The FSA ID is a username and password you will use to access and sign your FAFSA. All students need an FSA ID and one parent of a dependent student will also need his or her own FSA ID to sign the FAFSA.

The FSA ID is tied to your Social Security Number. Be sure to write down all of the information used to create an FSA ID. Use FAME’s FSA ID Information Tracking Sheet to keep track of all FSA ID information.

For more information on creating an FSA ID, watch this short video. If you speak Arabic, we’ve created this video to help with creating and retrieving FSA IDs: Creating an FSA ID (in Arabic).

College Pathways Worksheet

FAME’s College Pathways Worksheet will help keep your planning on track as you work through the financial aid and scholarships processes and pursue other options to pay for college.

Have you had a change in citizenship status?

If your status has changed from an eligible noncitizen to a U.S. citizen, contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) to update your status. If you do not update your citizenship status with the SSA, it could delay your student financial aid. To contact the SSA call 1-800-772-1213 or visit the Social Security Administration’s website at ssa.gov.

NO! I Am NOT Eligible for Federal Student Aid

Even if you are not eligible for federal student aid, other options do exist. Consider the following:

School Choice

Attend a school that has policies and funding dedicated to supporting students who are not eligible for federal student aid funds. Here are some questions to ask when researching schools.

If the school you are planning to attend offers funding to DACA students or other students who are not eligible for federal student aid, ask them how to apply for those funds. In some cases, and if you have a Social Security Number, the school may want you to complete a FAFSA.

Resources to Explore

Pay As You Go

Pay as you go by attending school part-time, ideally with the help of scholarships, payment plans, and possible limited funding from the school. Most schools have payment plans that allow you to spread the cost of your course(s) over several payments throughout a semester or school year, making paying for classes easier to manage.

Employer Education Benefits

Work for an employer that provides education assistance for their employees. Some employers will cover a portion of your tuition or help support your educational goals in other ways.

Start by contacting your employer’s Human Resources office and asking them these questions about employer education benefits.

College Pathways for Asylum Seekers

In Maine and the United States, it usually takes several sources of funding to pay for college. Here are some options to consider.

Scholarships for New Mainers

Scholarships provide money, often from private institutions or community organizations, that you will not need to repay. If you are not eligible for federal or state financial aid, you may be able to pay for some of your higher education expenses using scholarships.

Tips for Applying for Scholarships

Scholarships come in varying amounts and are offered by a variety of organizations, sometimes from your own community or high school. Local scholarships may be less competitive because they draw a smaller pool of candidates. To begin your search, check out:

  • Local high school teachers and the guidance office
  • College financial aid office
  • Employer/parents’ employer(s)
  • Faith-based institutions
  • Local service organizations
  • Town offices

Getting Ready for College

You may be the first person in your family to attend college or may have attended college in a different country, but are finding the options and processes are very different in the United States. Regardless of your starting point, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Types of Institutions

There are many types of colleges and universities in the United States. Each has its own purpose and funding and certain schools may meet your needs better than others.

Two-Year versus Four-Year Colleges

Two-year colleges: The most common two-year schools are community colleges. These schools typically offer two pathways: programs that are more applied and career-training focused that award certificates or associate degrees, or programs that are strictly academic and prepare students to transfer to a four-year school. Community colleges are public schools but there are also private two-year schools.

Four-year colleges and universities: These schools typically offer programs that take four years of full-time enrollment to complete and award bachelor’s degrees (though some also offer associate degrees). There are both public and private colleges and universities.

Public versus Private Colleges

Public colleges: These schools, often referred to as state schools, are supported in part by public funding. As a result, tuition rates are typically lower for residents of that state than for students from out-of-state.

Private colleges: These schools are privately funded and tuition rates are the same for in-state versus out-of-state students.

Admissions Criteria

Each college uses its own criteria when deciding whether or not to offer admission to a student. Most schools are going to ask for grades from current or previous schools, and some will also ask for SAT or ACT scores. Depending on a student’s major, if English is a second language, students may be asked to take the TOEFL test. Check with the college’s admissions office or website to learn more about that school’s admissions criteria.

Special Programs to Support College-Going

There are many federal programs designed to help first-generation college students and/or those from low-income families prepare for college. Programs such as Upward Bound, TRIO, and GEAR UP are often available through high schools and local colleges and universities.

Home Country Degree Evaluation (Credentialing)

Do you have a degree or certificate from your home country? If so, you may be able to use it in the United States for work or schooling. However, not every degree or certificate is recognized in the United States.

You can have your degree or certificate reviewed by a third party to see which degree is similar when using United States standards. This is called Credential Evaluation. Whether or not you should have your credential evaluated depends on how you will use it.

Credential Evaluations

If you have a degree from another country, you will need to have an evaluation done to see how it compares to a U.S. degree. Download our Questions to Ask PDF for more information about Credential Evaluations. Credential Evaluations — When Are They Needed? Questions to Ask

Considerations Before Having a Degree Evaluated

Is credential evaluation necessary?
The value of a professional credential is highly job- and field-specific. In some fields, a credential is a basic requirement. In others, it is a “nice to have” that is not necessary for advancement. It is important to ask questions and understand which credentials are truly required in an individual’s field.

What is the purpose of the evaluation?
Knowing how you intend to use your credential is very important. The type of evaluation, as well as the organization that can complete it, may vary widely depending on its use. If instructions aren’t carefully followed, a skilled immigrant can end up paying for a legitimate evaluation that is not useful for the intended purpose.

Is there assistance to help pay for credentialing expenses?
The Foreign Credentialing and Skills Recognition Revolving Loan Program (Foreign Credentialing Loan) provides small loans to assist certain eligible immigrants living in Maine who are not yet eligible to work in the United States. Loans for up to $700 are available to help pay for the costs associated with translating credentials and other specific expenses involved in the process of becoming eligible to work in Maine.

Where can you find a reputable credential evaluation service?
There are unreliable and fraudulent services that advertise widely on the web. Immigrant professionals are advised to research credential evaluation companies to ensure they choose one that is reputable and ethical. One useful indicator is whether the company is a member of the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES).

Who Will Evaluate My Degree?

Schools have different requirements for credential evaluation. Start by talking with the school you want to attend. The school’s admissions or international students’ office should be able to offer more information about their requirements.

It may not be necessary to obtain a credential evaluation. Talk to people in your industry and employers to learn more about their requirements. Make sure your resumé clearly states whether or not you have a credential evaluation.

Professional licensing
License requirements vary from state to state. Before you have your degree or certificate reviewed for a professional license, confirm the requirements of the professional board in your state.

Degree Evaluation Resources

The University of Southern Maine accepts credentials that have been evaluated at the following companies:

Center for Educational Documentation
PO Box 199
Boston, MA 02117
Tel: 617-338-7171
Fax: 617-338-7101

World Education Services, Inc.
PO Box 5087
Bowling Green Station
New York, NY 10274-5087
Tel: 212-966-6311
Fax: 212-739-6100

International Education Research Foundation, Inc.
PO Box 3665
Culver City, CA 90231-3665
Tel: 310-258-9451
Fax: 310-342-7086

The New Mainers Resource Center at Portland Adult Education provides support to immigrants seeking to have credential translation and evaluation.

For more information, contact:
New Mainers Resource Center
14 Locust Street
Portland, ME 04101
Tel: 207-874-8155
Fax: 207-773-0151

Foreign Credentialing Loan Program

FAME’s Foreign Credentialing Loan Program provides small loans to assist eligible immigrants living in Maine who are not yet eligible to work in the United States.