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Follow our coverage of immigration and related issues affecting Latinos in the Charlotte area.

Scholarship program for college students in the U.S. illegally now accepting applications

 Scholarship recipients from Golden Door Scholars gathered at Red Ventures' South Carolina Headquarters in 2019 for a program event.
Courtesy of Golden Door Scholars
Scholarship recipients from Golden Door Scholars gathered at Red Ventures' South Carolina Headquarters in 2019 for an program event

Maggie was in her third year at N.C. State University when she realized she wouldn’t be able to stay enrolled in school for much longer.

“I was paying out of pocket, but I was at my last semester,” she said. “I couldn't do anymore. I knew that after this one, I'm dropping out. I have to go back to work. I don't have the money.”

Maggie and her family moved to the U.S. from Venezuela 21 years ago. She is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA. We’re not using her full name because she fears for her safety.

She says she looked for scholarships, but because of her immigration status, she couldn’t find any for which she was eligible.

“It was so hard for me to find a scholarship that I was eligible for because I have DACA,” Maggie said. "So even though there are tons of scholarships out there, most of them in the fine print say it's only open for citizens or residents.”

Maggie says she was on social media when she saw a friend mention Golden Door Scholars. The nonprofit provides college scholarships to students who are in the country illegally, have DACA or have temporary protected status.

“When I first found out about the scholarship, it was definitely like a glimmer of hope,” Maggie said.

In North Carolina, DACA students are required to pay out-of-state tuition even if they are long-term residents.

In 2016, Golden Door Scholars awarded Maggie with a scholarship — something she calls "life-changing."

Maggie says the program gives students more than just a scholarship.

“They're not just going to give you a check and walk away and say, ‘Good luck, see you at graduation.’” Maggie said. “It's so much bigger than that. It's community. It's mentorship”

Scholars are paired with mentors and have workshops to help them navigate college.

“Yes, it's a scholarship and it helped me graduate,” Maggie said. “But the community and the mentorship was by far the biggest impact.”

Because of the program, Maggie was able to graduate on time and is now working as a software engineer at Red Ventures, which is based just outside of Charlotte in York County, South Carolina.

Most students get a four-year full scholarship if they attend one of Golden Door Scholars’ 19 partner schools. Nine are in North Carolina and the rest are across the country.

Scholarships for students who don’t attend a partner school are awarded on a case-by-case basis, according to Golden Door Scholars executive director Kacey Grantham.

“We just believe that all young people deserve access to higher education,” Grantham said.

The nonprofit was founded 10 years ago by Red Ventures CEO Ric Elias. Since then, Grantham says, the program has received more than 9,000 applications and awarded more than 473 scholarships.

“For undocumented or even 'DACAmented' young adults, most pay out-of-state tuition, do not qualify for federal financial aid, usually do not qualify for state financial aid and just do not have the same level of access to education and therefore economic opportunity or justice,” Grantham said.

The program is open to any student in the U.S. who is in the country illegally, has DACA or temporary protected status . Eligible students can apply on the Golden Door Scholars website by Oct. 10.

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Maria Ramirez Uribe is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte.