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The California Dream Act went into effect New Year’s Day, opening up new scholarship and financial aid possibilities for undocumented students across the state.
Now students who were brought to the country illegally can apply for financial aid from the state's universities and colleges.
One undocumented college graduate spoke to NBC4, saying she struggled because she couldn't receive the kinds of benefits that younger students in similar situtations are now free to pursue.
The 23-year-old former student didn't share her first name, because her undocumented status is not something she shares publicly. Her mother brought her to the United States at the age of 6.
"I graduated with a bachelors of science in Human Services, and I want to get my masters in counseling to be a high school counselor someday," L. Lopez said.
Lopez attended Cal State Fullerton. Her biggest struggle, she said, was how to pay for tuition. Until 2013, loans and grants were not available to students like Lopez, who does not have a social security number.
"I actually got a call when I was in high school, before I graduated, from a scholarship, telling me that I was overqualified for the scholarship," Lopez said. "I couldn't get it because I don't have those nine digits."
The California Dream Act has opened the door to high school graduates who have the grades to get into the Cal State or University of California system. It’s estimated 20,000 students across the state could apply.
The legislation does not provide a blank check, according to attorney Scott Hughes, but a chance to help children who were illegally brought into this country when they were 15 years old or younger.
"There's strict GPA requirements. There's strict residency requirements, and people can't have criminal records," Hughes said. "The people who are going to benefit from this are good people who deserve it."
For more information, go to the University of California's page about the state's Dream Act.