To pay her tuition, undocumented student enters beauty pageant

To pay her tuition, undocumented student enters beauty pageant
Mexican-born Zulybeidi Maldonado (center) attends a training session for Señorita Fiesta del Sol, a pageant in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. The scholarship that comes with the crown would pay for her third semester of college. WBEZ/Chip Mitchell
To pay her tuition, undocumented student enters beauty pageant
Mexican-born Zulybeidi Maldonado (center) attends a training session for Señorita Fiesta del Sol, a pageant in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. The scholarship that comes with the crown would pay for her third semester of college. WBEZ/Chip Mitchell

To pay her tuition, undocumented student enters beauty pageant

Undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children have made gains in recent years. Many are now eligible for work papers and driver’s licenses. But when it comes to paying for college, they still face big barriers.

In Illinois, undocumented students are ineligible for financial aid from either the state or federal government. To get their degrees, they have to get creative. Zulybeidi Maldonado, 22, of Arlington Heights, is trying to pay for her next semester by competing in a Chicago beauty pageant whose prize is $1,500 for college.

“I just need the scholarship to go back to school,” said Maldonado, who was born in the Mexican state of Guerrero. “I can’t do it without a scholarship.”

But María Bucio, an expert on financial aid for undocumented students, has big questions for anyone who thinks a pageant might be the way to pay for an education. “How much effort are you putting into this initiative and how much are you going to get out of it?” she asked.

Our story (above) follows Maldonado through months of preparation for the pageant. It turns out she’s hoping to get more from the contest than a college scholarship.