Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced another disruptive delay in the 2024-2025 FAFSA: colleges and universities will not receive FAFSA applicant data until March. As a result, students are not likely to receive financial aid offers until early to mid-April (four months later than usual). This may prevent youth from making decisions about where – or even whether – to pursue postsecondary education.
For students whose personal and family situations are more complicated – especially unaccompanied homeless youth and foster youth – this latest delay poses even greater hurdles. Financial aid offices will not receive information that a student has indicated homelessness or foster care status until March, and, therefore, will not be able to follow up with the student to either request the unaccompanied homeless youth (UHY) determination or foster care verification, or make the determination themselves. This will further compress the timeline for youth who are already struggling with the uncertainty and stress of homelessness and the transition to adulthood.
SHC consulted with several expert financial aid administrators whose institutions have established exemplary practices to remove barriers to postsecondary education for youth experiencing homelessness and current or former foster youth. Based on their insights and our own experience supporting students, we offer the following tips to help students navigate these challenging conditions.
1. Students should still complete the FAFSA and obtain UHY determinations from parties who are authorized to verify homeless and foster youth status.
Although institutions of higher education will not receive FAFSA applicant data until March, it is important for unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness and current or former foster youth to go ahead and complete the FAFSA and collect determinations/documentation in the meantime. More entities are now authorized to make unaccompanied homeless youth determinations. Sample form letters are available here.
2. In mid-March, students should log in to be sure that their FAFSA form was fully processed.
Student corrections are also on hold until mid-March, so students who need to make corrections for any reason will need to wait until mid-March.
3. Students should wait until they receive a notification stating that their FAFSA has been processed before reaching out to financial aid offices to either 1) provide UHY determinations from an authorized entity, or 2) if they don’t have a UHY determination, request one from the financial aid office.
Financial aid offices won’t be able to contact students to request UHY determinations until late March or early April, and won’t be able to do much before then.
4. If students have not heard anything from financial aid by the end of March and/or they cannot log on and review their FAFSA, they should reach out to their financial aid office and set up a one-on-one “status check” appointment.
If the student has not received or requested a determination of independence, they should formally request it at the “status check.” One very important new requirement is that financial aid administrators must make determinations of independent student status for unaccompanied homeless youth and foster youth as quickly as practicable, as early as the year before the award year for which the students initially submits an application, and not later than 60 days after the date of the student’s enrollment during the award year for which the student initially submits an application.
5. School district homeless liaisons, homeless service providers, child welfare professionals, and others working with homeless and foster youth should keep copies of documentation, and keep federal guidance handy when advocating for youth.
Youth experiencing homelessness and in foster care move frequently and sometimes abruptly. Educators and other professionals should keep copies of determinations in case youth have to move without being able to take copies of records. In addition, it is important for educators and providers to keep this federal guidance on unaccompanied homeless youth determinations on hand in the event that the financial aid offices are not aware of or have not had experience with youth experiencing homelessness.
This latest FAFSA delay is discouraging, and creates more – not fewer – hurdles for vulnerable youth who wish to pursue education beyond high school. SHC is committed to supporting youth and the professionals who serve them, and will continue to provide updates and new information as it becomes available.