Higher Education

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and Youth Homelessness

This page provides comprehensive FAFSA-related resources to help youth, K-12 educators, homeless service providers, and higher education professionals understand, prepare, and fill out the FAFSA.

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Take a short survey to inform our FAFSA advocacy and improve our FAFSA training and resources. This survey is intended for education professionals (high school and higher education), service providers, and others who assist youth experiencing homelessness or those with experience in the foster care system in completing the FAFSA.
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Another FAFSA Delay

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).
Implications for Homeless & Foster Youth

Priority Deadlines Approaching!

We strongly encourage students and families to promptly complete the FAFSA to maximize their potential financial aid. Be sure to verify and adhere to the priority deadlines set by your state or educational institution to ensure the best opportunity for receiving aid.
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How to Prep for the FAFSA

With the new changes, we urge our network to be proactive and prep for the 24-25 FAFSA with these strategies.
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The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the form that youth need to fill out to get any financial aid from the federal government to help pay for college.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is filled out each year a student is applying for college. For youth who are experiencing homelessness, or who are at risk of homelessness, and who are on their own, applying for the FAFSA can be complex.

The FAFSA Simplification Act: Youth Experiencing Homelessness and Youth with Experience in Foster Care

A summary of the FAFSA Simplification Act (enacted as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 and updated by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022).

I am a Youth Under 24 Who Is Experiencing Homelessness

Homeless Definitions
This resource explains the definitions of homelessness and provides various examples. 

Financial Aid for Youth Who are Homeless (or At Risk of Homelessness) and On Their Own
Use this flowchart to determine if you qualify as independent on the FAFSA as an unaccompanied homeless youth. This resource also provides examples of who can make this determination and email templates.

How to Answer FAFSA Questions About Homelessness
This resource will help you navigate answering the questions about homelessness and how to request an unaccompanied homeless youth determination.

Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Written Statement: A Template for Students
This template is for students who are requested to write a written statement about unaccompanied homeless youth determinations by their financial aid office.

Tips for Preparing for an Independent Financial Aid Interview
This resource is designed to help unaccompanied homeless youth prepare for documented interviews with the financial aid administrator. Related resource: [Video] Role-Playing a FAFSA Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Determination Interview

Understanding Students Loans: The Basics
For most youth and young adults, student loans are a necessary part of college, even when a financial aid package includes scholarships. In choosing loans and loan amounts, there are many options and factors to consider that can have significant long-term impacts. This tip sheet provides some important information to keep in mind as you prepare to pay for college.

Understanding Student Loans: Repayment
For most youth and young adults, student loans are a necessary part of college, even when a financial aid package includes scholarships. In choosing loans and loan amounts, there are many options and factors to consider that can have significant long-term impacts. This tip sheet provides some important information about repaying student loans.

I Work in K-12 Education or Homeless Services

FAFSA Referral Form for McKinney-Vento Liaisons
The FAFSA Referral Form is specifically for counselors, liaison designees, and school staff who, while assisting with FAFSA applications, discover that a student is unaccompanied and homeless or unaccompanied, self-supporting, and at risk of homelessness.

Another FAFSA Delay: Implications for Homeless and Foster Youth and Those Who Serve Them
This resource offers strategies to navigate these hurdles, drawing on advice from financial aid experts and SHC’s own advocacy efforts.

Navigating Financial Aid for Homeless Students: A FAFSA Screening Tool for High School Counselors
This FAFSA screening tool is intended to help counselors and other school staff identify if students are experiencing homelessness or in foster care before they fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Follow these steps and ask your students these questions to identify if they are independent students, meaning they do not need to include their parental information on the FAFSA.

Sample Form Letters to Determine Independent Student Status of Unaccompanied Homeless Youth for the FAFSA
Federal law (the McKinney-Vento Act) requires school district homeless liaisons to inform unaccompanied homeless youth of their status as independent students for financial aid (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA) and help them obtain verification of that status. To help implement this policy, we’ve prepared a sample form letter (Microsoft Word). This form letter may be edited as appropriate for your school district, institution of higher education, shelter, transitional living program, or street outreach program.

Financial Aid for Youth Who are Homeless (or At Risk of Homelessness) and On Their Own
This resource contains a flowchart to help students see if they qualify as an independent student because they are an unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness, or at risk of homelessness. It provides examples of who can make determinations of their status, as well as email templates.

Tips for Helping Homeless Youth Succeed in College: Accessing Financial Aid
This living document contains strategies that schools, community agencies, and colleges can use to help students access and maintain their financial aid. 

I Work in Higher Education

Another FAFSA Delay: Implications for Homeless and Foster Youth and Those Who Serve Them
This resource offers strategies to navigate these hurdles, drawing on advice from financial aid experts and SHC’s own advocacy efforts.

Inform Students about the FAFSA: Use This Email Template
The new 2024-2025 FAFSA is available now. Use this email template to inform students that the FAFSA is out and what materials they need to fill it out. It is important to let students know how to fill out the FAFSA as soon as they can, so they can pursue postsecondary education with as much financial as possible.

How to Prep for the 2024-2025 FAFSA
The 2024-2025 FAFSA is now fully available to students and parents following its ‘soft launch’ on December 31, 2023, which was a three-month delay from the usual October 1st release date. With all these new changes, we urge our network to be proactive and prep for the 24-25 FAFSA with these strategies.

Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Determination: A Template for Financial Aid Administrators
Financial aid administrators have the responsibility to make determinations of unaccompanied homeless youth if youth are unable to get determinations from other entities. The determination must be made based on the legal definitions of homeless and unaccompanied, and independently from the reasons that the student is an unaccompanied homeless youth, or is a youth who is unaccompanied, at risk of homelessness, and self-supporting. This template can be used by financial aid administrators to make unaccompanied homeless youth determinations.

Sample Form Letters to Determine Independent Student Status of Unaccompanied Homeless Youth for the FAFSA
Federal law (the McKinney-Vento Act) requires school district homeless liaisons to inform unaccompanied homeless youth of their status as independent students for financial aid (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA) and help them obtain verification of that status. To help implement this policy, we’ve prepared a sample form letter (Microsoft Word). This form letter may be edited as appropriate for your school district, institution of higher education, shelter, transitional living program, or street outreach program.

Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Written Statement: A Template for Financial Aid Administrators
This template is for financial aid administrators requesting written statements for students requesting an unaccompanied homeless youth determination.

Tips for Helping Homeless Youth Succeed in College: Accessing Financial Aid
These are strategies schools, community agencies, and colleges can use to help students access and maintain their financial aid. 

How Emergency Aid Can Prevent Homelessness Among College Students
Emergency aid programs offer financial resources for students who face an unexpected crisis that could prevent them from completing their academic term. These programs can be helpful for all college students, but they are especially critical for those experiencing homelessness or those who are at risk of becoming homeless. This SchoolHouse Connection brief provides examples of emergency aid programs and offers strategies for streamlining services.

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Policy

DCL Gen-23-06: Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Determinations
On April 14, 2023, the U.S. Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague Letter that announces changes from the FAFSA Simplification Act that will go into effect for the 2023-2024 FAFSA award year. View the list of changes here.

The FAFSA Simplification Act: Youth Experiencing Homelessness and Youth with Experience in Foster Care
The FAFSA Simplification Act (enacted as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 and updated by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022) aims to remove many of the barriers faced by youth experiencing homelessness or with experience in foster care. The new provisions for homeless and foster youth are in effect for the 2023-2024 award year, here’s a summary of the changes.

DCL GEN-22-15: FAFSA Simplification Act Changes for Implementation in 2023-24
On November 4, the U.S. Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague Letter that announces changes from the FAFSA Simplification Act that will go into effect for the 2023-2024 FAFSA award year. View the list of changes here

Research

Below are SchoolHouse Connection’s Analysis of FAFSA Data Report:

  • *Published in 2022* “Working Harder Just to Be Seen and Heard:” Barriers to Financial Aid for Homeless and Foster Youth
    This new SchoolHouse Connection report documents a significant drop in the number of unaccompanied homeless youth and foster youth FAFSA determinations, and an alarming increase in the number of FAFSA applicants who requested homeless youth determinations, but did not receive them. It comes just days before the new FAFSA is released on October 1, and yet the U.S. Department of Education has not yet implemented critical changes to the FAFSA for homeless and foster youth.
  • *Published in 2020* FAFSA & Homeless Youth: Challenges + Recommendations in the COVID-19 Era
    This SchoolHouse Connection report examines six years of financial aid data for unaccompanied homeless youth. These data demonstrate continued barriers to financial aid access – barriers that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • *Published in 2018* Youth Homelessness and Higher Education: An Analysis of FAFSA Data
    This 2018 report examines a critical component of the basic needs of unaccompanied homeless youth in higher education: financial aid. Without financial aid, postsecondary education–their best hope for lasting housing stability–is simply out of reach.
  • *Published in 2017* “This is How I’m Going to Make a Life for Myself:” An Analysis of FAFSA Data and Barriers to Financial Aid for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth
    This 2017 report analyzes data from the U.S. Department of Education that provide important insights into the challenges that unaccompanied homeless youth face in accessing federal financial aid. The data also provide baseline information to assess states’ progress in implementing important new provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that were enacted to help students experiencing homelessness transition from high school to postsecondary education. We conclude our analysis with recommendations for policy and practice, including the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

GAO Report – Actions Needed to Improve Access to Federal Financial Assistance for Homeless and Foster Youth
In May 2016 the GAO found that burdensome program rules can hinder the ability of homeless and foster youth to access federal supports; extensive documentation requests can impede access to aid for homeless youth; annual re-verification of homelessness poses barriers for unaccompanied homeless youth; and that limited academic preparation, family support, and awareness of resources make it harder for homeless and foster youth to pursue college.

John Burton Advocates for Youth Report – The Overlooked Obstacle: How Satisfactory Academic Progress Policies Impede Student Success and Equity
This report explores the impact of SAP standards and policies on financial aid with specific attention to students of color, experience in foster care, and homelessness.