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

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. 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.

I am a Youth Under 24 Who Is Experiencing Homelessness

How to Answer FAFSA Questions About Homelessness
You must fill out a new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year that you’re applying for college. If you are an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or at risk of being homeless, you will need to provide additional documentation every year. This resource will help you navigate answering the questions about homelessness and how to request that additional documentation.

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
This resource contains a flowchart to help you determine if you are an independent student as unaccompanied youth. It provides examples of who can make this determination and email templates.  

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 Student 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

Inform Students About the FAFSA: Use This Email Template
It is important to remind all students that the FAFSA is available so they can pursue postsecondary education with as much financial aid as possible. Direct outreach to unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness is crucial. The email template can be used to inform students that the 2023-2024 FAFSA is available starting October 1, 2022  and specific steps to help them complete the application. 

Don’t Forget the FAFSA: 5 Quick Tips for Liaisons
One of the homeless liaison’s responsibilities is informing unaccompanied homeless youth (youth who are not in the physical custody of their parents or guardians) of their status as independent students for the FAFSA, and helping them receive FAFSA determinations. Liaisons can help implement this responsibility – which is even more important in light of the disruption caused by the pandemic – by following these five steps.

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

Inform Students Experiencing Homelessness of the FAFSA: Use This Email Template
It is important to remind all students that the FAFSA is available so they can pursue postsecondary education with as much financial aid as possible. Direct outreach to unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness is crucial. The email template can be used to inform students that the 2023-2024 FAFSA is available starting October 1, 2022  and specific steps to help them complete the application.

Making Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Determination: A Tool for Financial Aid Administrators (2022-2023 School Year; 2023-2024 School Year)
This tool from the National Center for Homeless Education, which operates as the U.S. Department of Education’s technical assistance center for the federal Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) Program, can be completed by a financial aid administrator who is evaluating a student’s eligibility for independent student status. 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.

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.

Policy

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.

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