FAFSA & Financial Aid for
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Are you a student living on your own in a temporary housing situation? If you are living on your own without your parents, you may be an “independent student” on the FAFSA. You won’t need a parent’s help to get financial aid. But you will need help from other adults. Here’s how to get the college money you deserve.
Latest Update: February 9, 2023
Are you homeless and applying for college? The process can feel intimidating, to say the least. And finding money to go to school is a big part of the challenge.
Just know: Students in many different types of temporary housing situations are considered “homeless.” You may be staying with friends or family because you had to leave your parents’ home. Or maybe you are on your own because you felt unsafe living with your family.
There is a lot of help out there — and many, many thousands of homeless students successfully enroll in (and graduate from) college every year.
To get started, it’s important to figure out if your living situation meets the government’s definition of “homelessness.” If it does, you will be able to fill out the FAFSA as an independent student and possibly get additional aid or support from the college you wish to attend.
What to know about college financial aid
First, it’s helpful to get the big picture. Like all students, you will need to fill out the FAFSA to get college money. Check out the FAFSA’s Q&A for homeless students. This three-pager summarizes the information you need to know to successfully apply for federal student aid.
Second, if you’re in temporary housing and not living with a parent, you can apply for college money on your own, without your parents’ help. The online FAFSA form will ask if you are homeless. Simply click “yes.” You will be able to fill out the form. You won’t be asked for your parents’ financial information or signature.
Third, you will need to prove you are homeless to someone in the financial aid office at the college you wish to attend. See the steps below. Your school district and your college are required to help you with the FAFSA and financial aid. And they want to help you. Seek out assistance from adults you trust.
Last, you don’t need a home address to apply for college or for financial aid. But you do need a mailing address where you can reliably pick up mail. Ask a friend, relative, teacher, or counselor. Staff at your college can also help with this.
Working with colleges to get financial aid
You don’t need to prove you are homeless on the FAFSA form, but your college will need this proof. Ask your high school teachers or counselors to help you get the paperwork you will need.
Colleges need to know that you are truly independent of your parents. They will ask for a “homeless youth determination” letter.
If you are a high school student, you can get this letter from someone in your high school. Ask your college counselor or a teacher to introduce you to the school’s “homeless liaison.” Every school or school district is required to have one. This person will talk to you and write your letter.
How to find the homeless liaison at your high school: A high school counselor or social worker should know the right person to talk to. (This person may also be called a McKinney-Vento liaison, named after the law protecting homeless students.) If the school is not helpful, you can find a directory of state officials and local liaisons through this page on SchoolHouse Connection, a great site for homeless students. Click the purple box to get an up-to-date directory of contacts.
There are others who can write this letter for you as well. But start with your high school.
If you can’t find someone to help you with your homeless determination letter, call the financial aid office of the college you wish to attend. You can speak with a financial aid administrator about getting the proof you need.
(Tip: If you like the folks in your college financial aid office, stay in close touch. There are many ways they can help you pay for college and get through school successfully.)
More about money and housing
Need more money? You may qualify for any number of scholarships out there. Here is a link to some scholarships reserved for students temporary housing. Check out SchoolHouse Connection’s youth leadership and scholarship program. And be sure to look at other scholarships that may be a good fit. Here is a recent review of some of the bigger scholarship websites and another list with some nonprofit sites.
Need state aid? Find out what kind of grants your state offers to college students. Then email to ask what is available for “unaccompanied homeless youth.” There may be more aid or different strategies for applying. Many states have special college programs for students who are homeless or in foster care.
Need housing? Talk to your college financial office to see if the school provides either emergency funding or housing. Many do. (If they do offer housing, ask if your college offers “gap” housing during school breaks.) You might also be eligible for programs and resources specifically for homeless students. Check out this helpful list of runaway and homeless youth programs available in each state.
Need more support? Depending on your location, local organizations may help you get housing and support in college. There are social services you can apply for, including SNAP (aka food stamps), Medicaid, and Section 8 housing.
Start with SchoolHouse Connection. It is a terrific resource for high school and college students.
All of this might feel a bit overwhelming, but don’t get discouraged. Look for people who understand your situation. You should feel proud for doing this work. You will get the college education you deserve.
More Help for Homeless Students
Tools & Resources
Proving You’re Homeless? Sample Letters for Colleges Colleges need an official letter from someone in your school or your community proving that you are homeless. These sample letters make it easy to write a letter for you.
Colleges need an official letter from someone in your school or your community proving that you are homeless. These sample letters make it easy to write a letter for you.
Your Rights as a Homeless Student Staying with someone else because you had to leave home? Living in a motel, campground, shelter, or anywhere outside? You have special rights at your school. Learn about them.
Staying with someone else because you had to leave home? Living in a motel, campground, shelter, or anywhere outside? You have special rights at your school. Learn about them.
Financial Aid and Homeless Students: Questions & Answers For the best info: Check out the federal government’s official Q&A for homeless students. Here’s what you need to do to get financial help from colleges.
For the best info: Check out the federal government’s official Q&A for homeless students. Here’s what you need to do to get financial help from colleges.
This Year’s FAFSA: Five Tips for Helping Students Helping students complete the FAFSA will take extra attention and effort this year. Here are five tips for helping students who are homeless or in foster care fill out the FAFSA.
Helping students complete the FAFSA will take extra attention and effort this year. Here are five tips for helping students who are homeless or in foster care fill out the FAFSA.
Help for Adults Working with Homeless Students This New York State site is packed with information & training materials for educators and community members (in any state) who assist children and teens experiencing homelessness.
This New York State site is packed with information & training materials for educators and community members (in any state) who assist children and teens experiencing homelessness.
Posters Promoting FAFSA & College The National Center on Homeless Education offers free posters & other materials for students about the FAFSA and financial aid. Helpful in schools, shelters, or any community location.
The National Center on Homeless Education offers free posters & other materials for students about the FAFSA and financial aid. Helpful in schools, shelters, or any community location.