Federal 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 Federal 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

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.

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.

In this three part video series, we will walk you through the definition of an unaccompanied homeless youth, the documentation you will need to submit to the financial aid office, and tips and tricks to help you complete your financial aid.

I Work in K-12 or Homeless Services

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.

Five Strategies to Help Homeless Youth Transition to College During COVID-19
The COVID-19 crisis requires McKinney-Vento liaisons and other educators to think creatively about how to carry out their responsibilities to help youth experiencing homelessness transition to higher education. Here are five strategies to help keep the dream of a postsecondary education alive for youth experiencing homelessness, during and beyond these troubled times.

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

Removing Barriers to Financial Aid: Guidance on Verification of Non-FIling and Form W-2
Unaccompanied homeless youth and foster youth face challenges in obtaining tax documentation for the FAFSA. These students have had difficulty obtaining the Verification of Non-Filing (VNF) and IRS Form W-2. This ED guidance reminds institutions of other documentation that it is acceptable to complete verification for non-tax filers and extensions filers.  

The FAFSA: Four Things You Can Do to Help Homeless and Foster Youth
Whether you work in K-12, higher education, child welfare, or homeless services, the release of the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on October 1 is an important date. This brief provides concrete ways to help youth experiencing homelessness and youth from foster care, as well as practical resources.

I Work in Higher Education

How Financial Aid Administrators Can Respond to COVID-19’s Impact on Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Seeking Financial Aid
The COVID-19 crisis has created new barriers to financial aid for unaccompanied homeless youth. But with support from financial aid and other supportive higher education professionals, these students can continue making their dreams of a college education come true. Here are relatively simple ways that financial aid administrators (FAAs) can help to remove barriers for these vulnerable students. 

Making Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Determinations: A Tool for Financial Aid Administrators
This tool from the National Center for Homeless Education can be completed by a financial aid administrator who is evaluating a student’s eligibility for independent student status.  

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. 

Application and Verification Guide 2020-2021
The U.S. Department of Education’s Application and Verification provides guidance to financial aid administrators, including guidance specifically about unaccompanied homeless youth. 

July 2015 Dear Colleague Letter about Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Determinations
This 2015 letter provides guidance for financial aid administrators on the definition of homelessness, how to make determinations, and documentation.

Removing Barriers to Financial Aid: Guidance on Verification of Non-FIling and Form W-2
Unaccompanied homeless youth and foster youth face challenges in obtaining tax documentation for the FAFSA. These students have had difficulty obtaining the Verification of Non-Filing (VNF) and IRS Form W-2. This ED guidance reminds institutions of other documentation that it is acceptable to complete verification for non-tax filers and extensions filers.  

The FAFSA: Four Things You Can Do to Help Homeless and Foster Youth
Whether you work in K-12, higher education, child welfare, or homeless services, the release of the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on October 1 is an important date. This brief provides concrete ways to help youth experiencing homelessness and youth from foster care, as well as practical resources.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) Removing Barriers and Increasing Access to Financial Aid for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Webinar
On May 5, 2020, we held a webinar on removing barriers and increasing access to financial aid for unaccompanied homeless youth in partnership with NASFAA. This document contains the most frequently asked questions presented during the webinar. Answers have been provided by SchoolHouse Connection.

Policy

July 2015 Dear Colleague Letter about Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Determinations
This 2015 letter provides guidance for financial aid administrators on the definition of homelessness, how to make determinations, and documentation.

Application and Verification Guide 2020-2021
The U.S. Department of Education’s Application and Verification provides guidance to financial aid administrators, including guidance specifically about unaccompanied homeless youth. 

Removing Barriers to Financial Aid: Guidance on Verification of Non-FIling and Form W-2
Unaccompanied homeless youth and foster youth face challenges in obtaining tax documentation for the FAFSA. These students have had difficulty obtaining the Verification of Non-Filing (VNF) and IRS Form W-2. This ED guidance reminds institutions of other documentation that it is acceptable to complete verification for non-tax filers and extensions filers. 

Research

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.

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.

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.

“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.

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