4 Ways to Help Homeless Students Overcome Barriers to Scholarship Funding

A young women holds money on a college campus.

For many young people, especially homeless youth who are supporting themselves, a scholarship can make the difference between going to college and making do without a degree. But because many of these young people have GEDs rather than high school diplomas, they can hit roadblocks when applying for funding. Obstacles can include difficulty getting parental permission, the lack of a GPA, and incomplete transcripts.

We spoke to Cyekeia Lee, director of higher education initiatives at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, who has helped a number of young people apply for college and scholarships. Lee says many scholarships go unclaimed, so it’s in young people’s interest to apply. Here are her tips for social service professionals and educators helping youth navigate the scholarship application process.

1. Tell youth to call the funder for clarification. If the scholarship guidelines call for something the young person doesn’t have, like a complete high school transcript or parental information, it doesn’t hurt to call and find out if alternative documents can be used, Lee says.

“[Scholarship administrators] will either say, ‘Here’s how to do it,’ or ‘No, you absolutely have to have it,’” she says.

2. Advise youth to take the ACT or SAT. Lee says sometimes solid standardized test scores can make up for a missing or low GPA.

3. Help youth tell their stories. Not all scholarships require an essay, but Lee says NAEHCY’s scholarship for homeless youth does, and reviewers play close attention to a young person’s narrative.

“Sometimes students can have a powerful essay along with letters of support to show why they left school and their intention once they reach college,” Lee says. “That’s their time to sell themselves and paint a picture of who they are and where they want to go next.”

4. Encourage them to try again next year. If the young person has enough financial support to attend their freshman year, they can focus on getting a good GPA. Then they can apply for scholarship funds from their college or university for their sophomore year, Lee says.

Find scholarships and grant opportunities for youth in our Funding Opportunities section.

More about youth who overcame homelessness and went to college:

"Cyndi Lauper and Others Raise Awareness of Youth Homelessness"

"Runaway and Homeless Youth Grab Spotlight at National Press Club"

"Youth Speak Out: The Value of Permanent Connections"

"NCFY Voices: Making it From the Streets to the Classroom"

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