Ask NCFY: Helping Unaccompanied Youth Apply for Financial Aid
Q: I work with homeless youth who are applying for college and need federal financial aid. Can they apply for student loans or grants without a parent's signature?
A: Yes. Young people can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, as unaccompanied homeless youth if they
- meet the McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness (not having fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence);
- support themselves financially; and
- are 21 years or younger or still enrolled in high school.
Young people who meet all three criteria can apply for a financial aid package based on their own income and sign their own paperwork, says Jan Moore, program specialist at the National Center for Homeless Education. “For students who cannot access their parents' financial records, it can be the difference between getting and not getting financial aid,” she says.
The fact that youth are homeless and supporting themselves must be verified by one of three people:
- the director or designee at a federally funded homeless youth shelter;
- a designated McKinney-Vento liaison (usually a guidance counselor or social worker in the student's school district); or
- a college financial aid administrator.
If you represent a shelter funded by the Family and Youth Services Bureau or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or if you are your school district's McKinney-Vento liaison, you can verify a youths' status using the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth's "Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Verification for the Purposes of Federal Financial Aid," which is posted on the association's higher education resources page.
What if you do not represent a federally funded homeless youth shelter or a school district, and your youth has been unable to get a letter from from their high school or shelter? In that case, Moore says, the youth should indicate on their FAFSA that they’re unaccompanied and homeless. Then, they should contact the financial aid offices at their prospective colleges to ask what information they’ll need.
If youth run into any challenges getting verification, Moore suggests they contact the National Center for Homeless Education. Center staff can provide students with information to share with financial aid administrators, including a tool that helps determine eligibility (PDF, 349KB).
The federal deadline for submitting applications is June 30, but some states have deadlines as early as April 15 this year. Moore recommends that students fill out the FAFSA online because it’s easier to clearly indicate their status.
If we haven't answered all your questions, contact the National Center for Homeless Education helpline at 800-308-2145 or firstname.lastname@example.org.