Higher education can be a promising path out of poverty. However, students who experience homelessness or an unstable home life often have to overcome barriers to access financial aid. Some students have difficulty applying for school and scholarships, while others are unable to complete their secondary education. Despite these challenges, there are many resources for students experiencing homelessness to succeed and achieve their goals.
For students who are on track to graduate high school and are preparing to attend college, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step they should take. When they complete the form, they will be asked if they’re homeless, at risk of becoming homeless or an unaccompanied youth. If they answer “yes” to being at risk of homelessness, they won’t need to provide parental financial information. The student will be then be labeled “independent” on the FAFSA. After the application has been submitted, most financial aid offices will require documentation proving that the student has been declared an unaccompanied or homeless youth.
It’s important to note that students should secure a reliable mailing address in order to receive financial aid and college information. This can be a family member’s or friend’s address, if needed. For additional information on filling out the FAFSA as an unaccompanied youth, click visit StudentAid.gov
Students who are unsure if they are classified as an unaccompanied youth can contact their high school counselor, their college financial aid office or the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) Higher Education Helpline at 855.446.2673. NAEHCY is a good resource for students in special circumstances to find educational and personal support in their state. Students can visit the NAEHCY website to find their state’s coordinator, learn about specific opportunities that can help them reach their goals, and access additional scholarships and academic resources. Additionally, most high schools have a homeless liaison that will work directly with students. If you aren’t sure who your district’s homeless liaison is, ask a teacher or counselor to help.
Often, a student’s basic needs should be met before they can pursue higher education. Programs like Pivot in Oklahoma City provide services that help young people find security by giving them access to basic necessities and housing solutions. Pivot also provides education and job assistance, prevention and intervention, and therapeutic care. For more information on Pivot’s resources visit www.pivotok.org.