Homelessness and Special Circumstances

Let’s face it—when it comes to financial aid for college, no one’s circumstances are the same. That’s why it’s so important to know your options when it’s time to submit your Free Application for Financial Aid or FAFSA. We’ll discuss three situations that may raise additional questions as you’re completing this application.


The FAFSA asks up to three questions about homelessness. They all ask if you’ve been determined to be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless any time since July 1 of the year prior to the academic year for which you will need financial aid for college. This determination can be given by 1) a high school or district homeless liaison, 2) a director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or 3) a director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program.

A student is considered unaccompanied if he or she is not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. A student is considered homeless if he or she lacks fixed, regular and adequate housing. This includes students who are living in shelters, motels, cars or parks, or who are temporarily living with other people because they have nowhere else to go. Students are also considered homeless if they are fleeing an abusive parent who would otherwise provide the student with financial support and a place to live.

If you answer yes to any one of the questions about homelessness, you’ll be considered an independent student; therefore, you won’t have to provide your parents’ income information on your FAFSA. Later, you may be asked by a financial aid administrator to provide a copy of the homeless youth determination. If you did not receive a determination provided by one of the officials listed above, you’ll be considered a dependent student on the FAFSA, but you may ask a financial aid administrator to consider making their own determination. The administrator will probably ask you for additional documentation from those who are familiar with your situation before reaching a decision.

When providing a street address on your FAFSA, follow these instructions given by the U.S. Department of Education: “You must provide a mailing address where you can reliably receive mail. Your mailing address can be the address of a relative or friend who has given you permission to use it, or it can be the address of your college. If you want to use your college address, you must contact the school for permission and instructions to ensure that your mail reaches you.” Don’t forget to update your FAFSA later when you find more permanent housing.

For more information and a list of additional resources for homeless students, read Questions and Answers: Federal Student Aid and Homeless Youth from StudentAid.gov.

Unable to Provide Parental Information

There are times when a dependent student may not be able to provide information about their parents’ income and assets due to special circumstances. If you’re in this situation, you’ll be given the opportunity to say you’re unable to provide parental information. Common reasons for this are: you had to leave home due to abuse, abandonment or neglect; your parents are deceased and you haven’t been adopted; or you have no contact with your parents and you don’t know how to reach them. If one of these special circumstances applies to you, or there is another extreme situation you believe would qualify you as an independent student, submit your FAFSA without parental information, and then contact the financial aid office at your college of interest to discuss your options. Ask what you would need to do to be considered an independent student due to your current circumstances. Only a financial aid officer is able to change your dependency status.

Decreased Income

You’ll be using your 2020 income information on your 2022-23 FAFSA. If your income (or that of your parents) now is currently less than it was in 2020, you may ask your financial aid administrator about reducing the amount of the income on your FAFSA to more accurately reflect your current situation. First, submit your FAFSA with the accurate information that you reported in 2020, and then call the financial aid office at your college of interest to ask if they can adjust your income to your current level. They will ask for proof of your current income, consider your request and let you know if they can make that change. Only a financial aid officer is able to make a change to the income reported on your FAFSA for this reason.

More and more attention is being given to students who are challenged by circumstances beyond their control. Remember that the financial aid office at your college is on your side, and it will do whatever it can within the laws that govern financial aid and within school policies to remove obstacles that may stand in your way. We wish you the best as you begin your journey to a brighter future!