Other Tips for Unique Situations

There are certain questions on the FAFSA that may cause difficulty for students in unique situations. Below are tips for some of these questions based on different scenarios that can help you determine how to answer. The most important advice about filing the FAFSA is to ask for help if you need it and remember that the application is free, so you should never have to pay someone for FAFSA filing advice or services. If you still have questions about how to answer a certain question, please contact the Husker Hub at huskerhub@unl.edu or call 402-472-2030.

Question and Step numbers refer to the paper FAFSA. Please note that some questions on the paper FAFSA do not appear on the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet. Answering yes to any question in Step Three on the FAFSA means that you will be treated as an independent student and will not need to provide parental information on the FAFSA.

2020-21 FAFSA: Tips for Wards of the Court, Foster Youth, Homelessness

Question #44i - Step 2 - "Money paid on my behalf"

Q: I am a single mom with one child and will get free day care for my child (from a grandmother, aunt, or free day care center) while I go to college. Does the value of this free childcare have to be reported on the FAFSA?

A: No, this service is not income and the information is not collected on the FAFSA. However, note that you need to let the financial aid administrator at your college know that you are receiving free dependent care; an allowance for dependent care may not be added to your cost of attendance because it is not an expense you are incurring.

Question #50 - Step 3 - "Do you now have or will you have children who will receive more than half of their support from you between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021?"

Q: I have a child who will be living with me and I will receive assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Do I answer “Yes” to Question #50? Are TANF or welfare benefits considered to be like earned income?

A: TANF benefits count as support that you provide to your child. It is not earned income and it is not reported on the FAFSA. You should answer “Yes” to Question #50, as long as you provide more than half of the child’s support.

Question #52 - Step 3 - "At any time since you turned age 13, were both of your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court?"

Q: I am a ward of the court who graduated from high school and then went to live with my mother for two months. Did I lose my independent status?

A: A student is considered independent if he or she is a ward of the court, or was a ward of the court, at any time when the individual was age 13 or older. If your ward of the court status changed before you reached age 13, you may be considered dependent on your parent. You should talk about your situation with the financial aid administrator at your college who will help you determine your correct dependency status.

Q: I am a dependent child of the court of my county. Is this the same as a “ward” of the court?

A: The term “ward” is used to mean “dependent” of the court. You are a ward of the court (regardless of whether this status is determined by the county or state) if the court has assumed custody of you. You should have court ordered documents that designate you a ward of the court.

Q: I am no longer under the court because my foster parents took legal guardianship of me a few years ago. However, my foster parents do not support me with their own financial resources. They still get a foster care check each month for me. How do I answer Question #52?

A: If you were in foster care at any time when you were 13 or older, answer “Yes” to Question #52. If you are in a legal guardianship, answer “Yes” to Question #54. Note: Neither legal guardians nor foster parents are considered parents when completing the FAFSA. This means you do not list their income and household size information on your FAFSA.

Q: I turned 18 and graduated, so my court case was closed. My college is saying I am no longer an independent student because I am no longer a ward of the court. Am I considered dependent or independent?

A: You are considered independent if you were a ward of the court, at any time, when you were age 13 or older. This means you should check “Yes” to Question #52, if you were a ward of the court when you were age 13 or older.

Question #53 - Step 3 - “As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you an emancipated minor?”

Q: I was emancipated at age 15 and lived with my aunt and uncle during my last semester of high school. How should I complete the FAFSA?

A: If you have a copy of a court order stating you are an emancipated minor, answer “Yes” to Question #53 and complete the FAFSA as an independent student. The court must be located in your state of legal residence. If the court order is no longer in effect and you have not reached the age of majority for your state of legal residence, answer “No” to Question #53. Complete the FAFSA as a dependent student if you answer “No” to the remaining questions on the paper FAFSA.

Q: My grandparents are my court-appointed, legal guardians. They have provided support for me all my life. How do I complete the FAFSA?

A: If you have a copy of a court order stating you are in a legal guardianship, answer “Yes” to Question #53 and complete the FAFSA as an independent student. The court must be located in your state of legal residence. If the court order is no longer in effect and you have not reached the age of majority for your state of legal residence, answer “No” to Question #53. Complete the FAFSA as a dependent student if you answer “No” to the remaining questions on the paper FAFSA.

Question #55 - Step 3 - “At any time on or after July 1, 2019, did your high school or school district homeless liaison determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?”

Q: I became homeless during my senior year in high school. Am I considered an independent student?

A: You are considered an independent student if you received a determination any time on or after July 1, 2019, that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless. The financial aid administrator at your college may require you to provide a copy of the determination or other documentation. If you are not sure you have a determination, but you believe you are an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or are an unaccompanied youth providing your own living expenses who is at risk of being homeless, contact your high school’s homeless liaison for assistance. Contact your college’s financial aid office for assistance if your high school’s homeless liaison did not make a determination. “Youth” means that you are 21 years of age or less or are still enrolled in high school as of the day you sign the FAFSA. “Unaccompanied” means you are not living in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. “Homeless” means lacking fixed, regular, and adequate housing, including living in shelters, motels, cars, and temporarily with other people because you have nowhere else to go.

Question #56 - Step 3 - “At any time on or after July 1, 2019, did the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?”

Q: I lived in an emergency shelter last year. How do I complete the FAFSA?

A: Answer “Yes” to Question #56 if you received a determination any time on or after July 1, 2019, that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless. The financial aid administrator at your college may require you to provide a copy of the determination or other documentation. If you are not sure you have a determination, but you believe you are an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or are an unaccompanied youth providing your own living expenses who is at risk of being homeless, contact the director of the emergency shelter for assistance. Contact your college’s financial aid office for assistance if the shelter director did not make a determination. “Youth” means that you are 21 years of age or less or are still enrolled in high school as of the day you sign the FAFSA. “Unaccompanied” means you are not living in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. “Homeless” means lacking fixed, regular, and adequate housing, including living in shelters, motels, cars, and temporarily with other people because you have nowhere else to go.

Question #57 - Step 3 - “At any time on or after July 1, 2019, did the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?”

Q: My mom died a few years ago and I have no contact with my dad. I am in a transitional living program. How do I complete the FAFSA? Am I an independent student?

A: Answer “Yes” to Question #57 if you received a determination any time on or after July 1, 2019, that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or at risk of being homeless. The financial aid administrator at your college may require you to provide a copy of the determination or other documentation. If you are not sure you have a determination, but you believe you are an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or are an unaccompanied youth providing your own living expenses who is at risk of being homeless, contact the director of the youth center or transitional housing program for assistance. Contact your college’s financial aid office for assistance if the director of the youth center or transitional housing program did not make a determination. “Youth” means that you are 21 years of age or less or are still enrolled in high school as of the day you sign the FAFSA. “Unaccompanied” means you are not living in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. “Homeless” means lacking fixed, regular, and adequate housing, including living in shelters, motels, cars, and temporarily with other people because you have nowhere else to go.

Question #94 - Step 5 - “How many people are in your household?”

Q: I live with my foster parents and their children. Are they my “family members?”

A: No. If you are considered independent (for example, because you are in foster care), and you have no dependent children of your own, you are a family of one (yourself).

Question #103 - Step 7 - Signatures

Q: I have filled out this form as an independent student because I am a ward of the court. Do I need my father’s or mother’s signature? I do not live with them, but I see them sometimes.

A: No. Because of your status as a ward of the  court, you are considered an independent student and a parental signature is not required.

Tips for Adult Learners

I have never been to college before and I don’t know how I am going to pay for everything. Where do I start?

The first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) at www.studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa.This will allow the school of your choice to determine how much assistance they can provide. This is also a great time to start making a budget. There are budget tools at www.studentaid.ed.gov/sa/prepare-for-college/budgeting that can help you start this important step of the college planning process. You should also contact the financial aid offices at the schools you are considering for more information about available aid, applications, and deadlines. 

I was recently laid off from my job and am looking at going back to school for retraining. Are there any resources available?

Yes, there are resources available. There is a question on the FAFSA about whether or not you are a dislocated worker. If you meet the criteria, answer this question “Yes.” Also, you should locate the office that administers the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Dislocated Worker Program in your city and/or state. The office is different in every state; however, places like Job Service and Job Source could be potential participants. The WIA Program can help pay for tuition, fees, books, and other expenses.

My student loans are currently in default. How can I go back to school and receive financial aid?

You should contact the holder(s) of your student loans. If you do not know who the holder(s) of your loans are, or you do not have their contact information, log into nslds.ed.gov/nslds/nslds_SA/. You will be able to see who holds your loans and who you need to contact about setting up payment arrangements to return your loans to good standing. Unless the outstanding loan amount is paid in full, you must arrange to make six consecutive, full, on time, voluntary payments to return defaulted student loans to good standing and regain eligibility for federal financial aid. Another option is to consolidate your student loans with Federal Direct Student Loans (Direct Loans) at www.studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/consolidation. If you want to attend school while restoring your loans to repayment status, you will need to check with your school to see if it will set up a payment plan for you for your institutional charges. Each school is different, so you need to check on this before enrolling to know your options. You should also apply for any scholarships that are available. To find more information about returning your student loans to good standing, visit myeddebt.ed.gov/borrower/ and www.finaid.org/loans/rehabilitation.phtml.

I am going through foreclosure on my home. How will this affect my ability to receive a student loan?

As long as you file the FAFSA and meet all applicable eligibility criteria, you will be able to receive a Direct Loan. Your credit is not considered when you apply for a Direct Subsidized Loan or Direct Unsubsidized Loan.

I am a single parent and have children. I can’t afford daycare to attend school – how can I make this work?

Some schools have daycare facilities available on-campus for their students. Check on this while you are going through the admissions process to see if you need to get on a waitlist. You might also want to consider taking online courses that allow you the flexibility to take courses without leaving your home. Some states also have agencies that will help cover the cost of daycare during the hours you are in class. It is best that you check with your school to see what kind of resources might be available to you. Talk with the financial aid office about having dependent care expenses (including daycare costs) added to your budget so financial aid can help cover the cost.

I do not have any means of transportation to attend school – how can I make this work?

Depending on the size of the school and the city where it is located, you might be able to use public transportation. There are also programs available in some states that will help provide gas money to students. Another option is the availability of taking online coursework. The budget used to calculate your eligibility for financial aid will include an allowance for transportation if you are enrolled at least half time.

I am having a difficult time paying rent. Are there any programs that can help me pay my rent?

Check with your local housing authority for low income housing options and the availability of Section 8 housing vouchers. There is also some good information on www.hud.gov/ regarding resources for housing. Some campuses also provide resident halls or family housing which might be more affordable than off-campus housing. Your financial aid budget includes an allowance for housing, so your financial aid can also be used to help pay rent.

Computers are a problem for me. I’m not good with computers and I don’t have one at home. Most of my financial aid forms require me to use a computer. What should I do?

If you don’t have a computer, go to your local library. It probably has one with Internet access you can use for free. If you are unfamiliar with using the internet there are many websites that can help you, including www.gcflearnfree.org/topics/internet/. This website helps you with computer, internet and software basics. Don’t be afraid of computers. They are really hard to break. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially from the younger generation. They tend to be very good at using computers. Your state may also offer a FAFSA completion event, e.g. College Goal Sunday, FAFSA Completion Challenge. Financial aid professionals volunteer to help students file FAFSAs at these events. Contact your local college or search the internet for a program located near you.

My income tax return shows that I made more money than what I will be making if I go to school. Can my current income be used to determine my financial aid?

If your income will be reduced when you start school, you should contact your financial aid office right away. They may ask you for documentation of the change in your income to project your financial resources for either the academic or calendar year. The financial aid office may use this information to recalculate your eligibility for financial aid.

I have filed for bankruptcy or have bad credit. How will this affect my eligibility for financial aid?

Bankruptcy does not impact your eligibility for financial aid. Federal financial aid programs like the Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, Federal Work-Study, and Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans are awarded based on financial need, not credit standing.

Tips for Service-Members and Veterans

I was called to active duty during my second semester of college. Do I have to follow any special readmissions procedures now that I am ready to re-enroll?

Federal regulations prohibit schools from denying re-admission to a servicemember who wants to return. You can provide your school with either written or oral notice of your intent to return. You school must re-admit you at the same academic status you had when you left for your service. The school must also charge you the same tuition and fees per term when you come back.

I’m currently serving on active duty. In addition to my regular pay, what military benefits do I need to report on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®)?

You should report the value of taxable combat pay and special combat pay in Question 43. You should also report the value of any military living allowance you receive in Question 44, except the value of on-base housing or the value of a basic housing allowance. If you receive any non-education veteran’s benefits, you should include them in your response to Question 44, along with the value of Veteran Administration (VA) Educational WorkStudy allowances.

Does the fact that I receive a basic housing allowance impact my eligibility for financial aid?

Yes. The financial aid office determines your eligibility for aid in part on how much it will cost you to go to school. If you receive a basic housing allowance or live in on-base housing, your expenses or budget cannot include an allowance for housing.

I am eligible for Montgomery GI Bill® benefits to pay for college. Will these benefits affect my eligibility for financial aid?

Receiving federal veteran’s education benefits will not impact your eligibility for financial aid such as Federal Pell Grants and Direct Subsidized Loans. Your benefits may impact your eligibility for campus-based aid, state aid, and aid from your school. It would be a good idea to make an appointment with someone in the financial aid office to discuss your eligibility for state and institutional aid.

My mom was a nurse who died in Afghanistan in 2004. Are there any scholarships for the children of service-members who died in the line of duty?

You may be eligible for the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John D. Fry Scholarship. It is available to the children of service-members killed in the line of duty after 9/11/01. The amount of the scholarship is equal to the base payment under the Post 9/11 VA benefit program plus a monthly living stipend and book allowance. Recipients may receive funds for up to 36 months while they are between the ages of 18 and 33. For more information, visit gibill.custhelp.va.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/1411/related/1.

I finished high school recently and will be starting college soon. My dad, an Army officer, died in Iraq in 2007. I just filed a FAFSA on the Web and my confirmation page says I’m not eligible for a Federal Pell Grant. Are there any financial aid programs for students like me?

Yes. You may be eligible to receive an Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant (IASG). You can receive an IASG if you were 23 or younger or enrolled in postsecondary education when your parent or guardian died as a result of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11/01 while on military service. The amount of the IASG is the same as the maximum Federal Pell Grant. If you are eligible for an IASG, you will receive a special letter from the Department of Defense after your FAFSA is processed. For more information, visit www.studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/grants-scholarships/iraq-afghanistan-service.

I have applied for financial aid and have been selected for verification. My parents are divorced and my dad provided his information on my FAFSA. He is deployed in Iraq and did not have time to file a tax return before he left. How do I get the information I need for verification?

Under the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003 (HEROES), the Department of Education (ED) has waived or modified various federal financial aid requirements for certain individuals. To verify your dad’s income information, you should give your school a statement from your dad certifying he did not file a return and was not required to file an extension because he was called to active duty along with copies of all of his W-2 forms. For more information about waivers and modifications under the HEROES, please visit www.finaid.org/military/heroes.phtml.

I finished college a couple of years ago and taught science at a Title I school. I am a reservist and was called to active duty to serve in Afghanistan. How does my service affect my eligibility for teacher loan forgiveness? Do I have to teach for five consecutive years to qualify?

Under HEROES, ED has waived the requirement that qualifying service for loan cancellation must be uninterrupted for a borrower called to active duty. The time that you are on active duty, plus a three-month transition period, is not considered an interruption in the amount of time you need to teach in order to qualify for loan cancellation. For more information about waivers and modifications under the HEROES, please visit www.finaid.org/military/heroes.phtml.

I may be eligible to receive veteran’s education benefits from a couple of different programs. Where can I find more information about these programs?

There are many educational benefits available to servicemembers, their spouses and family members. For more information, please visit www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/education_programs.asp.

I recently graduated from college. Can the military help me repay my student loans?

The Army, Navy, and Air Force all offer student loan repayment programs. The total loan amount eligible for repayment varies among the services, and a borrower may need to meet other conditions. Only federal student loans are eligible. For more information, please see: www.goarmyed.com/public/public_money_for_collegeloan_repayment_program.aspx#eligibility (Army), www.navy.com/what-to-expect/education-opportunities/undergraduate-degree-opportunities (Navy), and www.airforce.com/careers/specialty-careers/jag/benefits/education-benefits (Air Force).

Will the Post 9/11 benefit affect my other financial aid?

A portion of Post 9/11 VA benefits are restricted to pay tuition and fees directly to the student’s postsecondary institution. Tuition fee waivers/remissions from nonfederal sources will supersede Post 9/11 tuition payments unless other arrangements have been made by the source with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

I finished college several years ago and am repaying my Direct Loans. My National Guard unit has been called to active duty and will soon deploy to Afghanistan. Are there any deferments available for borrowers called to active duty?

There are a couple of deferments available for borrowers who are or have served on active duty during a war, military operation, or national emergency. The first is the military service deferment, which is available to borrowers who are on active during the situations described above. If the borrower is on active duty on or after October 1, 2007, the deferment also includes an additional 180 days after the demobilization date for the qualifying service. The post-active duty deferment is available to borrowers called to active duty as a member of the National Guard and Armed Forces Reserves (including those who are retired) while enrolled at least half time or within six months of having been enrolled at least half time. This deferment is available for up to 13 months following the conclusion of active duty service or until the borrower re-enrolls at least half time. If a borrower qualifies for both the military service and post-active duty deferments, the deferments periods run concurrently.

Is there a good general source about veteran’s education assistance and active military education financing options?

You may want to check out The Military Advantage, by Terry Howell. A new edition is published by The U.S. Naval Institute Press each year.

Tips for Undocumented Students

I just finished high school and want to go to college. Will the fact that I am an undocumented student prevent me from continuing my education?

Generally speaking, your status will not prevent you from being admitted to college or a vocational program, or from enrolling in classes. Your status as an undocumented student limits the type of financial aid you receive and could impact your tuition charges (See Questions 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8 below).

I am an undocumented student, but I have lived in the U.S. since I was three years old. Am I eligible for financial aid to help pay for college?

As an undocumented student, you are not eligible for federal financial aid such as Federal Pell Grants, Federal Work-Study, and Federal Direct Student Loans (Direct Loans). However, you may be eligible for financial aid from other sources, including your college and private organizations.

I was born in the U.S. but my parents are undocumented. How does my parents’ status affect my eligibility for federal financial aid?

As a U.S. citizen, you are eligible to receive federal financial aid, regardless of your parents’ status. However, their status will prevent them from borrowing a parent PLUS to help pay your college expenses. For more information about how this affects your eligibility for federal student aid, contact the financial aid office at your school.

I am an undocumented student but I have lived in Kansas since my family came to the U.S. when I was six. I will graduate from high school soon. If I attend a public college in Kansas, am I eligible for in-state tuition?

Yes. Many states have enacted legislation which allows undocumented students who meet certain qualifications to be charged lower in-state tuition at some or all public postsecondary institutions in the state. The states which have enacted such legislation are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

If I live in a state which allows undocumented students to pay instate tuition, do I have to do anything to be eligible to receive this benefit?

Common criteria for undocumented students to receive in-state tuition in certain states include: attending a state high school for two to four years, earning a high school diploma or General Education Diploma (GED) in the state, enrolling in a public postsecondary institution in the state, and filing an affidavit stating intent to legalize status and become a permanent resident. Check with the college you plan to attend about the criteria in your state.

As an undocumented student, what type of financial aid is available from the college I plan to attend?

The financial aid available to undocumented students from colleges and other postsecondary schools varies widely among institutions. Financial aid could include institutional scholarships, grants, loans, and work programs. Institutional scholarships often come with a merit component. To find out what is available at the college you plan to attend, contact the financial aid office.

As an undocumented student, I know I am not eligible for financial aid from the federal government. Where can I look to find private scholarships?

Here are some websites you can use to research scholarships:

Can I use my scholarship money to pay expenses other than tuition?

Scholarships can be used to pay most educational expenses, including but not limited to: tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, the cost of a computer, and personal expenses including transportation. You should check with the organization that awarded you a scholarship about any restrictions on its use.

If I discuss my undocumented status with a counselor in the financial aid office at my school, is he or she required to report me to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)?

No. Financial aid counselors are not required to report undocumented students to ICE or USCIS. However, under FERPA, a school or school district may disclose information from your education records without your consent to specific entities, such as a State education office, or for specific purposes, such as to comply with a court order.

If I have been approved for Deferred Action, am I able to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®)?

As a noncitizen you are unable to complete the FAFSA unless you have a Social Security Number (SSN). Deferred Action allows students to remain in the country; however, it does not make such students eligible for federal student aid, even if they have a SSN.

Tips for Refugee and Asylee Students

What non-citizen statuses are eligible for federal financial aid?

  • U.S. permanent resident, with a Permanent Resident Card
  • Conditional permanent resident (I-551C)
  • Other eligible noncitizen with an Arrival-Departure Record (I-94) from the Department of Homeland Security showing any one of the following designations: “Refugee,” “Asylum Granted,” “Indefinite Parole,” “Humanitarian Parole,” or “Cuban-Haitian Entrant”
  • A citizen of the Republic of Palau (PW), the Republic of the Marshall Islands (MH), or the Federated States of Micronesia (FM)

Students with Criminal Convictions

Make sure you understand your status and don't assume you can't get aid. Your eligibility for federal student aid can be affected by incarceration and/or the type of conviction you have. For information about how this might affect you, visit www.studentaid.ed.gov/sa/eligibility/criminal-convictions.

Reference: National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, www.nasfaa.org, 2019