College Resources for Homeless Students

According to the latest self-reported data available, nearly 57,000 college students identified as homeless in 2015 – up more than 75 percent within just three years. And while this number alone is shocking, full estimates suggest more than 1.7 million learners will experience homelessness on some level while completing their educations. In fact, a recent individual study found that one in 10 of the 460,000 students enrolled at California State University is homeless.

Over the next few posts, we’ll provide a range of data and resources to help qualifying students learn about the services available to them when it comes to big expenses like paying for college, finding housing, transportation and even food. But today we want to talk about exactly what it means to be a homeless college student and how to get to college in the first place.

As defined by the Special Circumstances clause within the guidelines for filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a student is deemed homeless if he/she “lacks fixed, regular and adequate housing.” So what exactly does that mean? Any student who is living in a shelter, motel, car or crashing with friends may qualify, as do those who are fleeing an abusive home. Students who can prove their homelessness status are able to receive numerous benefits, including those that start in high school and are aimed at helping them matriculate to higher education. Here are some benefits already in place for qualifying students:

Discounted Fees for the Advanced Placement Program

Students who qualify for free or reduced lunches also qualify for a fee reduction program offered by The College Board to help students with college aspirations take the advanced classes they need to be competitive on their university applications. While each AP or IP exam typically costs $89, The College Board, the school administering the exam and the state may cover these costs for students who meet the basic requirements.

Waivers for SAT/ACT College Entrance Exams

Similar to AP exam discounts, students receiving free or reduced lunches, whose families receive federal, state or local public assistance programs, or who qualify as homeless are eligible to receive fee waivers for both the ACT and SAT exams, including registration and sending their scores to up to four prospective colleges.

Waivers for College Application Fees

A 2015 report found the average college application fee was $41 and, while this may not seem like a lot, fees can add up quickly for students applying to more than one school. The application fee waiver program is administered by The College Board and students who qualified for the SAT waiver are automatically registered to receive four free waivers to use at the colleges of their choice.

FAFSA Funding

Unsurprisingly, the biggest factor in whether or not a homeless student has the opportunity to go to college or not is funding. After jumping over all the hurtles to even apply to a college or university, students without a stable financial footing often rely entirely on their ability to get scholarships, grants, loans and work-study funds when deciding whether or not they can attend a certain school. Because homeless students often qualify as unaccompanied homeless youth (UHY), the income of their parents or families isn’t considered when deciding how much aid to award the student. Another recent change also allows UHY to apply for the FAFSA three months before other applicants, making it much easier for them to be early applicants for other need-based scholarships that require documentation of a completed FAFSA.

Next week we’ll be looking at the range of funding opportunities available to students and digging into services this student population should be looking for when considering any prospective schools.

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