Foster care students face unique challenges and are historically less likely to enroll and graduate from college. Students who are in foster care, aged out of foster care, or were adopted out of foster care after reaching age 13 are considered automatically independent on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This means that his/her custodial parents’ financial information is NOT considered when determining the student’s financial aid, and therefore NOT required on the FAFSA, qualifying them for Pell Grants or other scholarship opportunities.

Foster Care

Historically, only 0.6% of undergraduate students identified themselves as orphans or wards of the court, based on data from the 2007-08 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS). This suggests that they are half as likely as other students to enroll in college. Almost a third of students who were orphans or wards of the court under age 24 in 2004 graduated with an undergraduate degree or certificate by 2009, compared with almost half of all other undergraduate students, based on data from the follow-up to the longitudinal study. For this reason, it is important that there are grant and scholarship opportunities available to foster care students.

Independent Student Status

Independent student status is defined by The College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 as any student who “is an orphan, in foster care, or a ward of the court, or was an orphan, in foster care, or a ward of the court at any time when the individual was 13 years of age or older.”

If you are a youth in foster care, or a former youth in foster care, you are more than likely eligible to be considered for Independent Student Status. The Department of Education uses a set of criteria for determining if a student is considered Independent for financial aid purposes. If a person is considered Independent, this could mean that those applicants have a zero expected family contribution (EFC), which qualifies them for a full Pell Grant.

For a complete list of the criteria for independent student status, visit the Student Financial Aid Services website page under the dependency section. Make sure you check the “Ward/dependency of the state or courts” box on your FAFSA form so you can receive all of the aid available to you. Note that you may need to provide proof of your Independent Status.

Other Scholarships

Most private scholarships for foster care students are restricted to children who are currently in foster care or who aged out of foster care. There are some opportunities for students who were adopted out of foster care, but these generally have geographic restrictions or are limited to students who are enrolled at specific colleges. As an example, the Kansas Foster and Adoptive

Children Scholarship Fund from the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation is limited to students who are or were foster children in the state of Kansas.

Students can use free online scholarship services to find scholarships that match their background or situation. There are also several national scholarships for former foster children and adopted children. The Fostering a Future Scholarship is available to children adopted out of foster care after reaching age 13. Foster Care to Success administers the Casey Family Scholars Program, which provides scholarships to former foster youth. And finally, the National Foster Parent Association sponsors a Youth Scholarship.

Some states provide student financial aid or other assistance to children who spent time in the foster care system or who were adopted out of the foster care system. These scholarships and tuition waivers are typically restricted to students who enroll in the state’s public colleges and universities. Additionally, some programs are limited to students who are in foster care or aged out of foster care, which excludes students who were adopted out of foster care.