The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a college student’s gateway to federal financial aid to help them pay for school. However, the application process is slightly different for students with legal guardians or foster parents. In both cases, the student is considered to be independent rather than dependent for the purposes of federal aid.

Do you list legal guardians or foster parents on the FAFSA?

The FAFSA is designed to help college financial aid offices determine how much assistance you qualify for in the form of grants, student loans, the work-study program and more. College students with one or more living biological, adoptive or otherwise legal parents are required to include financial information in their application for one or both parents, depending on the situation.

However, legal guardians and foster parents are not considered legal parents by the U.S. Department of Education, so the student is not required to include them in their FAFSA. As a result, the student will be considered to be independent, which could help them qualify for more aid.

The only exception is if your legal guardian or foster parents have legally adopted you. At that point, they need to be included in the FAFSA. Note that even if you’re not including their financial information, you’ll still need to report any financial support you receive from a legal guardian or foster parent.

Why does the FAFSA ask if you were in foster care?

If you were in foster care as a child, there are two questions on the FAFSA relating to your experience. The first question is to help you learn about additional assistance you may qualify to receive through various federal programs.

The second is part of a series of questions the application includes to determine your dependency status. Remember, qualifying as an independent student means that only your financial information is used to determine your eligibility, which means that you may have a better chance of qualifying for Pell Grants, subsidized student loans and other need-based financial aid.

How to fill out the FAFSA if you have a legal guardian or foster parents

You don’t have to put a legal guardian or foster parents on the FAFSA, even if you’re still living with them; you’ll provide information about only yourself, your assets and your income.

As you go through the application, here are some specific things to do:

  1. In Step One, check “other/unknown” for the highest school completed by parents.
  2. In Step Three, check “Yes” on the question that asks about foster care or legal guardianship.
  3. Skip Step Four, which asks you to provide information about your parents.
  4. Include financial support you receive from a legal guardian or foster parent, along with your other income.

The FAFSA is a long application with a lot of fine print, so don’t be afraid to ask your legal guardian or foster parents for help. You may also wish to contact your school’s financial aid office for help or to learn more about additional aid you may be eligible to receive.