Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step toward securing financial aid to attend college in the United States. For foster youth, as with many things, this process will look different than those applying with parental assistance. If you are a foster child or applying for aid with a legal guardian’s help, the FAFSA should help you designate your financial independence and qualify you for assistance when paying for school.

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 grants, student loans or the work-study program. College students with one or more living biological, adoptive or otherwise legal parents must 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 do not include 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 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 you may want 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.

Are there any additional resources for students with foster parents or a legal guardian?

In addition to the financial support you can receive after filling out the FAFSA, many scholarships are available to foster youth and those aging out of foster care. The Foster Care to Success scholarship is one such award, but many others help students pay for an education. Use a scholarship search engine to search for awards specific to students with foster parents or who are applying for aid with a legal guardian’s help.

The federal Education and Training Voucher (ETV) program provides funding for foster youth who have aged out of care and need help paying for trade school or higher education. You may reach out to your state’s ETV coordinator for support in pursuing these funds.

Tuition waivers are available through many public universities and can help students offset the cost of higher education. Similarly, reciprocity programs can offset out-of-state tuition costs for students looking to attend schools elsewhere than where they went to high school.

Your high school guidance office, college financial aid office and state foster coalition may all be able to connect you with additional resources that fit your circumstances and may help you pay for school.

The bottom line

Students filling out the FAFSA independently – without financial support – may feel intimidated by the process. However, the application can help you to find the support you need to attend and pay for college.

Start by asking your college or university’s financial aid office for support as you complete the FAFSA and other financial aid forms. Connecting with the resources available through your school and community groups can help you tackle the paperwork and secure the financial assistance you need.