Homeless Youth and Higher Education

Meet the Expert


Amy Dunning completed her BSW at Belmont University before earning her MSW at the University of Denver. She worked as a family advocate at Warren Village First Step while in Denver before moving to Nashville, Tennessee. She is now a senior case manager with the YWCA where her focus is helping disenfranchised women move into stable housing, find employment and further their educations.

Over one million young people in the United States currently face homelessness, and many do not have an adult in the picture to provide guidance or assistance when it comes time to think about higher education. The federal government defines these unaccompanied homeless youth (UHY) as individuals who do not have “fixed, regular and adequate” housing and who are “not in the physical custody of a parent or adult.” Many of these youth have aspirations to attend college, yet lack the support and awareness of resources needed to move their dreams into reality.

Over 58,000 students identified as homeless on the 2013 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) , a 75 percent increase from prior years. (Source)

This number is likely underestimated, as many homeless youth do not realize they qualify or are too ashamed to admit their living situations. The good news is that many resources and programs are available to make higher education attainable for students who need help. The guide below highlights challenges commonly faced and provides information on resources for those trying to earn a degree while battling homelessness.

Why Are So Many Students Facing Homelessness?

While reasons for being homeless are varied and every situation is unique, researchers have identified three main reasons for homelessness among potential college students.

Parental job loss

When supporting a family, consistent full-time employment is vital. Families who are already on a lower income bracket can very quickly find themselves in disastrous situations when losing a job. A 2012 report by the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation reported 20 percent of unemployed homeless parents had lost their jobs within the last six months, nearly three times the percentage reported in 2003.

Lack of affordable housing

In recent years, the gap between minimum wage and cost of housing has grown even more expansive, while federal housing subsidies have decreased. Objectively, a full-time minimum wage employee cannot afford the fair market rent for a one-bedroom apartment, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Among all homeless parents in the nation, 40 percent reported leaving their last home because they could not afford to pay rent.

Family or parental conflicts

For many homeless youth, an inability to continue living with their family or relatives initially forced them into unstable situations. Whether severe family conflict, violence, neglect, substance abuse or mental health issues, being homeless is the lesser evil for some children. Youth.gov reports that 90 percent of youth living in shelters overseen by the Family Youth Service Bureau identified family dynamics as the ultimate reason for their homelessness. Overall, 41 percent of youth said they left home due to bad parental relations, while only seven percent of parents reported the same.

College Resources for Specific Homeless Student Challenges

Deciding to pursue postsecondary education is often a very scary decision for homeless youth. While recognizing it as the key to furthering their aspirations and creating a better life for themselves, feelings of shame and lack of knowledge about resources available can often leave them feeling paralyzed and unsure of how to begin.

The College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 is a significant piece of legislation for homeless youth, providing more access to financial aid and programs designed to make attaining a college education easier. Countless other programs and resources catering specifically to homeless youth are also available. These services ensure access not only to education, but also to other important components of success, such as year-round housing, food and clothing, employment, and basic medical care. Find more information on these resources below.

Year-Round Housing

Campus Resources
Resident Life Offices

Some institutions, such as Kennesaw State University, are now making year-round dorms available for homeless and at-risk homeless students. Through their C.A.R.E. Center, Kennesaw offers year-round and emergency housing, as well as provides students in need with toiletries, food and clothing. If the college isn’t able to offer this resource, most resident life offices can point students in the direction of other short-term and emergency housing available in their community. The U.S. Department of Education’s Student Support Services program also provides grants to institutions, helping them to cover a variety of costs for homeless students, including temporary housing over holidays and summer breaks.

Off-Campus Alternatives
Off-Campus Support Office

Students enrolled in colleges unable to offer year-round housing can often receive guidance from off-campus support services to identify affordable housing close to campus. In many cases, this housing may be cheaper than on-campus dorms. The offices can also aid students in finding roommates with which to split housing costs, and can connect students with realtors specializing in off-campus, affordable student housing.

Neighborhood Resource Centers and Youth Shelters

Many cities, particularly metropolitan areas, offer several resource centers were homeless youth can make reservations for a 1-night or 7-night stay. In most cases, these services are offered on a first-come-first-serve basis, but offer temporary housing with no questions asked. Unaccompanied homeless youth can also take advantage of full-service youth shelters specifically for young adults. Services will vary, but often times these shelters offer computer labs, kitchen and dining areas, laundry facilities, bathrooms, and various assistive programs to help young adults build a more stable life.

Federal Programs

Through the Fostering Connection to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, various federal programs offer financial support and foster care to young adults. Though not necessarily targeted to college students in need of housing during summer and winter break, this can still be a helpful option.

School-Sponsored Community Service Trips

Some colleges and universities offer school-sponsored community service trips during winter and summer breaks. Some trips may be free, while others will have a fee, depending on the destination. In addition to providing temporary housing for homeless students, these opportunities also allow them to give back and gain valuable skills through meaningful community work.

Greek Housing

Many colleges allow Greek housing to remain open to students during the summer break (but are usually closed during winter). Homeless students who are part of a fraternity or sorority should find out if their house will be open during summer, if there are any restrictions, and if there is a fee to stay.

Stay with Friends

Many homeless students opt to stay with various friends who do not go home during the break. If a student has multiple friends who will be staying in the area, he or she can try to set up a plan with friends to rotate visits, if staying with one friend the whole break is not feasible.

Online Resources

Cheap Apartments for College Students – Sublet.com: Students can search for apartments by state, region and city at Sublet.com. Options include searching by price, setting a price cap and responding to apartment-for-lease ads. Students can also place ads requesting apartments in a specific locale.

Resources for Homeless Youth – HUD Exchange: The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development offers resources, pertinent links and publications as part of its Special Needs Assistance Programs (SNAP). Resources are designed to inform and assist the homeless and those who help them find housing. The homeless programs and initiatives include support for LGBTQ youth.

StudentHousing.com: American Campus Communities operates this web site of listings to their student apartments, searchable by college location, state or community. Features include roommate matching, on-site management and maintenance staff, and a community assistant (CA) or resident assistant (RA) training program for student renters.

Food and Living Essentials

Campus Resources
Associate Student Food Banks and Pantries

As postsecondary educators gain more awareness and training about issues faced by homeless students, more resources become available. A number of campuses, such as Michigan State University and the University of California at Santa Barbara, now have on-campus food banks for students unable to feed themselves or facing shortages. Many of these food banks are student-run community efforts and available to registered undergraduate and graduate students.

Campus Nutrition and Dining Services

Campus nutrition and dining services can help UHY by providing a list of local food banks and programs offering living essentials, including daily meals; dining services may also have a program to supply homeless youth with leftover food.

Voucher Programs

Many college and university dining halls have leftover food from students who have not used their entire meal plan funds. Instead of letting these funds and food to go waste, some schools have implemented voucher or coupon programs that allow students in need to use unused swipes for a meal.

Off-Campus Alternatives
Food Pantries and Prepared Meals

Many cities have various food bank/pantries locations and shelters that offer regular prepared meals for free or low cost.

Online Resources

Feeding America: Feeding America is a network of 200 food banks across the country that distributes more than 3 million meals a year to needy Americans. The site includes a search tool for locating food banks by community or zip code; interested students can also search for volunteer opportunities.

FoodPantries.org: Visitors to the site can learn about non-profit organizations, food banks and soup kitchens across the U.S. Participating organizations include ministries and fellowships, community food banks and housing organizations. Search for food pantries by state or zip code.

College and University Food Bank Alliance: The College and University Food Bank Alliance (CUFBA) was founded by the Oregon State University Food Pantry and Michigan State Student Food Bank to provide support for new and existing college food banks across the country. The program was initially designed to help provide food to needy students who may not qualify for outside programs or who lack the ability to travel to them.

Campus Kitchen Project: The Campus Kitchens Project operates community partnership programs that use student volunteers from high schools, colleges and universities to build on-campus kitchen space, recover surplus college food, organize drivers and deliver meals to the needy within their communities. Website resources help students to develop campus kitchens in their neighborhoods.

Balancing Work & School

Campus Resources
Academic Retention Centers

These programs are devoted to alleviating common stressors college students face in an effort to improve dropout rates. ARCs can help students find flexible jobs or on-campus work study programs, or help create a student budget to see how much they’ll need to work and adjust their class load accordingly. ARCs also help students who are undeclared, require remediation, and are on academic probation create a plan and system to achieve academic goals, one step at a time.

Online Resources

Find Out How One Young Woman Escaped Homelessness, Finished College, and is Now Helping Others: Former college students Jessica Sutherland writes about the secret lives of homeless students and how she survived and thrived in college. Today she holds a master’s degree and has founded Homeless to HigherEd, an organization that helps homeless students with care packages, cash scholarships, mentoring and emotional support.

How to Achieve Life Balance as a College Freshman: USA TODAY has published a comprehensive guide to managing student life. Find tips on how to manage time, create a strategy for studying, set reasonable goals and wellness under stress. Learn in your first year of school how to avoid becoming overwhelmed with it all.

WorkLife Essentials: For those struggling with balancing work and personal life and finding themselves overcome with stress, WorkLife Essentials provides comprehensive information and support on how to deal with life’s day-to-say stressors.


Campus Resources
Mental Health Center

Many UHY who came from bad family situations may have underlying mental health issues, including depression. Many colleges provide basic health services, including counseling and mental health diagnoses, to enrolled students.

Off-Campus Alternatives
Sliding-Scale Clinics and Counseling Services

For homeless students unable to receive counseling, treatment, and/or services for depression—and other mental health concerns—on their college campus, off-campus alternatives include local, community-based clinics and wellness centers. Some provide treatment and services for free or at a low-cost sliding scale. Some clinics may not be able to accommodate all income levels, but these services will likely be more affordable than non-sliding scale centers. If a particular clinic or center is unable to accommodate you, professionals and experts should be able to direct you to another local clinic that could.

Online Resources

Against Suicide: The Twitter home of the Against Suicide public awareness campaign, with ongoing posts include information about issues that lead to suicide and provide behavioral strategies for coping with negativity and setbacks.

ReachOut.com: ReachOut USA provides online peer support and anonymous forums where students can talk about confidential issues. Support forums include topics in depression, self-harm, LGBTQ and romance. Resources link students with in-crisis support hotlines.

ULifeline: ULifeline sponsors this site that offers immediate contact to assistance with mental health issues that affect college students. Along with a 24/7 help line(800-273-TALK), the organization also assists students to locate resources on their campus that provide confidential counseling.

Basic Medical Care

Campus Resources
Physical Health Center

As noted above, enrolled students frequently have access to basic medical services on campus. If a student gets a cold or a minor scrape, they can often visit the campus health center to receive basic medical care. If a more serious issue arises, the health center can recommend a low-cost clinic to the student.

Off-Campus Alternatives
State Homeless Outreach Programs

Through the Department of Health and Human Services, these programs can offer basic medical care, counseling and referrals to emergency medical services to area homeless.

Online Resources

National Health Care for the Homeless Council: The council is comprised of more than 10,000 physicians, patients, nurses, social workers and other healthcare professionals dedicated to fighting homelessness. Resources on the site include publications and articles on medicate respite, outreach, clinical practice and operations management.

National Alliance to End Homelessness Health Care Guide: The National Alliance is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that advocates for change through educational programs for elected officials and policy makers. Read about the organization’s 10-year plan for developing re-housing and support services and explore community success stories.

Health Care for the Homeless: Founded in Baltimore in 1985, HCH has become a national model for integrating medical care to underserved populations with advocacy. Resources include contact information for homeless shelters and services, food, legal services and healthcare. HCH delivers services where the homeless are – on the streets.

Understanding Rights & Support

Campus Resources
Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities

Student rights offices will not only have information on the rights of homeless, at-risk or otherwise disadvantaged youth on-campus, they’ll also be able to give students facing these situations resources where they can find help.

Off-Campus Alternatives
National Center for Homeless Education

In addition to offering a helpline, the NCHE provides UHY with information about the latest legislation, programs and resources relevant to their needs on local, state and national levels.

National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth

Much of NAEHCY’s work focuses on public policy and advocacy, but the organization also works to education those serving UHY in postsecondary institutions. There is also a scholarship fund to assist students pursuing college degrees.

Online Resources

HEAR US Homeless Education Rights: Homeless students have rights under the law. HEAR US advocates for systemic change and provides education for educators, policy makers and the public at large. Learn about The McKinney Vento Homeless Education Act and discover resources for homeless families and youth.

Resources for Homeless Children and Youths: The California Department of Education maintains an extensive online resources library. Find information for educators seeking legal authority to provide education to students “who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” Sample documents and strategies are available for download.

Homeless Bill of Rights: The National Coalition for the Homeless advocates for new legislation protecting the homeless from discrimination, harassment, and restrictions on the use of public space. Resources include useful links for those without homes or soon to become homeless, for public advocates and for those who want to get involved.

Demographic in Perspective: Profiles of Students in Need

Homeless youth are typically portrayed in the media in one of two ways. In the first, homeless youth are shown to be burnouts that – despite being given countless chances to succeed – throw it all away for a fast life on the streets. The second version nearly always involves the tale of an underdog, who against all odds is the valedictorian of his or her school and goes on to attend an Ivy League college and change the world. While there are small percentages of homeless youth who fall into such categories, the majority of these students are seeking the middle ground. They are often motivated, good students who have hopes and dreams yet are ashamed of their circumstances and lack knowledge of resources to help them be successful. The section below dives into a few profiles of homeless youth.

The homeless student who is motivated to succeed.

Many students have specific dreams about their future from an early age. For homeless students, these can be derailed after unforeseeable family crises. Whether dealing with parents losing their jobs, passing away, or leaving home, homeless learners experiencing these scenarios often end up in transitional housing and struggle to realize their initial goals. Students who fall into this category are usually those who work during the summers to save money for college, proactively learn everything they can to make themselves competitive during high school, achieve high scores on ACT/SAT examinations, and gain admittance to a college to help them achieve aspirations.

Students who are motivated to succeed don’t stop being proactive once they enter college. With so many new things to learn outside of the classroom, many homeless students get to know their financial aid and academic advisors to learn about all the resources available to them. Examples include work-study programs, food banks, low-cost healthcare, or local mentors in their field of study. Motivated homeless students may seek out internships during their last two years, allowing them to gain valuable real-world experience and have a competitive edge when it comes time to apply for jobs once they graduate.

The homeless student who believes education is the key to changing their path.

Prospective homeless college students who have never known anything but a transitory lifestyle often strongly believe education provides a way out of their current situation. Whether abandoned, forced to move out of their family home due to repeated conflicts, or a runaway, many homeless youth bounce between family members and friends. While likely no one in their family attended college, they may have observed vast differences in the incomes and lifestyles of their friends’ educated parents versus their own.

The biggest issue these students face is staying focused on their high school studies in order to gain entrance to a postsecondary institution. In the absence of parents or guardians to guide them, many will turn to teachers or friends’ parents for advice and mentorship to keep them on the right path, or to provide recommendation letters highlighting their determination and development throughout high school.

The homeless student who is ashamed and tries to hide their circumstances.

Many prospective homeless students are aware of their impoverished backgrounds from an early age. Whether doing what they can to help out or eventually leaving home to support themselves, many carry shame about their financial and residential circumstances. Common behavior may include being vague about where they live, sleeping in libraries or living out of their cars. Homeless students often think of college as the start of a new life, but harsh realities of their earlier lives may sometimes carry over into college, leaving a feeling of hopelessness at times.

Thankfully, many universities are now putting systems in place to help faculty and administrators understand how to best serve these populations. College advisors can reassure homeless students they aren’t alone in their endeavors and remind them it’s never too late to redirect their futures. They can also provide helpful lists of on-campus and local resources to facilitate success, including information about free counseling services to help students work through their feelings of shame.

Scholarships for At-Risk Students

For homeless, at-risk, or disadvantaged youth, a college education can be the key to changing their situations for the better. The costs of achieving a degree can be prohibitive, however, and may deter potential students who are unaware of the scholarship opportunities available to them – though many exist.


Dell Scholars Program. Through the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the Dell Scholars Program provides $20,000 to winners over the course of six years, in addition to tutoring, networking and technology resources. The scholarships are awarded based on demonstrable financial need and at-risk status.


Frank W. Ross Memorial Scholarship Fund. In association with the Pride Foundation, this scholarship aims to provide funding for educational opportunities for low-income, at-risk or homeless LGBTQ youth. Recipients are encouraged to pay it forward in the spirit and memory of Ross.


Gates Millennium Scholars. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, GMS provides scholarships for low-income, minority students. The 1000 annual scholarships may be awarded to African American, Hispanic, Native American, native Alaskans and Pacific Islanders and will supply winners a full-ride scholarship to college.


Horatio Alger Association. The Horatio Alger National Scholarship Program provides up to $22,000 in scholarship funds to students who demonstrate critical financial need and who have “faced and overcome great obstacles in their young lives.” Students from all 50 states are eligible, and winners also receive an all-expense paid trip to Washington D.C. to attend the National Scholars Conference.


National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY). A minimum of two $1,500 scholarships are awarded annually to students who are currently struggling with or who have experienced homelessness in the past. Scholarships may be put toward tuition, fees, books and prep courses, and are given out in October of each year.


O Wines Opportunity for Success Scholarship. Next open in the 2016-17 academic year, this scholarship awards $20,000 over four years to low income, in-need, capable female students who have filled out their FAFSA® forms and have a minimum of 3.2 GPA.


Simon Youth Foundation. SYF has awarded more than $9.6 million to at-risk youth pursuing secondary education since 2000. Many of the foundation’s scholarship winners will be the first generation in their families to graduate college, and may apply the funds to the two- or four-year institution of their choice.


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. By providing funding to schools, the Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students program provides scholarships to full-time students of health profession and nursing programs coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Interested applicants should check with their schools to determine if they participate in the program, and apply though the financial aid office.


Volunteer of America. The VOA eastern Washington and northern Idaho chapter has two scholarships designated specifically for homeless students and those formerly homeless who are pursuing secondary education. Scholarship recipients in the Crosswalk program also receive mentoring and education to help them reach their goals in all facets of their lives, from time management to building confidence.


Winners for Life. WFL offers scholarships each year for at-risk and underprivileged teens looking to pursue an education. The foundation grants 50 scholarships each year to at-risk youth; interested students may find application information through their school’s financial aid offices.

Financial Aid, FAFSA® & Homeless Students

Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is an important step most incoming college freshman looking to find help paying for school must complete. For students who are homeless, in foster care, or live in similar special circumstances, the application process isn’t as straightforward as merely turning in the form, however.

Because most financial aid applications will typically assume a student is a dependent, there are a few extra steps that must be taken to prove otherwise. Students in these situations must prove their independence to financial aid administrators, who will then make the determination regarding their dependency status. To do so:

1. Students must fill out the FAFSA® forms

2. During the application process, students should indicate on the form that they fall under the “special circumstances” category and cannot provide their parents’ information.

3. Students should immediately follow up with their school’s financial aid office to determine if any additional documentation or information is needed. Some examples that financial aid offices may require include:

  • Personal statement describing the situation
  • Any applicable court or legal documentation
  • Letters from teachers, social workers, counselors or clergy members

Unaccompanied homeless youth under the age of 22 are considered independent and may fill out the forms without parental information. It is important to note that students are not considered automatically independent until they reach the age of 24, and a dependency status appeal must be made each year until that time.

Avoiding Application Fees: Waivers & Aid

Beginning with SAT testing in high school, eligible students who demonstrate financial hardship may obtain waivers for testing fees. Once a student has obtained a fee waiver for the SAT, four additional waiver reports are automatically available to them, free of charge. These may be applied to college applications at participating institutions.

To qualify for SAT and college application fee waivers, a student must meet at least one of the following guidelines:

  • Eligibility or enrollment in the National School Lunch Program
  • Annual family income meets Income Eligibility Guidelines
  • Public assistance received by student/family
  • Student is a ward of the state or has orphan status
  • Student lives in subsidized housing, in foster care or is homeless
  • Student or family is enrolled in a government air program for low-income individuals

To apply for the SAT waiver, high school juniors and seniors should visit their school’s counseling office to obtain the application forms.


with AMY DUNNING, MSW and senior case manager with the YWCA

Amy Dunning, MSW and senior case manager with the YWCA, imparts her advice to those students who may be struggling with homelessness.

When assisting homeless individuals who aspire to take college-level classes or attain a degree, what are some of the most common barriers encountered?

For my clients, the biggest barriers seem to be lack of childcare, coordination of class and work schedules, and access to the technology needed to complete class work. Most students or prospective students experiencing homelessness can’t afford to attend school full-time without having a job of some sort to pay the bills. In many workplaces, coordinating work schedules around a student’s class schedule just isn’t an option (particularly in the types of jobs most homeless individuals without a college degree have – shift work with rotating schedules, temporary jobs, etc.).

Childcare also presents a huge barrier for parents who are enrolled in college courses, as most classrooms don’t approve of bringing children to class, and childcare costs are often unaffordable to those with limited income.

Access to technology is a barrier my clients seem to be encountering more and more as learning environments become more heavily reliant on online platforms, or require students to do work requiring internet access outside of class time. Typically, emergency shelters don’t have Wi-Fi, and only some have computers for residents to access, which makes completing work at night difficult for those students who may be residing in shelters. One of my clients often ends up in her car at the McDonald’s parking lot late at night, sending in last minute online contributions to her group projects using their free Wi-Fi.

What are some of the best resources available to homeless students who wish to undertake postsecondary education?

Obviously financial aid is the most heavily utilized resource for students experiencing homelessness, as they typically qualify for Pell grants, Hope scholarships, and other federal and state financial aid funds.

The Department of Human Services provides limited childcare subsidies for individuals who are in need, a program many of my clients utilize to help pay for childcare while in school, as well as utilizing their other services, like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Families First, and food stamps.

Clearly, when discussing homelessness, housing is generally the biggest concern, so that’s the area in which most folks need referrals. Often there are many local programs geared toward providing housing and supportive services. Other types of organizations prospective homeless students may find in their area include those which help students facing financial obstacles by providing resources to assist with debt reduction, building credit, and much more: all crucial for students who are trying to make things work on very little income. Local churches also sometimes provide resources for individuals experiencing homelessness, including sack lunches, bus passes and gift cards for groceries and gas.

Many homeless students feel overwhelmed when trying to balance their educations with other responsibilities in their lives, such as children, a job, or supporting family members. What advice do you have for students who feel that perhaps they have too much going on in their lives to pursue education?

Working with clients who are pursuing education while experiencing homelessness, I’m continually impressed at how much they have to juggle. I think of times I complained about the stress of finals during college, and I had a stable place to live, no children and a lot of support from my family, so I can’t imagine the stress students who are homeless must feel. However, I’ve seen that for these students, the payoff of pursuing an education can be huge. A former client went from working a part-time minimum wage job at Pizza Hut during school to make ends meet to completing a fairly brief IT training program and getting an incredible entry-level job in the field making $45,000 a year. The incredible amount of effort she put in for that year changed the course of her life and career. Additionally, I’d advise students to reach out to organizations or federal programs that can help them.

I think many individuals think education simply isn’t an option for them, and that’s usually not the case – they may be surprised by all the resources available to them.

True or False? 7 Things Every Student in Need Should Know

As identified at the beginning of this guide, youth are considered homeless if they lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence and are not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. Students who meet these requirements have access to many resources that make attending a college or university an attainable goal. Answer true or false for each question below, and mouse-over the question to see if you were right.

I’m a high school junior/senior who wants to attend college. As a homeless youth, I can receive assistance in paying for AP exams, ACT/SAT entrance exam fees, and college applications.

Students who qualify as homeless youth can receive price reductions and waivers for all of these fees. College Board is responsible for administering AP and entrance exams and has information on how to get these costs waived. CB also provides up to four Request for Waiver of College Application Fee forms for qualified students.

I am living with a parent/guardian but they do not support me, so I can apply for the FAFSA® as an independent without regard for their income.

To qualify as an independent on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, students must be classified as an unaccompanied homeless youth (UHY). This means they do not live with a parent or guardian; have no fixed, regular and adequate housing; and are 21 years old or younger when applying for aid.

I don’t have a stable address so I can’t fill out the FAFSA®.

The U.S. Department of Education will first send any information about financial aid to a student’s email address. A mailing address is only needed as a backup, and students can use the address of the college(s) to which they are applying.

During school holidays or summer breaks, I don’t really have any choice but to enter transitional housing or bounce around on friends’ couches.

More and more universities are beginning to offer year-round dormitories for homeless youth or students undertaking summer classes. Many resident life departments can give homeless students information about local organizations able to provide housing during these times. Students can also receive guidance about acquiring an off-campus apartment that isn’t dependent on school calendars.

As a displaced student, my high school guidance counselor can help me understand my rights and the types of resources available to those in my situation when applying to college.

Guidance and education counselors should receive training on resources pertaining to homeless youth. Even if they don’t have exact answers, the McKinney-Vento Act specifies that every school district in America must have a local homeless education liaison to provide assistance to homeless students.

I filled out my FAFSA® and received financial aid for my tuition but I can’t use this money to help pay for books, transportation, food or technology.

Money received from the federal government in the form of grants, work-study funds, or loans can be used to cover any direct costs, including tuition, fees, transportation, books, supplies, and room and board. It can also be used for related costs such as technology or childcare.

Once I get to college, I am pretty much on my own when it comes to miscellaneous expenses I may not have thought of before.

In addition to myriad resources available directly through colleges and universities, many independent nonprofit organizations provide assistance to homeless college students. One such example is the Colorado Taskforce on Higher Education for Unaccompanied Youth Experiencing Homelessness, which helps students with costs they may not have considered previously, such as student IDs, welcome kits, or extra long sheets for dorm-style beds. Even if a school doesn’t have a particular resource, an administrator will likely have a list of local nonprofits providing services.