Financial Aid for Adopted and Foster Care StudentsOctober 24, 2021
Updated July 20, 2022
Children who are adopted or in foster care may find it more difficult to pay for college. According to the 2018 National Factsheet on the Educational Outcomes of Children in Foster Care, between 70 and 84% of 17- and 18-year-old youth in foster care said they wanted to go to college. In reality, though, only 3 to 11% of foster care alumni obtain a bachelor’s degree.
What can be done to support more foster students’ college dreams? Several resources are available to support higher education for foster students, and understanding how to find them can help students to succeed.
FAFSA Information for Adopted & Foster Care Children
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the federal government form that students must complete to apply for federal student loans and grants. Many state-based grants also require the FAFSA, and some colleges use the FAFSA to dole out their own internal scholarships for foster youth.
After you submit the FAFSA, the university will determine if you’re an independent student who doesn’t receive support from their parents or a dependent student that does receive financial support from their parents.
When you fill out the FAFSA, question 52 will ask if you’ve ever been in foster care, a ward of the court or an orphan since the age of 13. If you answer yes to this question, then you’ll automatically count as an independent student, which makes you eligible for the full Pell Grant.
Unlike a student loan, the Pell Grant does not need to be repaid. The Pell Grant can be used for eight semesters at a four-year postsecondary institution. The current maximum annual amount is $6,895.
Applying to FAFSA early is crucial because some awards, like work-study and certain need-based grants, are only available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you wait too long to apply, those forms of financial aid may already be gone.
FAFSA Information for Wards of the Court
A ward of the court is a child whose parents or guardians do not have legal custody over them. If a child was a ward of the court at any point from the age of 13, they would be treated as an independent student on the FAFSA.
To prove this status, you may need to have court records that show you were declared a ward of the state. Contact your state’s child welfare agency to get a copy of these documents if you don’t have them already.
There are several scholarships for foster youth, with a few examples including:
- Foster Care to Success Scholarship: Available to students who have been in foster care for the 12 consecutive months leading up to their 18th birthday or who were orphaned for at least one year by the time they turn 18. Students can earn up to $5,000.
- House of Blues Music Forward Foundation David E. Ballard Scholarship: Foster youth or youth who experienced homelessness who are interested in a career in live entertainment may apply for this scholarship. They may receive up to $10,000.
- The David Scholarship: This scholarship is open to any male student between ages 16 and 25 who can share a story of perseverance through adversity. Recipients may receive up to $1,000.
Learn More: How to Get a Scholarship
Most federal and state grants are given to students with financial need, and because most foster care children or children who have been adopted may count as independent students, they may qualify for more need-based grants.
Here are the grants that foster youth or adopted children may qualify for:
- Pell Grant: Available for undergraduate students only. The maximum amount is $6,895 for the 2022-2023 school year.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG): The annual loan amount is between $100 and $4,000 a year. This grant is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Many states offer their own grants if you attend an in-state public university or community college. Reach out to your high school college counselor to ask about applying for these.
Tuition Waiver Programs for Students in Foster Care
The following states offer tuition waiver programs, which means current and former foster children can attend a state college for free or at a significantly reduced price:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- West Virginia
There are other states that offer special scholarships or grants for foster care youth. These include:
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
Resources to Find Scholarships and Grants
Students can also apply for scholarships and grants that are specifically designed for former and current foster kids.
Here are some sites to use to search for scholarships for foster youth:
- College Board
- Going Merry
Make Up the Difference With Student Loans
While foster and adopted children may be eligible for more need-based financial aid, that will often not be enough to cover the full cost of tuition. If you have to take out student loans, consider maxing out your available federal student loans, then using private student loans to cover the remaining costs.
Federal student loans come with income-driven repayment plans where your monthly payment is determined by your income. Those with lower incomes will pay less. Some borrowers will also qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, a program that offers some loan forgiveness after 10 years of working for a government or nonprofit organization.
Private student loans are available to students who have trouble getting a federal loan or who have maxed out their federal loans. In some cases, you may be eligible for a lower interest rate with a private student loan, especially if you have a cosigner.
No matter what type of student loan you choose, you can opt for student loan refinancing after you graduate. Refinancing may help you pay less interest and pay off student loans faster. Refinancing can also help to simplify your payments since you can consolidate all your individual student loans into one loan. When you’re ready, contact ELFI to be set up with a personal loan advisor who can guide you through the process.*