Foster Care to College Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is considered “foster care”?
There are many different types of foster care. According to Washington State law, foster care is defined as:
Twenty-four hour per day temporary substitute care for the child placed away from the child’s parents or guardians, and for whom the DSHS or a licensed or certified child placing agency has placement and care responsibility. DSHS defines foster care in WAC 388-25-0010. It includes any out-of-home care (including a relative or suitable person) so long as the child is under the placement and care responsibility of DSHS and placed in out-of-home care by DSHS.
You can find out more about your legal foster care status by contacting your Regional Education Liaison. They can also provide you with a letter documenting your foster care status.
Q: I was in foster care. How will that impact my financial aid application?
If you were in foster care at any point since you turned 13, you can file the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as an independent student. This means you will provide only your (and your spouse, if you are married) financial information.
Q: I am no longer in foster care because my foster parents took legal guardianship of me a few years ago. However, my foster parents do not support me with their own financial resources. They still get a foster care check each month for me. How do I answer the question about foster care on the FAFSA?
If you were in foster care at any time after turning 13, answer “yes” to being in foster care on the FAFSA. If you are in a legal guardianship, answer “yes” to being in a legal guardianship, as well. Note: neither legal guardians nor foster parents are considered parents when completing the FAFSA. This means you do not list their income or household size on the FAFSA.
Q: I turned 18 and my court case was closed. My college is saying I am no longer an independent student because I am no longer in foster care. Am I considered independent or dependent?
You are considered independent if you were a ward of the court at any time after you turned 13 years old.
Q: I’m still confused- Who is my parent on the FAFSA?
If you were in foster care at any point after turning age 13, you can file the FAFSA as an independent student. You do not need to provide your biological, foster, or adoptive parent’s information.
If you were in foster care, but reunited with your parents or adopted prior to turning age 13, you will need to provide your biological or adoptive parent’s information when you file the FAFSA.
You can find out more by answering the questions on the Who's My FAFSA Parent quiz.
Q: I live with my foster parents and their children. Are they my “family members” on the FAFSA?
No. If you are considered independent (for example, because you are in foster care), and have no dependent children of your own, you are a family of one (yourself).
To determine your household size, include:
- Yourself (and your spouse, if you are married).
- The number of children who will receive more than half of their support from you (and your spouse) when you are attending college.
- The number of people (not your children or spouse) who live with you and receive more than half of their support from you, and will continue to receive more than half of their support from you during the school year.
Q: I have filled out the FAFSA as an independent student because I am a ward of the court. Do I need my biological mother or father’s signature? I do not live with them, but I see them sometimes.
No. Because of your status as a foster youth, you are considered an independent student and a parental signature is not required.
Q: Am I considered a Washington resident?
To qualify as a Washington resident student, state law requires that a student establish a bona fide domicile (AKA: home address) in the state of Washington for a period of one year, for purposes other than educational, prior to the start of the semester or quarter for which the student intends to register. Visit the Residency and Citizenship page for more information.
Q: I am an undocumented student (not a citizen of the United States) and am in foster care. Do I qualify for any financial aid in Washington?
Eligibility for several Washington State financial aid programs has expanded to include students who are ineligible for federal financial aid due to immigration status. Students who meet individual program, income, or residency requirements for the State Need Grant, the College Bound Scholarship, State Work Study or the Passport to College Scholarship should complete the Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA).
Q: What scholarship and grant programs are available to me if I decide to attend college outside of Washington State?
If you choose to attend college outside of Washington State, you could potentially access assistance from the following programs:
- Federal Pell Grant
- Education and Training Voucher (ETV)
- WICHE’s Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) program. This program reduces the cost of out-of-state tuition at participating colleges and universities in 16 western states.
Q: I’d like to apply to college. Where can I find help with the college admissions process?
High school counselors, Independent Living (IL) providers, and SETuP providers are an excellent resource to help you through the college admissions process. You can also work with the college’s admissions office if you have questions about the application or the admissions process. Locate the Independent Living Program nearest you.
Q: HELP! I still have questions!
Contact the Washington Student Achievement Council at 360-753-7846 or email PassportToCollege@wsac.wa.gov. You can also reach out to the Foster Care Initiatives Team at the College Success Foundation at 425-213-5888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.