Pell Grant and the Adopted Child

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The Federal Pell Grant is one source of financial aid to help you pay for college. Unlike loans, the money received from the Pell Grant does not need to be repaid. The amount of the Pell Grant can change yearly, but the maximum award for 2020-2021 is $6,345 (July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021).

Normally, Federal Pell Grants are awarded solely based on financial need. However, students who are in foster care, aged out of foster care or were adopted out of foster care or an orphanage after reaching age 13 are considered automatically independent on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Independent students qualify for the maximum Pell Grant. 

The FAFSA is a free online application for financial aid eligibility for college. It’s used by schools to put together your federal student aid package for one year of college and must be completed by students annually. FAFSA has a question asking:

At any time since you turned age 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court?

  • It does not matter if the student was a U.S. or international foster child, child under legal guardianship or child living in an orphanage. All qualify.

  • It does not matter if the student was later adopted. 

  • It does not matter if the student is no longer in foster care or the orphanage as of today.

If the student was being fostered, under guardianship or living in an orphanage (domestic or international) as of age 13, the student answers yes to that question. 

Answering in this way qualifies the student as an independent student and he or she will get the full Pell Grant. The student will not need to enter any parent (adoptive/foster parent, legal guardian) information at that point. It is possible the financial aid administrator at your college may require you to provide proof that you were in foster care or a dependent/ward of the court later to release the Pell grant money. This can typically be accomplished with applicable court documents or adoption paperwork showing adoption at the age of 13 or older.

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Michelle Vernon


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