Passport to Careers Guide: Paying for College or Apprenticeship
What steps do I need to take to be sure I can pay for college or apprenticeship?
Follow the step-by-step instructions below to get organized and maximize financial aid.
Figuring out how to pay for college or training can seem overwhelming, but it is possible! Below is a step-by-step guide to help you maximize the resources you can access to go to college or begin an apprenticeship. It can seem a little complicated, so visit this page to see why you shouldn’t let money be a barrier: Foster Care to College: Think you can’t afford it? Think again!
Click on the tabs below to learn more about each step in the process.
Step 1: Getting Help
Know where to get help
- Review the information on the Passport Resources page, including a list of experts who can help you during this process.
- Get help filling out the FAFSA or WASFA at free College Goal Washington events.
- Reach out to a local Independent Living Provider or SETuP provider to help you along the way.
- Contact designated staff members at colleges around the state who can walk you through the process.
- Washington's 12th Year Campaign supports high school seniors with college and financial aid applications.
- Fostering College Knowledge is a brochure that has lots of information about planning and paying for college for youth who have experienced foster care.
Step 2: Getting organized
Get organized and learn the language
- Use a folder to store and organize copies of all your paperwork and create an electronic folder in the cloud so you can access your important documents from anywhere. If you are applying online, file or flag your application confirmations and communications. Some schools’ career centers will keep paper files for you in their cabinets.
- Have a simple email address that you will want to keep for several years and use for applying to college and jobs. When creating your email address, don’t use something that is silly or may reflect poorly on you. Check your email on a regular basis—daily or weekly, when you have applications pending. Most financial aid info is sent via email. If you don’t have an email address, you can set one up for free with Gmail, Yahoo, or another provider. Make sure you know your address and password.
- Keep a paper or electronic list of where you have applied and when, and any important information like your password to your online application.
- The Independence for Washington State Foster Youth and Introduction to Financial Aid websites are good places to start learning the words used for financial aid.
Step 3: Applying for financial aid
Apply for financial aid
Your Passport to Careers pathway will determine how you apply for financial help. If you are taking the Passport to College Promise pathway, or a Passport to Apprenticeship Opportunities pathway at a college, you will follow the usual steps to apply for financial aid.
If you are taking the Apprenticeship Opportunities pathway through a program that is not associated with a college—like at a trade union or job center—you will not need to file a FAFSA or WASFA. You will apply directly to an organization that is contracted by WSAC to review your application. If approved, they will give you your financial aid.
Financial aid tips
- You must complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA). Refer to the How do I apply to college, apprenticeships, and financial aid? page for information on determining which application to complete based upon your citizenship status.
- Both the FAFSA and WASFA open on October 1 every year. Apply as soon as possible after October 1, so that you are first in line for funding. You will have to file this form every year you are in college.
- Do not pay for free applications and services like the FAFSA and scholarship searches. Learn more at the U.S. Department of Education webpage Avoiding Scams.
- As a former foster youth or unaccompanied homeless youth, you will most likely be able to file as an independent student, which means only your income will be counted and you will not need a parental signature on the FAFSA or WASFA. A dependent student has to include their family income and have a parental signature.
- Meet the financial aid deadlines at the colleges you're applying to—each college has their own deadlines and campus-based financial aid. Some colleges will have a separate additional financial aid application that you need to complete.
Step 4: Reviewing materials
Review your application
- If you submitted a FAFSA, check your email for your Student Aid Report (SAR). It should arrive within two to three weeks and is the summary of everything you filled out on the FAFSA. Review it to make sure there are no mistakes. If you've made a mistake, you will need to submit a correction.
- If you submitted a WASFA, you will not receive a SAR. You can log back into your account to ensure it was received. If you have questions or need help, contact WASFA staff at email@example.com or 888-535-0747, option 2.
Review your award information
After you submit a FAFSA or a WASFA, the colleges you listed and were accepted will send you a financial aid award letter. Each letter will summarize the cost of full-time enrollment for one year and your financial aid. It may include financial aid that you don’t have to repay and loans which you do have repay. If it’s confusing, ask for help from your SETuP provider, the Passport financial aid office contact, or the Passport designated support staff on the college campus.
Award information tips
- Keep an eye out for emails from the colleges you listed on your FAFSA or WASFA. Be sure to complete any additional steps they ask you to.
- Watch this helpful video to learn about next steps: After the FAFSA
- Learn about how to read your financial aid award letter to understand your net price (the actual cost to attend), what types of financial aid are being offered to you and the order in which to accept aid.
Step 5: Finding other money
Research and apply for grants and scholarships
For anyone – usually based on income and sometimes merit:
- Merit scholarships might be awarded based on academic achievement or on a combination of academics and a special talent, trait, or interest. Other scholarships are based on financial need. They usually do not have to be repaid and can come from government, colleges or private sources.
- College Bound Scholarship: The College Bound Scholarship is a state program administered by the Washington Student Achievement Council. Any 7th or 8th grade student who meets the income eligibility requirements may apply. Call 888-535-0747, option 1 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. (All youth who have been in foster care anytime between grades 7-12—or up to age 21—and who have not graduated from high school are automatically enrolled in the program.)
- theWashBoard.org scholarship search tool: Unique to Washington students, this website allows you to create a profile and then be matched with the scholarship opportunities that fit you. It is spam-free and will never sell your information.
- Washington State Opportunity Scholarship: Opportunity Scholarships help Washington students from low- and middle-income households to attain bachelor’s degrees in high-demand fields, including science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) and health care, through scholarships of up to $22,500. The program also offers professional development, skills-building workshops, and genuine industry exposure to help increase the rate at which students enter our state's workforce.
For unaccompanied homeless youth and former foster youth:
- Passport to Careers Scholarship: Helps former foster youth and unaccompanied homeless youth prepare for and succeed in college, apprenticeships, or pre-apprenticeship programs. Students receive support services from college staff and a scholarship of up to $2,000 per academic year that assists with the cost of attending college (tuition, fees, books, housing, transportation, and some personal expenses).
For youth who have been in foster care:
- Education Training Voucher: ETV is a national program that offers financial assistance to eligible youth with foster care experience. The maximum ETV award is $5,000 per year.
- Governors’ Scholarship for Foster Youth: The Governors’ Scholarship is a program administered by the College Success Foundation. Recipients can receive between $2,000 and $4,000 per academic year.
- Seattle University Fostering Scholars Program: Eligible students receive financial, academic, and personal support towards the completion of an undergraduate degree from Seattle University.
- Foster Care to Success: This program is funded by organizations, individuals, and families across the country and provides funding for tuition, books and supplies for one year.
Washington State programs that use the FAFSA or WASFA as the application – funds are awarded by the college:
- Washington College Grant: Washington’s primary need-based financial aid program for students from low-income families. Student’s must be a Washington State resident and have a family income (foster youth use family size 1) below the amounts posted annually on the Washington College Grant webpage.
- State Work Study: Provides financial aid for low- and middle-income students. Qualifying students get an approved job, on- or off-campus, to support their education.
Federal programs that use the FAFSA as the application – funds are awarded by the college:
- Federal Pell Grant: A federal grant for undergraduate students with financial need who have filed a FAFSA (students must be United States Citizens or eligible noncitizens.) Pell grants can be used to cover a variety of costs generally including: tuition and fees, room and board, supplies, and transportation.
- Federal Work Study: Provides part-time jobs for students with financial need so they can earn money to help pay for expenses. Jobs may be on campus or nearby in the community.
Loans are money you borrow that must be repaid, usually with interest. If you apply for financial aid, you may be offered loans in your award letter. Evaluate your budget carefully and see if you need to accept all or part of the loan(s) offered. Many Passport to Careers students do not need to borrow money for college expenses.
If you decide to take out a loan, make sure keep track of who is making the loan, the amount you borrow, interest rate, when repayment begins, and other conditions.
Loans made by the federal government, called federal student loans, usually have more benefits than loans from banks or private sources.
Financial aid can be complicated, so you may find it useful to review this information:
Step 6: Getting established
Make sure the helpers at your school know who you are
Contact the designated support staff (DSS) at the school you plan to attend. Let that person know if you are eligible for Passport, the College Bound Scholarship, or ETV. Ask them what, if any, documentation is required to confirm your foster care status. But remember, you never have to tell them why you were in foster care. They are there to help you no matter what.