You can file, have no income and get a refund.
This may seen like a trick but I assure you it is correct. However, you must qualify for the American Opportunity Tax Credit.
Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), more parents and students will qualify for a tax credit, the American Opportunity Tax Credit, to pay for college expenses.
The American Opportunity Tax Credit modifies the existing Hope Credit for tax years 2009 and 2010 under ARRA. The credit was extended to apply for tax years 2011 and 2012 by the Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2010. The new credit makes the Hope Credit available to a broader range of taxpayers, including many with higher incomes and those who owe no tax. It also adds required course materials to the list of qualifying expenses and allows the credit to be claimed for four post-secondary education years instead of two. Many of those eligible will qualify for the maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student.
The full credit is available to individuals whose modified adjusted gross income is $80,000 or less, or $160,000 or less for married couples filing a joint return. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels.
Based on the above, a person who is not claimed as a dependent on another persons tax return, and has paid or have a student loan for classes and books may qualify for the refundable portion of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, of up to $1,000.