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    Am I a Dependent or Independent Student?

    By Will Geiger

    Will Geiger is the co-founder of Scholarships360 and has a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. He is a former Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Kenyon College where he personally reviewed 10,000 admissions applications and essays. Will also managed the Kenyon College merit scholarship program and served on the financial aid appeals committee. He has also worked as an Associate Director of College Counseling at a high school in New Haven, Connecticut. Will earned his master’s in education from the University of Pennsylvania and received his undergraduate degree in history from Wake Forest University.

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    Reviewed by Caitlyn Cole

    Caitlyn Cole is a college access professional with a decade of experience in non-profit program and project management for college readiness and access organizations.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: June 4th, 2024
    Am I a Dependent or Independent Student?

    When students apply for need-based financial aid through the FAFSA (or Free Application for Student Aid), they will need to determine whether they are a dependent student or an independent student. This distinction can have big implications on a student’s need-based financial aid package. Your dependency status ultimately determines whose information you must report on the FAFSA.

    Jump ahead to:

    Keep on reading everything you need to know about dependency for financial aid and how students can become an independent student.

    What is a dependent student?

    Most high school students (with some exceptions that we will discuss later) qualify as dependent students. Dependent students must report their parents’ or guardians’ financial information on the FAFSA. 

    For the purposes of need-based financial aid, this means that your family’s financial data will be used to calculate your financial aid package. When you are completing the FAFSA as a dependent student, you will have to complete some sections that ask for financial information about your family. This will also be the case for other financial aid forms like the CSS Profile.

    It is important to note that FAFSA dependency is not the same thing as a dependent for tax purposes. As mentioned above, dependency for FAFSA is all about whether students are required to report their parent/guardian’s financial information.

    What is an independent student?

    To qualify as an independent student for the FAFSA, students must meet one of the following criteria:

    • Born before Jan. 1, 2001
    • Married (and not separated) 
    • A graduate or professional student
    • A veteran
    • A member of the U.S. armed forces
    • An orphan
    • A ward of the court
    • A current or former foster youth
    • In a legal guardianship (now or in the past)
    • Someone with legal dependents other than a spouse
    • An emancipated minor
    • Unaccompanied and homeless or at risk of becoming homeless

    If you are an independent student and filling out the FAFSA, your financial aid package will be assessed by only using your own personal financial data.

    How do I become an independent student?

    As you can imagine, the idea of becoming an independent student can be appealing for students applying for financial aid. After all, most high school students will have minimal earnings and financial assets and would qualify for significant financial aid.

    However, there are no FAFSA loopholes for students under 24 to count as an independent student. If you are younger than 24, you will have to meet one of the above criteria:

    • Married
    • A graduate or professional student
    • A veteran or current member of the armed services
    • An orphan or ward of the court
    • Someone with legal dependents other than a spouse
    • An emancipated minor
    • Someone who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless

    If you can’t say “yes” to any of the above criteria, you do not qualify as an independent student for the purposes of financial aid.

    What if my parents refuse to provide information on my FAFSA form? 

    Unfortunately, you cannot be considered an independent student just because your parents refuse to help you with the process. If you are unable to provide their information on the FAFSA, you may not be able to receive any federal student aid. 

    If this situation applies to you, be sure to reach out to your institution’s financial aid office as soon as possible to discuss any alternatives or to help you fill out your FAFSA form. You can even reach out to the Federal Student Aid office for assistance.  

    Read more: How to become an independent student on the FAFSA if under 24

    Next Steps

    Next Steps

    • Complete the Net Price Calculator to receive an estimate of financial aid at almost any college or university
    • Using the above checklist, assess whether you are an independent or dependent student
    • Complete and submit the FAFSA by the FAFSA deadline (Don’t forget the FAFSA must be re-submitted each year you are enrolled in school)
    • Check and see if your college requires any additional financial aid applications, such as the CSS Profile

    Frequently asked questions about whether you are a dependent or independent student

    Should I answer questions about my parents on the FAFSA if I am an independent student?

    If you answer “Yes” to at least one of the dependency questions, you’re considered an independent student. Therefore, you are not required to answer questions about your parents. While some schools may require information about your parents, that should not affect the federal student aid you receive.

    Is it better to file as a dependent or independent in college?

    There is no “better,” rather, there is the truthful situation of individual students. Independent students under the age of 24 usually receive more financial aid and tax benefits since they don’t have parental financial support.

    Can you get FAFSA after 24?

    There is no age restriction for the FAFSA. Students of all ages who qualify are eligible for financial aid.

    What documents do I need to prove my independent status on the FAFSA?

    You may need to provide documents such as tax returns, marriage certificates, proof of children or dependents, proof of military service or court documents proving emancipation.

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