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How to Become an Independent Student if Under 24
Filing the FAFSA as an independent student can greatly change your financial aid package. If you support yourself financially, you probably feel that your financial aid should not be based on your parents’ income. The process for filing as an independent can be tricky for students under 24. Read on to find out what qualifies you as an independent student in the eyes of the FAFSA.
Why file the FAFSA as an independent?
The FAFSA collects information about your household’s finances in order to calculate your Expected Family Contribution, or EFC. This number determines your eligibility for need-based financial aid. But if you support yourself, you may not want your parents’ income to affect your aid package.
Its inclusion could create unreasonable expectations for what you can contribute. So, filing independently will help you get a financial aid package that’s more suited to your financial situation. However, some students who support themselves may not qualify since the FAFSA has a strict set of qualifications.
What makes me an independent student on the FAFSA?
Students who are 24 at the time of filing or who turn 24 by December 31 of the award year are automatically considered independent. If you are under 24, you might be considered independent for federal aid purposes if:
- Married or separated but not divorced
- Pursuing a master’s or doctorate degree
- You have children who receive at least half of their financial support from you
- You have dependents who are not your child or spouse but receive at least half of their financial support from you
- Currently serving in the armed forces on active duty, and are not in training
- You are a veteran
- Both of your parents have passed away
- You have been in foster care, been a ward, or a dependent of the court at any point since turning 13
- Emancipated or in a legal guardianship
- You are an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or self-supporting and at risk of becoming homeless
Related: Do you have to pay back FAFSA money?
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What if I don’t meet these requirements?
Unfortunately, students who don’t meet these requirements typically cannot obtain independent FAFSA status. Even if your parents refuse to fill out the FAFSA or are unable or unwilling to contribute financially, the government will still view you as a dependent.
This can be a very frustrating situation for students. It makes the already-difficult process of funding your education even more difficult. Here are your options if you don’t meet the requirements:
Talk to a financial aid officer about dependency overrides
Students who don’t meet the federal requirements can still file as independents if they get a dependency override from a college or university. These overrides are granted for extenuating circumstances, which means they are extremely rare. So, students may receive a dependency override at one school, but denied at another.
Dependency overrides are typically given for abusive or unstable household situations or hospitalized or incarcerated parents. They can also be awarded if you are unaware of your parents’ location and are unable to get in touch with them.
If you think you may qualify for a dependency override, make sure to start the process early by talking to your college’s financial aid office. Students in this situation will most likely need to provide additional information, including court documents and letters from counselors or teachers that are familiar with your situation.
Students shouldn’t count on receiving a dependency override until they can confirm that a college has accepted them. Additionally, students who are applying to multiple colleges will need to repeat this process at every college they are applying to.
Related: How to write a financial aid appeal letter
Looking for other scholarships and financial aid
If you can’t obtain independent status, you should start applying for external scholarships. Try setting aside an hour or two per day to write applications and find opportunities. If you apply to a wide variety of awards, they’ll add up and could make college a feasible option for you.
You can start your search by looking through Scholarships360’s scholarship lists. We organize our lists by state, major, and many other categories. You can also consult college counselors and advisors at your school to learn about scholarship opportunities that cater to students from your area.
Changing your plans
If you are supporting yourself but your parents’ income disqualifies you from federal aid, it may not be practical to attend your first choice college right now. You could try looking into less expensive options such as two year colleges, more affordable four year colleges, trade schools or certificate programs.
Some of these programs like trade schools, bootcamps, and certificate programs are shorter and less expensive than four-year college. On top of that, they qualify you for jobs that pay a living wage, and allow you to save up to eventually attend a four-year college.
If you are having trouble financing your education because your parents are unable or unwilling to pay, the situation can be very disheartening. But remember that there are resources and alternatives out there for you. If that means going to community college or a trade school for the time being, you can lay out a plan to help ensure that you make it to college. Good luck in your college planning, and make sure to try our scholarship search tool to help finance your education!
Frequently asked questions about how to become an independent student if under the age of 24
How do I know if I qualify as an independent?
How do I qualify for a dependency override?