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    How to Become an Independent Student if Under 24

    By Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

    Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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    Reviewed by Annie Trout

    Annie has spent the past 18+ years educating students about college admissions opportunities and coaching them through building a financial aid package. She has worked in college access and college admissions for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission/Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, Middle Tennessee State University, and Austin Peay State University.

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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 17th, 2024
    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 Student Aid Index, or SAI. 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:

    • The student in married (not separated) or remarried as of the application date
    • The student is a graduate or professional student during the award year
    • The student is currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces for purposes other than training
    • The student is a veteran of the U.S. armed forces
    • The student has children or dependents other than a spouse
    • The student is (or was at any time after reaching the age of 13) an orphan, foster child, or ward/dependent of the court
    • The student is (or was when the student reached the age of majority) an emancipated minor or in a legal guardianship, as determined by a court in the student’s state of legal residence
    • The student was at any time on or after July 1, 2023, determined to be unaccompanied and (1) homeless or (2) self-supporting and at risk of being homeless with a determination from one of the entities listed on the FAFSA form

    If you answered yes to one or more of the questions above then for federal student aid purposes you’re considered to be an independent student and will not be required to submit your parent’s information on the FAFSA.

    Related: Do you have to pay back FAFSA money?

    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, 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. 

    Quick Tip

    Filing the FAFSA as an independent student is a tough process, but you don’t have to navigate it alone. Try reaching out to your high school counselor to get help assembling the paperwork and filing it.

    Additional resources

    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!

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • Filing as an independent allows you to get a financial aid package that isn’t impacted by your parent’s income. 
    • Be sure to check the requirements for filing as an independent to make sure you qualify.
    • Even if you don’t meet those requirements, you can apply for a dependency override or scholarships at your school of choice.
    • Dependency overrides are rare and given for certain circumstances, so be sure to have a backup plan. 
    • If you’re unable to qualify as an independent, and you support yourself, it may be time to consider other options while you wait such as trade school, community college, or bootcamps. 

    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?

    If you’re 24 when you apply for FAFSA, you are automatically qualified as an independent and can file based on your own finances. However, there are a set of qualifications for students under 24 that wish to file as an independent.

    How do I qualify for a dependency override?

    Dependency overrides are usually given to students who have unstable households or are unable to reach their parents. This can include hospitalized or incarcerated parents or guardians. However, dependency overrides are determined by the school you’re applying to, so check in with a financial aid advisor as soon as possible.

    What should I do if I believe I qualify as an independent student but am unsure?

    Contact the financial aid office at your college or university for guidance! They can provide information about the criteria for independent status and help you understand your options.

    What if I become an independent student after already starting college?

    You can update your FAFSA if your circumstances change during the academic year. Contact your college’s financial aid office for guidance on how to update your information and potentially qualify for additional aid.

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