How Do You Know If You’re An Independent College Student?

A student sits at his desk filing the FAFSA as an independent college student

College is certainly a time of growing independence. Many college students would consider themselves independent, in charge of their own day to day tasks and responsibilities. But independent and dependent mean other things in the college world, especially when it comes to financial matters.

When filling the FAFSA, you will need to state whether you’re applying as a dependent or independent college student. This determines whether you need to report your own financial details or your parent’s financial details.

Dependent Vs. Independent College Students

  • Dependent college students report their parent’s financial details as well as their own.
  • Independent college students report only their own financial details.
  • Independent and married students report their spouse’s financial information along with their own.

The FAFSA and Dependency

You may think of yourself as independent if you’re living on your own and supporting yourself on your earnings. For FAFSA purposes, however, this would not necessarily qualify you as an independent college student. The FAFSA has its own set criteria for determining students’ dependency status.

So are you dependent or independent according to the FAFSA? Here’s what you need to know.

How FAFSA Defines Dependency

According to the FAFSA, you are considered an independent college student if you meet any of these criteria:

  • You’re at least 24 years old. You must be 24 years or older by 1st January of the academic year for which you are applying for financial aid.
  • You are married or separated but not divorced.
  • You’re working towards a master’s degree or a doctorate.
  • One or more children receive more than half their financial support from you.
  • You have legal dependents other than children or a spouse, and half their financial support comes from you.
  • You currently serve on active duty in the Armed Forces for purposes other than training.
  • You’re a veteran of the United States Armed Forces.
  • Both your parents were deceased and you were in foster care or a ward of the court at any time since you turned 13.
  • A court judge determines you are an emancipated minor or in legal guardianship.
  • You’re homeless or at risk of being homeless. A high school liaison, HUD-approved homeless shelter, or transitional program determines this.

If you meet any of the above criteria, you don’t need to report your parent’s financial information on the FAFSA.

If none of the above applies to you, you will report your parent’s financial information on the FAFSA as a dependent.

Will You Get Financial Aid As An Independent College Student?

Yes, independent college students can still receive financial aid. Also, stating that you’re dependent doesn’t mean automatically require your parents to pay anything towards your education. The FAFSA only uses this information to get a picture of the family’s financial strength. It is also used to calculate the maximum amount you can borrow in Direct Loans.

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