What’s the Difference Between an Independent and Dependent Student?

Are you considered an independent or dependent student?

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When you go to fill out your FAFSA form for federal financial aid, one thing you will have to determine is if you’re a dependent or an independent student. This is crucial as it will affect how much money you can receive from the Department of Education.

An Independent Student

You must meet multiple criteria for the government to consider you as an independent student. If you are applying for financial aid for 2018 and you will be 24 by January 1st, 2018, you will be considered an independent student. Age is the most common way to apply for this status, but there are other ways. If you are going for your master’s or doctorate, are currently married or separated, have dependents (children or others) of your own, are an orphan, or have a military history, you will be able to apply for financial aid as an independent student.

It may help you financially to apply solo if you can. You are likely to receive more money from the government as you would than as a dependent. If married, you must include your spouse’s income, as well as your own while applying.

When filling out the form under this status, remember to include the number of dependents and proof of your own independence. Some schools will also require parental information even if they will not be on your loans.

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A Dependent Student

 If you answered “no” to all the criteria listed above, you will be considered a dependent student. When you apply for financial aid, you need to include yours and your parents’ information.

Switching your status from dependent to independent is not easy. If your parents refuse to help you with your college education and their information is not included in your form, the application will be rejected. If you are stuck in this situation, however, you may be able to apply for an unsubsidized loan. FAFSA will be able to direct you in the best course to receive this.

Don’t Be Afraid to Explain Your Circumstances

Only special circumstances involving your parents will allow you to apply for independent status. This can include abandonment, an abusive situation, hospitalization, incarceration, or institutionalization. If you are in one of these situations, apply using FAFSA but immediately contact the federal aid office to explain your application. Also, FAFSA does not consider dependent students as independent even if they claim independency on federal tax returns, own a home or an apartment, or divorced.

The umbrellas of dependent and independent may not benefit a student’s situation. However, it’s important to know which you are before applying for federal financial aid. Filling out the form as an independent will almost always net you more aid. If you meet the qualifications, try filing as an independent student. Still unsure or you have strenuous circumstances like the examples listed above? Get in touch with the federal aid department or the financial aid department of your school.

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