It’s important to determine whether you are a dependent student or an independent student prior to filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
What sort of financial information you will have to provide in your FAFSA depends on whether or not you will receive financial assistance from your parents to pay for your college education.
There are siginificant differences between being a dependent and an independent student so that you may be able to fill out your FAFSA form correctly.
What is a Dependent Student?
A dependent student is someone who will receive financial support from his or her family.
So, in other words, if you will obtain the assistance of your parents in paying for your college education, then you are considered an independent student.
It’s important, too, that you do not meet certain criteria to be regarded as an independent student.
Shortly, we will enumerate the different criteria that make a student independent, so keep reading!
Because your parents will pay for your college, you must provide their financial information in your FAFSA form when filling it out.
As a dependent student, you have no financial information of your own.
Because of this, your eligibility for financial aid will be based on your family’s financial situation by taking into account the income and assets of your parents and your family’s assets.
As a general rule of thumb, the lower your family’s income, the higher the financial aid award you are eligible for.
It’s important to point out, however, that independent students tend to be eligible for more generous financial aid awards, the reason behind which you will learn in a few when we’re talking about what an independent student is.
What is an Independent Student?
In a nutshell, an independent student is someone who will not receive college education financial support from his or her parents.
As such, the student’s eligibility for financial aid will be based solely on his or her annual income as well as assets — and those of the student’s spouse, if he or she is married.
A number of factors determine if you qualify as an independent student, from your age to marital status and from whether you are an active-duty servicemember or at risk of being homeless.
Meeting some or all of the following criteria makes you an independent student:
- 24 years old or older
- A graduate or professional student
- A parent or guardian of at least one dependent kid
- An active member of the US Armed Forces
- A veteran
- An orphan or ward of the court
- Considered an emancipated minor
- Homeless or at risk of being homeless
Because you will not receive any financial assistance from your parents for your college education, it’s very much likely for you to receive more financial aid than you would as a dependent student.
Of course, you are an exception if you have a higher expected family contribution (EFC).
FAFSA Dependency Status
Filling out the FAFSA form requires you to declare whether you are a dependent or an independent student.
It’s important to figure out your correct dependency status beforehand as it will determine what sort of information you have to provide in your FAFSA, such as whether it’s your parents’ or your own financial information you need to specify.
Your dependency status is the single most important factor that will determine the financial aid types you are eligible for as well as how much financial aid you are eligible to receive.
The federal government will consider your dependency status in establishing the financial support you need.
As someone who is considered a dependent student, it will be assumed that you have some form of financial support from your parents.
On the other hand, as someone who is regarded as an independent student, it will be assumed that you don’t receive any financial support from your parents, so their financial situation will be disregarded.
Your parents’ financial information will be used by the federal government in calculating your financial aid award if you are a dependent student, and your own financial information if you are an independent student.
Circumstances That Could Keep You From Providing Your Parents’ Financial Information
There are some special circumstances that could prevent you from indicating the financial situation of your parents on your FAFSA form.
They include the following:
- you being a US citizen but your parents are undocumented,
- having no contact with your parents and your parents
- your parents not willing to help you with your college education.
QUIZ: How to Know If You’re an Independent Student
To help you determine if you are an independent student so that you can fill out your FAFSA form correctly, here’s the simple quiz.
Simply answer the following 15 questions with a “yes” or “no”:
- Were you born 24 years ago or earlier?
- Have you tied the knot with your sweetheart?
- Have you said “I do” but are now separated although not divorced?
- Do you have kids who get more than 50% of their financial support from you?
- Other than your spouse and kids, do you have dependents who get more than 50% of their financial support from you?
- Since you turned 13 years old, were both your parents deceased?
- Since you turned 13 years old, were you in foster care?
- Since you turned 13 years old, were you a dependent or ward of the court?
- Are you or were you considered an emancipated minor in your state?
- Does someone else other than your parent or stepparent have legal guardianship of you?
- Are you an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or self-supporting?
- Are you at risk of being homeless?
- At the start of the academic year, will you be pursuing a graduate or professional degree?
- Right now, are you serving on active duty in the US Armed Forces for reasons other than training?
- Are you a veteran of the US Armed Forces?
It’s very much likely that you are an independent student if you answered one or mostly “yes” to the questions above.
But to be certain, consult the website of the Federal Student Aid or the college of your choosing.
How Do Colleges Treat Dependent and Independent Students?
Some colleges may treat dependent and independent students differently in the admissions process.
For instance, in some cases, dependent students may have increased admissions chances because of their access to more financial resources.
Regarding financial aid, some colleges may treat independent students more favorably than dependent ones.
In terms of chances of getting an acceptance letter, dependent students may have an edge over their independent counterparts. This is especially true if the college is the need-aware kind.
A need-aware college, simply put, considers the ability of an applicant to pay the full sticker price.
Because dependent students can get financial support from their parents, some of them may not apply for financial aid, especially those from high-income backgrounds.
On the other hand, since independent students do not get financial support from their parents, they are more likely to need more financial help to pay for their college education.
When it comes to eligibility for financial aid, the situation takes a 180-degree turn — independent students tend to be more eligible for more generous financial aid award packages than their dependent peers.
Changing a student’s dependency status from dependent to independent is referred to as a dependency override.
Some of the qualifying factors for such include homelessness, parental abuse and estrangement from the parents.
Overriding the dependency of a student can be carried out by the federal student aid program and the college’s financial aid administrators.
What Happens If You Lie About Your Dependency Status to Get More Aid?
Lying about your dependency status in order to qualify for more financial aid is considered a felony.
According to the Federal Student Aid itself, purposely providing false or misleading information on your FAFSA may result in you getting fined up to $20,000.
In some instances, you may be sent to prison or pay the fine and end up behind bars at the same time.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.