When you are filling out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASA), you will be asked your dependency status. The status determines who is considered responsible to pay for your education. There are strict requirements for being able to claim yourself as an independent student, but if you do not qualify under those, there is another set of special circumstances that would allow you to qualify as well.
General Independent Student Status
There is a series of ten (10) questions that is used by the federal government to determine if you are an “independent” or “dependent” student. If you answer YES to any of the questions below, then you should consider yourself an independent student and you may not be required to provide parental information on your FASA. As an independent student you report your own information (and, if you are married, your spouse’s).
1. Will you be 24 or older by Jan. 1 of the school year for which you are applying for financial aid?
2. Are you married or separated but not divorced?
3. Will you be working toward a master’s or doctorate degree (such as M.A., MBA, M.D., J.D., Ph.D., Ed.D., etc.)?
4. Do you have children who receive more than half of their support from you?
5. Do you have dependents (other than children or a spouse) who live with you and receive more than half of their support from you?
6. Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces for purposes other than training?
7. Are you a veteran of the U.S. armed forces?
You are NOT considered a veteran if you:
- have never engaged in active duty (including basic training) in the U.S. armed forces,
- are currently a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) student or a cadet or midshipman at a service academy,
- are a National Guard or Reserves enlistee activated only for state or training purposes, or
- were engaged in active duty in the U.S. armed forces but released under dishonorable conditions.
8. At any time since you turned age 13, were both of your parents deceased, were you in foster care, or were you a ward or dependent of the court?
9. Are you an emancipated minor or are you in a legal guardianship as determined by a court?
You should still answer YES if you are now an adult but were in legal guardianship or were an emancipated minor immediately before you reached the age of being an adult in your state.
10. Are you an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?
If you do not have a determination that you are homeless, but you believe you are an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless, answer NO to the FAFSA questions concerning being homeless. Then contact your financial aid office to explain your situation.
“Homeless”means lacking fixed or regular housing. You may be homeless if you are living in shelters, parks, motels, hotels, cars, or temporarily living with someone else because you have nowhere else to go.
Not living with your parents or not being claimed by them on tax forms does not make you an independent student for FASA purposes. However, there are certain situations that the federal government recognizes as “special circumstances,” that may prevent you from providing your parent information, despite being considered a dependent student. As a nineteen year old, these are the situations that may apply to you:
- Your parents are incarcerated.
- You have left home due to an abusive family environment
- You do not know where your parents are and are unable to contact them (and you have not been adopted).
If any of these situations apply to you then you will be able to indicate on your FASA application that you have “special circumstances,” which will allow you to submit your application without entering data about your parents.
However, although your form will be submitted, it WILL NOT be fully processed. You MUST IMMEDIATELY contact the financial aid office of the school you plan to attend. The financial aid office may have to ask you for additional information to determine whether you can be considered independent and have an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculated without parent data. Try to collect as much written evidence regarding your situation as you can:
- Court or law enforcement documents;
- Letters from highly regarded community members;
- Letters from your school counselor or social worker; and/or
- Any other relevant data that explains your special circumstance.
NOTE: The financial aid office’s decision about your dependency status is final and cannot be appealed to the U.S. Department of Education.
Located in Pittsburgh, Chris Miksen has been writing instructional articles on a wide range of topics for online publications since 2007. He currently owns and operates a vending business. Miksen has written a variety of technical and business articles throughout his writing career. He studied journalism at the Community College of Allegheny County.