Independent Student

What is an independent student?

An independent student meets specific legal requirements to qualify for more federal financial aid to pay for college.

Among many factors, independent students do not have access to their guardian's financial resources. As a result, an independent student only needs to report their financial information (or their spouses, if married) on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) — not their guardians' income and finances.

What do you need to qualify as an independent student?

The Department of Education provides FAFSA applicants with a list of ten questions to better help them determine their independent vs dependent status.

Generally, students are considered independent if they answer "yes" to one of the following qualifications:

  • The student is married or separated (not divorced)
  • The student is earning a graduate degree
  • The student is serving in active duty in the military or a veteran
  • The student is in foster care, lost both parents by the age of 13, or is a ward of the court
  • The student is legally emancipated
  • The student is homeless or deemed at-risk for homelessness by an approved official
  • The student is responsible for a dependent who receives more than half of their support from the student
  • The student is over 24 years old by January 1 of the award year

Independent students must provide additional documentation proving their independent status.

What if you were a dependent student but your eligibility for status changed?

If a student believes their status has changed since applying to FAFSA, a financial aid officer must request a dependency review form.

Once the form is complete, dependency overrides may allow financial aid officers to revisit a student's circumstances and FAFSA status to possibly provide them independent status, even if they don't meet the federal guidelines. A committee or financial aid office then reviews the forms.

Dependency overrides are rare, and on a case-by-case, school-by-school basis, and are typically reserved for unusual circumstances such as:

  • Abandonment by parents
  • Court protection from abuse
  • Incarceration, institutionalization, or hospitalization of both parents
  • Or unknown whereabouts of legal guardians

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