The FAFSA® classifies each student as either dependent or independent based on their age, family status, and academic background. Dependent students are required to report their parent’s information on their application, while independent students are not.
What is Dependency Status?
FAFSA® expects students and their families to contribute financially to a student’s education. To determine when a family should no longer be considered financially responsible for a student, the FSA created “dependency guidelines.”
In simple terms, a dependent student is expected to be financially dependent on his or her parents, while an independent student is expected to be financially independent.
Dependent students are required to report their parent’s information on their FAFSA®.
It’s important to note that whether you are or are not financially dependent on your parents, in reality, is not part of the FSA’s dependency equation.
Answering “no” to all of the dependency questions on the FAFSA® form means that you are considered a dependent student. If you answer “yes” to even one of the questions, you will be considered an independent student.
Dependency Status Questions
Make sure you answer these questions honestly to ensure that your application is processed properly. Keep in mind that the questions may change slightly from year to year. For example, the year for the birth date question changes each year.
The questions you will need to answer for the 2021-22 form are:
- Will you be at least 24 years old on December 31st of the academic year for which you are applying for aid?
- As of today, are you married?
- Are you working on a master’s or doctorate program?
- Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces for purposes other than training?
- Are you a veteran of the U.S. armed forces?
- Do you now have, or will you have, children who will receive more than half of their support from you during the school year for which you are applying for aid?
- Do you have dependents other than your children or spouse who live with you and who receive more than half of their support from you, now and through June 30, 2021?
- Are both of your parents deceased, with one of your parents passing after you turned 13?
- Were you in Foster Care or declared a ward of the court at any time since turning 13?
- Has it been determined by a court in your state of legal residence that you are an emancipated minor or that someone other than your parent or stepparent has legal guardianship of you?
- At any time on or after July 1, 2016, were you determined to be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless, as determined by your high school or district homeless liaison, the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program?
The determination of whether you are a dependent student or an independent student is an important part of getting your financial aid. These questions allow the financial aid department to classify you properly and ensure that you get the right funding for your education.
If the FAFSA® has classified you as a dependent student, but your parents are unable to provide the necessary information to complete your application, you may be eligible for a dependency override. A dependency override allows your school to process your application as an independent student.
The following circumstances may merit a dependency override:
- Student’s parents are incarcerated
- The student has been abandoned
- The student comes from an abusive family
- Parents can’t be located
- Parents lack the physical or mental ability to be involved
When granting dependency overrides, the FSA directs schools to differentiate between parents who are mentally or physically incapable of completing the FAFSA® and those who are simply unwilling to do so.
Requesting a Dependency Override
Once you have completed and submitted as much of the FAFSA® as possible, you will need to contact your school’s financial aid office directly to explain your family situation. When you contact your school, ask for their dependency override application and for information about their dependency override process.
Each school asks for different information from the student, but some recurring themes are any court or other legal documents explaining your parent or parents’ absence in your life, as well as written statements from the student and qualified adults in the student’s life.
Students should be aware that they will need to apply for a dependency override each year they file a FAFSA®.