Who Counts as my Parent & What is my Household Size?

One of the more challenging aspects of the FAFSA® can be who counts among a student’s family and household size. In the real world, the definition of family can be flexible, but for the purposes of the FAFSA®, there is far less room for interpretation.

Some FAFSA® background on Household Size

The FAFSA® is built around the premise that students and families are expected to contribute financially to education expenses. That’s why the key figure the FAFSA® produces is called the Expected Family Contribution.

To generate that number, the FAFSA® gathers a family’s financial information to get a clear picture of the family’s financial situation. But what constitutes a family? Who is included in household size. For many, that answer can be complicated.

Since the FAFSA® is more concerned with finances than relationships, the application attempts to define “family” as those who are expected to be financially supported by the same head of household, even if that isn’t always the case.

The FSA established a set of guidelines to determine whether a student should be considered financially dependent on a legal parent or financially independent from their legal parent. More information about dependency status can be found here.

Who is my legal parent?

Dependent students are required to report their parent or parents’ financial information on the FAFSA®. Figuring out who counts as a legal parent can be tricky, since the FAFSA®’s objective is to determine who should be financially responsible for a student, and not necessarily who is the financially responsible individual.

The FAFSA® limits the definition of a legal parent to a “biological or adoptive parent, or a person that the state has determined to be your parent.” Grandparents, other relatives, Godparents, foster parents, and legal guardians do not qualify as a legal parent unless they have formally adopted the student.

Dependent students should use this guide to determine which parent or parents’ need to be included on their application:

Parents never married, not living togetherThe parent you’ve lived with most over the last year. If you spent equal time with both parents, enter the information of the parent who provided more financial support.
Unmarried but living togetherBoth parents.
RemarriedThe parent you’ve lived with most over the last year, and their spouse (your stepparent).
Divorced or separatedThe parent you’ve lived with most over the last year. If you spent equal time with both parents, enter the information of the parent who provided more financial support.
WidowedYour parent.

How do I determine my Household Size?

Since a family’s budget is directly tied to the number of people (aka household size)that family financially supports, household size is a key factor in calculating a student’s EFC score. It’s important that students and parents get this number right.

The household size is, in simple terms, the number of people for whom the financial head of household is financially responsible. Any children of the head of household whom the FAFSA® would consider a dependent student should also be included in this number, even if they are not financially supported by the head of household.

Dependent students should use this formula to determine their household size:

You + Number of legal parents (1 or 2) + Number of other children and dependents for whom your parent or parents are financially responsible or would otherwise be considered a dependent student on the FAFSA®

And independent students should use this formula:

You + Spouse (if married) + Number of children and other dependents for whom you and your spouse are financially responsible or would otherwise be considered a dependent student on the FAFSA®

Once you have determined how many people are in the student’s household size, you will be asked how many people in that household will be attending college during the academic year for which the FAFSA® is being filed. It is important to always include the student whose FAFSA® is being filed in that number.