FAFSA Tips:  Am I a Dependent or an Independent Student? 

If you are completing your FAFSA forms (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), you might be wondering if you are considered a dependent or independent student. It is an important question because independent students often have access to additional financial aid resources.

The simple answer is that if you are younger than 24 years old, you are probably considered a DEPENDENT student.

It is important to remember that this classification is NOT related to whether or not a parent claims you as a dependent on his or her tax forms or whether or not you live with a parent. Even if you live on your own, receive no financial help from your parents, and are not claimed as a dependent for tax purposes, you probably still are considered a dependent for the purposes of financial aid.

To be considered an independent student, you must meet at least ONE of the following criteria:
  • Be 24 years of age or older when you file the FAFSA.
  • Be an orphan or a ward of the court.
  • Be a US military veteran.
  • Be a graduate or professional student.
  • Be married.
  • Have legal dependents of your own.
  • Have a financial aid administrator who has documented your independence because of unusual circumstances.

What About Unusual Circumstances?

Q: I am considered a dependent student; however, I have no contact with my parents. What do I do about reporting my parents' income?

In unusual cases

  • A financial aid administrator* can determine that a student who does not meet the above criteria should be treated as an independent student.
  • The financial aid administrator* can change your dependency status from dependent to independent based on adequate documentation of your special circumstances.
  • You must provide this documentation to the financial aid office at your school.
  • The financial aid administrator* cannot automatically change your status simply because you request it.
  • The decision is based on the financial aid administrator's* judgment of the facts of your situation and is final.
  • You cannot appeal that decision to us. Independent students report their own income and assets (and those of a spouse, if married).

Do not forget: Not living with parents or not being claimed by them on tax forms does not determine dependency status for federal student aid.

Q: If I am a dependent student, whose information do I report if my parents are divorced or separated?

You report information about the parent you lived with for the greater amount of time during the 12 months preceding the date you file your FAFSA application.

If you did not live with either parent, or if you lived with each parent an equal amount of time, then use information about the parent who provided the greater amount of financial support during the 12 months prior to the date you file your FAFSA application.

If you did not receive any parental financial support during that time, you must report information about the parent who most recently provided the greater amount of parental support.

Q: Do I report stepparents' information?

Your stepparent's financial information is required on the FAFSA:

  • If the parent you received financial support from was a single parent who is now married, or
  • If the parent you received financial support from was divorced or widowed but has remarried.

This does not mean your stepparent is obligated to give financial assistance to you, but his or her income and assets represent significant information about the family's financial resources. Including this information on the FAFSA helps us form an accurate picture of your family's total financial strength.

Q: Do I need to fill out a FAFSA every year I apply for aid?

Yes. You must reapply for federal student aid every year. If you change schools, your aid does not automatically transfer with you. Remember to check with your new school to find out what you need to do to continue receiving financial aid.

Q: What if I need help filling out my FAFSA?

  • Help text is available and accessible for every question on the FAFSA if you apply online using FAFSA on the Web at www.fafsa.ed.gov. You can also get free live help online at this Web site.
  • Free help is also available online at www.FederalStudentAid.ed.gov/completefafsa
  • Contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) for assistance with any questions you have on either the paper or electronic FAFSA.
  • Contact your high school guidance counselor or your college financial aid office.