How to Apply for FAFSA as an Independent?

As an undergrad, you are still considered a dependent of your parents for the purposes of federal aid. That means that you need their financial information when you apply for federal aid, even if they aren't helping you go to school. Learn more about how to apply FAFSA as an independent.

Updated by Harsh Rao on 7th February 2020

Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an important step for many students as it is a core requirement if you're seeking financial assistance to pay for your education without any financial burden.

Usually, students under the age of 24 are said to be dependent on federal financial aid. But if a student has no family members to provide with the financial support, you may be eligible to apply as an independent.


Criteria for filing as an independent student

If you fall under the following eligibility criteria, you can be considered as an independent individual

  • Be 24 years or an orphan
  • Be a veteran or active duty member of the armed forces

  • Be a graduate or professional student

  • Married

  • Having legal dependents

  • Receiving a waiver from a financial aid administrator for unusual circumstances

  • Homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

The eligibility criteria is a broad subject that covers multiple unique scenarios. The completion of the FAFSA is the reason you need to find out whether you qualify as an independent or dependent student. If you can prove one of the above scenarios, you can change your status by completing a dependency review form, which can be received from your financial aid office.

It doesn’t matter how financially independent a student is, if they don’t meet any of the above requirements, they are not considered independent for financial aid purposes.

Dependency status for federal student aid purposes is not the same as dependency status for federal income tax purposes. Students who are dependent on federal student aid purposes must supply parent information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Students who are independent do not have to supply their parents’ information and often qualify for more student financial aid as a result.


Can you file FAFSA without parents?

It is the government’s presumption that most of the college students obtain some kind of monetary funding from their parents. That assistance may include at least a partial payment of tuition fees, but whatever the expenses that incur apart from academics must also be considered. Hence, the government will consider undergraduates to be dependent students by default.

For undergraduates, this means, in order to apply for federal financial aid, including grants, work-study, and many more, they’ll need to get their parents to pay for something.


Also Read about FAFSA - Complete Guide


What if your parents refuse to meet your educational expenses?

Do not expect the colleges to grant a dependency override in case your parents refuse to contribute to the student’s education, or in case your parents refuse to file the FAFSA or complete verification, or because the parents do not claim the student as a dependent on their federal income tax returns or because the student is totally self-sufficient.

None of these above reasons, not even in combination, is sufficient justification for a dependency override. Unusual circumstances may merit a dependency override, which is subject to a case-by-case review by and the professional judgment of the college financial aid administrator.

These circumstances include an abusive family environment (e.g., court protection from abuse orders against the parents), abandonment by the parents, or incarceration, hospitalization or institutionalization of both parents.


How important is your financial transparency?

Your dependency status also determines the amount of aid available to you, so it's important to disclose full and accurate information to make sure that you receive financial assistance to help cover tuition, fees, room and board, and other college costs to the fullest.

Since independent students are usually perceived as providing their own financial support, they might be able to get a larger aid package or qualify for more grant funding to help pay for their academics as compared to a dependent student whose parents have a higher combined income.


Conclusion

To make it crystal clear, the following is the Dependency Status Questions on the 2020–21 FAFSA Form, which will help you evaluate your dependency (or independency):

Were you born before Jan. 1, 1997?

Yes

No

As of today, are you married? (Also answer “Yes” if you are separated but not divorced.)

Yes

No

At the beginning of the 2020–21 school year, will you be working on a master’s or doctorate program (such as an M.A., MBA, M.D., J.D., Ph.D., Ed.D., graduate certificate, etc.)?

Yes

No

Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces for purposes other than training? (If you are a National Guard or Reserves enlistee, are you on active duty for other than state or training purposes?)

Yes

No

Are you a veteran of the U.S. armed forces?*

Yes

No

Do you now have—or will you have—children who will receive more than half of their support from you between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021?

Yes

No

At any time since you turned age 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care, or were you a dependent or ward of the court?

Yes

No

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? (You also should 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. Answer “No” if the court papers say “custody” rather than “guardianship.”)

Yes

No

At any time on or after July 1, 2019, were you determined to be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless, as determined by (a) your high school or district homeless liaison, (b) the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or (c) the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program?**

Yes

No

What if you answered "Yes" to one or more of the questions above?

  • If so, then for federal student aid purposes, you’re considered to be an independent student and will not provide information about your parents on the FAFSA form.

What if you answered "No" to every question?

  • If so, then for federal student aid purposes, you’re considered to be a dependent student, and you must provide information about your parents on the FAFSA form.