Dependent Student Vs. Independent Student Status on the FAFSA

Yesterday, one of our companion sites received a helpful email from an administrator in the Financial Aid Office of University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, PA. Ms. Pamela Ramanathan pointed out that when it comes to dependent student vs. independent student status on the FAFSA, “Students must provide parent information on the FAFSA unless they meet the qualification for independent student. Not being claimed on your parents’ tax return does NOT make a student independent. Even if students are not claimed on their parents’ tax returns, they usually still have to provide parent information.”

This is the kind of insight that is valuable for having come straight from an expert working with real people in real situations. Thanks, Ms. Ramanathan! The clarification prompted a curiosity to know more about this FAFSA issue.

What’s the difference between Dependent Student and Independent Student status on the FAFSA?

Essentially, dependent students must report their parents’ income and assets on the FAFSA in addition to their own. Independent students report their own income and assets (and those of their spouse, if they’re married). Generally, they do not have to report their parents’ income or assets.

In fact, it’s easier to define independent student status first, because dependent student status, well, depends on whether or not you fit independent student status.

Reminder: If you’re planning to enroll in a higher education program that starts between now and June 30, 2010, you must file a 2009-2010 FAFSA. If your education program doesn’t start until after July 1st, you’ll submit the 2010-2011 FAFSA.

Definition of “Independent Student

For federal financial aid eligibility, you are an independent student IF AT LEAST ONE of these criteria applies to you:

  • You are 24 years old or older (Born before Jan. 1, 1986 for the 2009-2010 FAFSA; born before Jan. 1, 1987 for the 2010-2011 FAFSA).
  • You’re married on the day you apply for financial aid (even if you are separated but not divorced).
  • You are or will be enrolled in a master’s or doctoral degree program (beyond a bachelor’s degree) at the beginning of the academic year* your FAFSA is for, 2009-2010 or 2010-2011.
  • You’re currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training.
  • You’re a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces. (A “veteran” includes students who attended a U.S. service academy and were released under a condition other than dishonorable.)
  • You have children who will receive more than half their support from you during the FAFSA academic year*.
  • You have legal dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and who receive more than half their support from you now and through June 30, 2010 for a 2009-2010 FAFSA or June 30, 2011 if you’re filing a 2010-2011 FAFSA.
  • When you were age 13 or older, both your parents were deceased and you were you in foster care or a dependent or ward of the court.
  • As of the day you apply for aid, you are an emancipated minor as determined by a court in your state of legal residence.
  • As of the day you apply for aid, you are in legal guardianship as determined by a court in your state of legal residence.
  • At any time on or after the July before you file your FAFSA, your high school or school district homeless liaison determined that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless.
  • At any time on or after the July before you file your FAFSA, the director of an emergency shelter program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determined that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless.
  • At any time on or after the July before you file your FAFSA, the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determined that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless.

These are the standard criteria for defining an independent student on the FAFSA. If none of them applies to you, you are considered a dependent student.

You can find additional details and downloadable tip sheets on dependent student vs. independent student status, parents and stepparents, and dependent students in special circumstances at Student Aid on the Web Publications, Forms, and Brochures.


* A number of “independent student” criteria are restricted to specific academic years. For the purpose of federal financial aid and the FAFSA, relevant academic years are defined as:

  • 2009-2010: July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010
  • 2010-2011: July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011

9 comments to “Dependent Student Vs. Independent Student Status on the FAFSA”

  1. I am making sure I understand the conditions of dependent and independent. Because I was born in September of 1986 I can file as an independent for 2010-2011 school year. Is this correct?

  2. Hello Reader,

    Thank you for reading the EducationGrant Blog. We strive to provide financial aid information, news, and research resources. For advice regarding your personal situation, you should always speak directly with a counselor in your school’s financial aid office. It is the financial aid office’s job and responsibility to explain and help you understand all your college costs and financial aid options. Best wishes for your college success, the EducationGrant Editors

  3. Is there more advantages to the independent status than the dependent status as far as available money?

  4. I’m confused, I graduated with a BA from college once, I got a job which requires me to go back and get a second BA, but i have to file as a dependent because I’m going back for a second BA and under the age of 24? I live on my own, pay my own bills and have my own job and file my taxes as an independent!? Am I missing something?

  5. Lindsay–based solely on what you mentioned above, then yes, I’d be inclined to say you are still a dependent student. However, there are a number of other criteria you may meet that you did not specify, such as whether or not you were an emancipated minor as determined by a court or if your parents are deceased.

    You may change your dependent status by requesting a dependency review through your financial aid office. You will have to provide documentation explaining your situation, and in some cases, your FAFSA will be filed on your behalf with a dependency override, making you independent.

    Best of luck!
    Community Manager

  6. So, I’ve got a situation for you. My father who I never see or talk to is technically the only parent who counts in my FAFSA. But he avoids me like the plague and essentially refuse to help me with this at all, now I know based on that I can’t get a dependency override. However my step-mom (my father’s second wife, who never legal adopted me while they were married, so I can’t claim her as my parent) parents let me live with them, since my step-mom doesn’t count in my FAFSA, and as far as the law is considered aren’t even my family, would I qualify for a dependency override, or homeless (the application said homeless was defined as “living with someone because you have no where else to live” or anything, or am I just screwed until I turn 24?

  7. My son was listed as a dependent on my tax forms this year because he was on full disability for the whole year and technically speaking had no income. Is he considered a dependent or independent?

  8. Our daughter, 19, moved out (while we were gone one day) and in with her boyfriends parents who are enabling her. She has a parttime job, is going to school fulltime, and drives her own car and has her own car insurance. We were helping her with college last semester. This semester, she applied for fin. aid (since she thinks she is INDEPENDENT) and got an independent status on her financial aid. She fits none of the criteria for independent status. How could this possibly happen? She is at a junior college for one more year. She is NOT a veteran, not married, no children never a ward of the state, etc. I’m a little confused.

  9. How you doin? just droppin by and I just couldn’t help but say thanks. Really helps me understand it. Your fan, Doug Stevenson.

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