Requirements to Apply as a FAFSA Independent Student
Being a FAFSA independent student can impact how you apply for aid
Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a rite of passage for many students and it's also a requirement if you're hoping to use federal loans to pay for a college degree. Most students under the age of 24 are considered dependent for federal financial aid purposes but if you have no family members that provide financial support, you may qualify to apply as a FAFSA independent student.
Your dependency status matters when determining whether you're eligible for federal student aid and in what amount. If you're wondering whether you qualify to apply as a FAFSA independent student, here's what you need to know.
What Is a FAFSA Independent Student?
It's important to understand dependency requirements and what makes you a dependent or independent student for federal aid purposes. According to the Department of Education, an independent student must meet at least one of the following criteria:
- 24 years of age or older
- A graduate or professional student
- A veteran or active duty member of the armed forces
- An orphan or ward of the court
- Someone with legal dependents, other than a spouse
- An emancipated minor
- Someone who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless
That's a fairly broad definition that covers multiple unique scenarios. The reason you need to know whether you qualify as independent or dependent is that it determines how you'll complete the FAFSA.
If you're a dependent student, you may need to include your parents' income and financial information on the application to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your parents' information is generally not required if you're considered an independent student.
Your dependency status also impacts how much aid you're eligible to receive, so it's important to get it right if you're relying on financial aid to help cover tuition, fees, room and board, and other college costs. Because independent students are generally viewed as providing their own financial support, they may be able to get a larger aid package or qualify for more in grant funding to help pay for their education versus a dependent student whose parents have a higher combined income.
Filling Out the FAFSA as an Independent Student
If you're planning to claim FAFSA independent student status, be prepared to prove that you truly are independent, particularly if you qualify for both subsidized and unsubsidized loans. In that scenario, you may need to provide copies of:
- Income tax returns showing your filing status and income
- Military service records
- Contact information for a caseworker or housing assistance contact if you're homeless
This information may be requested by your school's financial aid office. Once you provide it, they'll forward it to the Department of Education to verify your independent student status. After that, they'll continue processing your financial aid package.
Claiming FAFSA Independent Student Status Using a Waiver
If you don't meet any of the criteria mentioned earlier, it's still possible to complete the FAFSA as an independent student by asking for a dependency override. This override allows your school's financial aid department to approve you for aid as an independent student but it can be difficult to secure. Generally, an override or waiver for independent status is only available in situations where students have no contact with their parents or are escaping an abusive home.
An override isn't usually an option, however, if your parents simply refuse to offer their financial information so you can complete the FAFSA. You could still fill out the form and apply for loans but you may be ineligible for subsidized loans or grants. In that case, you'd also want to apply for scholarships to help fill any financial aid gaps.
Plan Ahead If You're Claiming Independent Status
Because it can be difficult to establish independent student status, it's best to plan as early as possible for how you'll complete the FAFSA and prove independence if you're headed to school as an undergraduate. Remember also that if your dependency status changes at any time after you fill out the FAFSA, you can ask your school financial aid office for a dependency review. If you can show that you have since become independent, that could help you unlock a higher financial aid package.
One last thing to note: dependency status doesn't matter for private student loans. With these loans, your credit score is one of the most important factors used to determine whether you qualify for loans. You'll generally need a good credit score to be approved. If you have a lower credit score or no credit history at all, you may need a co-signer to get private student loan funding for college.