Financial Aid: Independent Student Status

Some parents say they’ve figured out how they are going to cope with college costs. Their plan is to no longer claim their child as a dependent on income taxes, believing this means the parent’s income will not be considered for financial aid. If this is your plan, think again!

The federal government considers the family to have the primary responsibility for paying for college. Parents deciding they can’t or won’t pay for college doesn’t change this responsibility in the eyes of the federal government. Whether you claim your child as a dependent for tax purposes does not change this primary responsibility. Your income is still required to be listed on the FAFSA, and it will be used to calculate your student’s eligibility for financial aid. You can decide not to pay for college, but that will not make your child eligible for more financial aid.

Some specific circumstances allow a student to move from being a dependent to independent for financial aid purposes. To be declared independent for financial aid purposes at least one of these must be true:

  • The student is 24 year of age or older by December 31 of the award year.
  • The student is an orphan or ward of the court or was a ward of the court until the student reached the age of 18.
  • The student is a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States.
  • The student is a graduate or professional student.
  • The student is married.
  • The student has legal dependents other than a spouse. (Dependent means receiving more than half the individual’s support from the student.)

There are sometimes other exceptional circumstances that don’t fit neatly into the rule books. For example, a parent may have kicked their child out of the house or the parent may be missing and presumed dead. Students in this sort of situation should consider setting up an appointment with the financial aid officer at the college to talk about what, if anything, can be done to move the student to independent status.

This checklist can be used by students to determine if they are eligible for independent status

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