Who is Considered an Independent Student? What if you are not yet 24 years old?
I’m having problems with my financial aid. I’m a single mother of one. My daughter is almost three years old and will be attending daycare this semester. I’ve been going to college for two years and will receive my associates degree soon with a cumulative GPA of 3.7. I will continue my education at another college this fall, and again I’m having problems with financial aid. I received a Pell Grant only one semester, but they took it away from me because they said I was still considered an dependent until I’m 24 years of age. I do not live with my parents and they do not provide me any support. I’ve taken out student loans ever since they denied me the Pell Grant. The loans are hardly enough money to get by, I have had to work two jobs and I usually take more than 12 hours a semester. Since my daughter is attending daycare this will be an added expense, on top of my moving to an apartment in a different city. I’m very depressed about this situation and I cannot stop crying because I just don’t know what to do. It seems no matter how hard I try to find help I just cannot get any. Please help me. — Casey F.
Congratulations on your academic performance! You should be very proud of your accomplishments. Students who are single parents and who work full-time often find it much more difficult to graduate than dependent students who have the emotional and financial support of their parents. You are going to be a great role model for your daughter. Keep up the good work!
Reaching age 24 is not the only method of achieving independent student status. Section 480(d) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 specifies eight criteria for independent student status, any one of which is sufficient:
1. A student who will be age 24 or older as of December 31 of the award year.
2. A student who is an orphan, in foster care or a ward of the court (not ward of the state) at any time after reaching age 13.
3. A student who is an emancipated minor (prior to reaching the age of majority) or in a legal guardianship as determined by a court of competent jurisdiction in the student’s state of legal residence.
4. A student who is a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States or currently serving on active duty for other than training purposes.
5. A student who is a graduate or professional student.
6. A student who is married.
7. A student who has legal dependents other than a spouse.
8. A student who is an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or who is an unaccompanied youth who is at risk of homelessness and self-supporting.
In addition, college financial aid administrators have the discretion to perform a dependency override when justified by unusual circumstances.
Since you have a three-year-old daughter, you are independent under the seventh reason listed above. Your daughter is considered a legal dependent because your parents are not providing more than half her support. When a student lives with her parents, usually the parents are providing more than half support, since support includes non-cash assistance such as lodging. But you said that you are not living with your parents and are not receiving any support from them.
Even if you are not providing your daughter’s support from your own income, any money you receive for your daughter from a source other than your parents counts as part of your support to the child, per the discussion on the bottom of page AVG-27 of the 2010-11 Application and Verification Guide. This includes child support from your boyfriend, government assistance programs such as TANF and SNAP (food stamps) and federal student financial aid.
If you satisfy these requirements, you are considered independent according to the statutory definition, and the college financial aid administrator does not have the authority to treat you as a dependent student. The financial aid administrator’s authority to perform a dependency override is one way, from dependent to independent, not in the other direction, as noted on page AVG-30 of the 2010-11 Application and Verification Guide.
You should also ask the college’s financial aid administrator to increase your cost of attendance to include the childcare costs. The definition of cost of attendance at section 472(8) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 includes an allowance based on estimated actual expenses for dependent care. The allowance is limited to the reasonable cost of this dependent care where you live. It includes but is not restricted to the time you are in class, studying or commuting.