Dependent vs. IndependentIn the federal government's eyes, parents are responsible for their children's' education, regardless of whether or not the parents can actually pay. Taking this into account, the federal government applies two different standards for students, one for dependent students and one for independent students. Dependent students are assumed to have parental support while independent students are not. The result: independent students might qualify for more aid.
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• Be an orphan (both parents deceased), ward of the court, in foster care or was a ward of the court when 13 years or older;
• Be a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States or serving on active duty for other than training purposes;
• Be a graduate or professional student;
• Be a married individual;
• Have legal dependents other than a spouse;
• Be an emancipated minor or in legal guardianship;
• Be a homeless youth;
• Be a student for whom a financial aid administrator makes a documented determination of independence by reason of other unusual circumstances.
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Changing Your StatusDependent students may change their status, but it's not easy. You start by filing a Dependency Review Form, which can be requested from a financial aid administrator at your school. You also must provide documentation explaining your situation. Your case is then reviewed by a committee or financial aid office at your college. Keep in mind that most students will not qualify for a change in status. Circumstances tend to be extreme (such as abandonment or physical abuse) to warrant the change. Simply residing in your own apartment or house is not adequate justification.
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Tips for Filing as an Independent StudentIf you do qualify as an independent student, follow these tips: • Don't forget to complete the section that asks you for the number of people in your household. Be sure to include yourself.
• Filing as an independent student doesn't always mean that you can leave the parent section of the FAFSA blank. "Check first with the school before submitting your FAFSA. Some may want parental information on the FAFSA and/or on other forms, such as the CSS PROFILE form or the school's own aid application," Kalman A. Chany, Founder and President of Campus Consultants Inc. says.
• When filing as an independent, your school may ask you to submit proof before allowing any federal student aid. Have your documentation ready to avoid delay. Whether or not you qualify as a dependent or independent student on the FAFSA, it's important to approach the application with a bit of preparedness. Get started by learning everything you need to have on hand when completing the form with our FAFSA Checklist.