My parents are not able to pay for any of my college – nor are they claiming me on their tax returns. I file my own taxes as I also have a job. I completely support myself; my parents don’t give me any money. Does all of this together make me an independent student?
The short answer – unfortunately – is no.
Undergraduate students who are under age 24 as of December 31 of the award year are considered to be dependent for federal student aid purposes unless they are married, have dependents other than a spouse, are an orphan, are a veteran or active duty member of the US Armed Forces or satisfy other very limited criteria. If a student who is under age 24 doesn’t satisfy one of these criteria, the odds of being considered independent are very slim.
In short, it doesn’t matter how financially independent a student is; if they don’t meet any of the above requirements, they are not considered independent for financial aid
purposes. Dependency status for federal student aid purposes is not the same as dependency status for federal income tax purposes. Students who are dependent for federal student aid purposes must supply parent information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students who are independent do not have to supply their parents’ information and often qualify for more student financial aid as a result.
Based on data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), only 14.7% of undergraduate students under age 24 were independent in 2011-12. Of undergraduate students under age 24, 8.3% were independent because they have legal dependents other than a spouse, 3.8% because they were married, 1.1% because they are orphans, 0.5% because they were veterans of the US Armed Forces, 0.3% because they were on active duty with the US Armed Forces and 0.9% because the college financial aid administrator granted a dependency override due to unusual circumstances. (Only 0.5% of all undergraduate students are independent because of a dependency override.)
Colleges will not grant a dependency override because the parents refuses to contribute to the student’s education, because the parents refuses to file the FAFSA
or complete verification, because the parents do not claim the student as a dependent on their federal income tax returns or because the student is totally self-sufficient. None of these reasons, not even in combination, is sufficient justification for a dependency override. Unusual circumstances may merit a dependency override, which is subject to a case-by-case review by and the professional judgment of the college financial aid administrator. These circumstances include an abusive family environment (e.g., court protection from abuse orders against the parents), abandonment by the parents, or the incarceration, hospitalization or institutionalization of both parents.