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Can I Be Independent on FAFSA If I am Under Age 24?

Do you qualify as an independent student? Find out.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

September 01, 2021

What makes a student independent on the FAFSA? It's not as easy as you think.
Can I Be Independent on FAFSA If I am Under Age 24?
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 a FAFSA 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 independent for federal student aid purposes if:
• They are married. • They have dependents. • They are working toward a master’s or doctorate program during the award year. • They are a veteran or active duty member of the US Armed Forces. • Since the time they turned 13, their parents were deceased, they were in foster care or they were a ward of the court. • They have been emancipated or someone other than a parent or stepparent has been appointed their legal guardian. • They are determined to be an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Get the full details for each of the above stipulations here. 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. This is because, however it may look for each student, the federal government has decided that it’s the parents’ responsibility to pay for college. 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 • 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.

What is a Dependency Override?

A dependency override allows a financial aid officer to view a student’s circumstances and opt to provide them with dependency status, even if they don’t meet any of the federal guidelines for dependent status. These are reviewed and decided on a case-by-case, school-by-school basis. Unusual circumstances may merit a dependency override. 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. If you do not qualify as an independent on the FAFSA but you do think you would be eligible for a dependency override, contact your college’s financial aid office.

How Else Can I Pay for College When My Parents Refuse to Pay?

Unfortunately, many students find themselves in this situation. They are completely financially independent from their parents, but the government and the school still recognize them as dependent because they do not meet any of the above requirements. So what are their options? First off, students should fill out the FAFSA regardless of whether or not they think they’ll qualify for financial aid. It is the only way to qualify for aid. Therefore, if it’s not filled out, the student can expect to receive no aid. Students should review their financial aid packages from colleges with a guidance counselor or financial aid officer. These professionals can help students navigate what their financial aid package actually means, how much of it is aid versus student loans, and which college is the best for them from a financial perspective. At this point, if you believe that your circumstances could merit a dependency override, it’s time to talk to a financial aid administrator. Students without financial support from their parents should also begin to look for scholarships as soon as they begin thinking about attending college. At Fastweb, students can create an account as soon as they turn 16. If they are interested in searching beforehand, a parent, guardian or mentor can create an account for them. Treat searching for scholarships like a part-time job. Commit to applying to one or two scholarships per week. Focus on easy-to-apply-for scholarships as well as scholarships that require more time. Chances are, there will be less applicants for these opportunities because of the extra work involved. Students should also consider their college choices. Does it make financial sense to go to a four-year institution if you’re supporting yourself without any help from parents? Or is it better to attend community college for two years and then transfer to a four-year institution? Should you opt for an in-state public university rather than a private college? There are many ways to make a college education more affordable. Finally, students can consider getting a part-time job while they attend college. Many employers will work with a student to accommodate their schedule. Some employers also offer tuition assistance to their employees, which can go a long way toward paying tuition bills. If you are working, ask your employer or HR manager whether or not any tuition assistance benefits are available to you. Over the past few months, the federal government has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with several relief packages. The most recent stimulus package offers dependent students stimulus checks and tax credits, albeit with a few caveats. Get more info here.

Paying for College When Your Parents Can’t Pay

Paying for college is hard. It’s even worse when your parents either can’t – or refuse – to help you pay. Whatever the case, there are resources out there to help students like you. Do your research. Talk to professionals. Ask questions. If you’re able to successfully navigate paying for college on your own, just image what you’ll be able to accomplish after you graduate.

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