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
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
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
In addition, college financial aid administrators have the discretion
to perform a dependency override when justified by unusual
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