One of the most common issues students deal with revolves around the FAFSA filing status. Many students feel they should be considered independent, yet the FAFSA still requires them to file as dependent. Under special circumstances, students have the ability to appeal their dependency status. For those students who believe their circumstances qualify them for financial independence (for FAFSA purposes), I’m going to walk you through how to do this, including what documents you may need. If you don’t know your current status, read our post on Dependent VS. Independent Status.
What types of situations can be appealed?
First thing’s first, if your sole reason for filing an appeal is that you support yourself or that your parents refuse to support your education, then you will not qualify for an appeal. However, other circumstances are considered. Some common reasons for appealing dependency include:
- Danger of physical or mental abuse
- Your parents (or parent for single parent family) are incarcerated
- Your supporting parent is deceased and you have no contact with the other
Keep in mind, these are not the only reasons that are accepted as schools differ in their requirements. If you’re not sure if your particular situation qualifies, you should contact a financial aid officer from your school.
How to appeal
Each school has specific guidelines for the appeals process, and in some cases, there are school-specific forms you will need to fill out. Most of the time you can find the qualifications and forms on the school’s website. However, the one thing that most schools ask for is a letter from the student explaining their circumstances. In this letter, make sure to be specific! After all, you’re arguing your case, so the more information you provide, the better. Included in this letter should be 1) why your parents aren’t helping 2) information regarding your income and what your money is allotted for and 3) your educational goals, explaining why more money is necessary to achieve them through your institution. Each situation is different, so tailor the letter to you and what your needs are. Along with this letter, it is important to provide as much documentation as possible to back up your claim. Acceptable documentation includes (but is not limited to):
- Letters attesting to a student’s situation: Most schools require students to submit letters from independent sources. These can be from almost anyone who knows your story- ministers, friends, non-parental relatives, guidance counselors, attourneys etc. These letters should explain the writer’s relationship to the student, and like the student’s letter, provide as much detail as possible about the student’s situation. Depending on school guidelines, these may need to be notarized.
- Bank statements
- Court documents/ police reports
- Documentation of parental incarceration
- Death certificates
Once all of your required documents have been submitted, all you can do is wait. Depending on your school, your appeal will be reviewed by a financial aid officer or panel of officers who will work with the Department of Education to change your status (hopefully). It is possible that more documentation may be required, and if this is the case, you will be contacted. If you do need to provide more, don’t panic! Simply provide the requested documents and wait it out. Note: If you are approved for a certain year, this does not mean that you are approved for upcoming years as well. For future academic years, you will need to appeal again!
Navigating the FAFSA to get adequate financial aid can be a nightmare for some students, so appealing dependency status may be the difference between going to school or not. If you have any specific questions about your school’s process, they should be directed to your financial aid office. Good luck!