FAFSA Tip: Eligibility for Independent Student Status | 10.08.10

Posted in FAFSA, Financial Aid, Stafford Loan, Student Loans, Twitter By Student Loan Network Staff

I have received some inquiries about my previous blog: Four Bizarre things you did not know about the FAFSA.

What qualifies you as an Independent Student?

If one or any of the following apply to you, then you will be considered an Independent Student:

  1. You are enrolled in a Masters program, Doctorate Degree, or graduate Certification program
    • age does not matter, if you are enrolled in any of these types of programs you are considered and independent student
  2. You have a child or children that are your legal dependent(s)
    • you may have a family member etc. that is considered your dependent…he/she does not necessarily have to be a child
  3. You are married
  4. You are under the age of 24 and both of your parents are deceased
  5. You were a ward of your state until you were 18 years of age
  6. You are 24 years of age or older
  7. You are a Veteran of the United States Armed Force
  8. You were a foster child after the age of 13.
  9. You are an emancipated child as determined by a court judge.
  10. You are homeless or at risk of homelessness as determined by the director of a HUD approved homeless shelter, transitional program, or high school liaison.

Want more details, visit: FAFSA Online : Independent Students

The most important aspect of this is to remember that your school has the right to reassess certain circumstances, a process called professional judgment.

Some students have no contact with their parents, and therefore cannot use their tax information for filing the FAFSA. If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll need to go to your school’s financial aid office and ask them for help. Chances are, you’ll also need to bring plentiful documentation (rent, utilities, etc.) to prove that your situation is as you say it is. You’ll be asking for a professional judgment override on dependency status.

What this means is, if you’re under 24, in order to file as an independent, you must first go to your local courthouse and ask to appear before a judge to be ‘legally emancipated’ and apply as an independent student.

Update: We just wrote a pretty helpful blog about how people in situations like yours can get a FAFSA dependency change. For information on this, read Appealing Your FAFSA Dependency Status

More: When are the FAFSA Deadlines

Five most recent FAFSA form help blog posts:

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588 Responses to “FAFSA Tip: Eligibility for Independent Student Status”

  1. Cathy says on March 8, 2011 at 10:14 am:

    I am 22, a full time Grad student. I just completed my FAFSA as an independent. I (not my parents) paid in full for my first semester (tuition approx. $5000 per semester). I have about $5,000.00 in the bank that I will use for summer tuition. Will I be eligible for any financial aid (i.e. reduced tuition)? I will be in school this summer, the fall of 2011 and spring 2012 before I graduate. Thank you.

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on March 15, 2011 at 5:42 pm:

      @Cathy – Not sure.. The point of the FAFSA form is to determine your eligibility. You will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) that will outline your Expected Family Contribution (in this care, the “family” is just you). The Department of Education will make an estimate as to how much they believe you can pay toward school and will offer you loans based on that information. You should receive your SAR shortly…

      Reply To This Comment
  2. Maria says on March 6, 2011 at 11:17 pm:

    My older daughter is on her own for college finances. Because i’m in the process of a mortgage modification my credit has been shot hence I did not qualify for any loans for her schooling last year – she’s done it completely on her own already. She will be a sophomore this fall at a school in washington state. We reside in Oregon. Her father is out of the picture and has had no visitation for several years although he does pay child support through the state. Will she qualify for a lower EFC through FAFSA and more financial aid for school this fall if she is emancipated? Is there a time concern for getting her emancipated for fall 2011 – 2012?
    Thank you

    Reply To This Comment
  3. Tammy says on March 6, 2011 at 10:25 pm:

    Child born 1991 graduated high school age 17 lives in another state, works full time, pay rent, has car and note, files his own taxes is head of his household, is having issues with filing as independent, has no contact with other parent. Do these circumstances allow for the exception for being independent? I have not claimed him on my taxes for 2 years as he is on his own and supports himself sufficiently. Can the school do a waiver? HELP

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on March 7, 2011 at 10:00 am:

      @Tammy – If he can prove he works full time and supports himself, then the school should allow him to file as independent. He’ll need documentation to prove he takes care of himself. Are you his guardian, or a relative?

      Reply To This Comment
  4. Sham says on March 6, 2011 at 2:42 am:

    Hi, I am 21, applying for grad school this sept. I live with my parents, they pay for me, I have no job watsoever. Can I file as a dependent or independent? i mean both FAFSA and Fedral Taxes

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on March 7, 2011 at 10:04 am:

      @Sham – The FAFSA dependency status and tax dependency status are completely separate. However, if you are 21, living at home and supported by your parents, both of those forms will mark you as a dependent to your parents.

      Reply To This Comment
      • Cathy says on March 8, 2011 at 10:08 am:

        However, everywhere on the website it says anyone attending graduate school (getting a masters) qualifies a student as independent, regardless of how they file their taxes.

  5. shawnee says on March 5, 2011 at 11:58 pm:

    I’m 19 with no job and no current source of income. I was kicked out of my house. I’m not emancipated either. Can I claim my independence being that I was kicked out, and my parents will no longer support me financially? If so how would I go about doing so?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on March 7, 2011 at 10:05 am:

      @Shawnee – Sorry to hear about your situation. You have a few options… Get a job, an apartment, and then provide documentation to your school that you are supporting yourself. This might take a while. Also, if you’ve been kicked out you might be considered Homeless or At Risk for Homelessness, even if you are living with friends. Go talk to your old high school guidance counselor or a staff member at a homeless shelter. Good luck

      Reply To This Comment
  6. Robin says on March 5, 2011 at 8:32 pm:

    I am 21 years old. I have lived in california for 3 years, all independently paying for all of my own expenses. my parents do not claim me on their taxes and I have my own apartment. Am I considered an independent? I filled out my 2011 FAFSA with only my tax info, as my parents do not claim me or financially support me at all.

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on March 7, 2011 at 10:09 am:

      @Robin – Unfortunately, not being dependent on your parents for the Federal tax forms, does not mean that you won’t be considered dependent on the FAFSA. If you filled out the FAFSA answering the questions as accurately as possible and still believe yourself to be independent, you must hope that the federal government and the school believes you are as well. Your application may be selected for a verification process – so you should start gathering the documentation that will be requested in order to prove your “independence.” This may include past tax forms, rental leases, job verification, and letters from employers, landlords, or your parents. Best of luck!

      Reply To This Comment
  7. Laura says on March 4, 2011 at 11:34 am:

    I have a step-child who lives with us full time. I make the most money in our home. When filling out the FAFSA, we have to include my income as well as my husband’s, even though I am not legally financially responsible for the child? What about the birth mother’s obligation?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on March 4, 2011 at 3:22 pm:

      @Laura – The FAFSA is not concerned with obligation. Because the student lives with you and the child’s father has remarried), you are part of the household income factored into the FAFSA calculations. This does not have any effect on your legal or financial obligations – only that the child will need your participation in order to properly file his or her forms. There are no repercussions for you.

      Reply To This Comment
  8. Alan says on March 4, 2011 at 12:53 am:

    Hi, I’m 23 and I recently graduated college but am going back to school for a culinary degree. Does that count as a graduate certificate program? Or am I still a dependent till 24? Thanks

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on March 4, 2011 at 3:24 pm:

      @alan : Depends on the school. Many culinary degrees are part of graduate certificate programs. Just check the school’s description of the degree program and that should answer your question.

      Reply To This Comment
  9. Kelly says on March 1, 2011 at 2:49 pm:

    i will be turning 24 on the 25th of aug will i be able to apply as a independent student for the spring semester or will i have to apply as a dependent student?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on March 3, 2011 at 11:11 am:

      @ Kelly – The FAFSA forms will ask you for your birthday, and since you will be 24 by the time the year 2011 is over, you should be considered an independent.

      Reply To This Comment
  10. Hilary says on February 28, 2011 at 5:38 pm:

    I am 23, unmarried, with no children. I am applying for grad school in the fall (2011). I thought my parents had to be on my FAFSA since I am under 25, but I read above that if you are enrolled in a Masters or Phd program you don’t have to include them. If they have recently submitted my FAFSA, is there any way to “re-do” it so I can file as an independent?


    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on March 3, 2011 at 11:05 am:

      @Hilary – It is unlikely that the Dept of Education will actually place you in the dependent pool because they will notice you are in a Masters or Phd program. Have you received your SAR? If so, you are able to file corrections based on your SAR (Student Aid Report) by submitting the form that comes with it. You also may file a FAFSA correction on the web, at the same website you filed the FAFSA. Make sure you do this yourself, not your parents. You should be filing your own FAFSA paperwork.

      Reply To This Comment
  11. C. Jones says on February 27, 2011 at 9:45 pm:

    I am 22 years old, I have filed independent status on my tax return for 2009 and 2010 tax years. I live with my parents but I provide over half of my support(food,auto, school). I’ve been in college for the last 4 years and up until now my parents have made enough where I didn’t qualify for FED assistance. In 2010 however they didn’t make very much so I am now eligible. The problem is that the school has requested a “Dependent verification” paper. It is asking me to state that my parents provide over half of my living expenses, when actually I do.

    Did we fill out the FAFSA wrong?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on March 3, 2011 at 11:02 am:

      @ C. Jones – Hello. Let me see if I can help. While it makes sense that you are able to file your TAXES as an independent of your parents, you may not file as an independent for your FAFSA. The eligibility requirements are not the same, and each status must be considered separately. The Department of Education has selected you for a verification process (for your FAFSA status) and you will need to send in the appropriate documents. If they somehow determine you are also independent for the FAFSA, then that’s great for you because you’ll receive even more aid. They’re probably asking because it is your first time receiving Federal aid and they are trying to investigate why you did not receive it before, but qualify now.

      Reply To This Comment
      • C. Jones says on March 5, 2011 at 2:19 am:

        Thanks, that helps alot.

  12. beth hickey says on February 25, 2011 at 9:59 pm:

    hello im 19, i go to a community college in joliet il, i have filled for independence, i no longer live at home as there was abuse in my house, from my mom and dad and younger sister, now my school wanted to letters from counselors about me being abuse along with police reports, i provide them 4 police reports along with the 2 letters i got a call today saying im still denied, they want more info… i have no more to give them to me this ridiculous what do i, heres the kicker i transferred to this school after the fall semster, i got my loan at the other school, and didnt need to show them much…so please help

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on March 4, 2011 at 3:39 pm:

      @beth – I’m so sorry you’ve having so much trouble with your financial aid office. unfortunately the determination of your independence will have to be done by them. can you find out from them what more they are looking for from you? It sounds like you have access to proof of many things, and maybe just need to give them the right things. You also need to prove you’ve been supporting yourself though – otherwise they’ll look for someone else who has supported you (friends, boyfriends, etc…)

      Reply To This Comment
  13. roselyn says on February 25, 2011 at 6:26 pm:


    Let’s see if I understand this right: if I start my masters program in the Fall, I can file FAFSA now as an independent? Oh, I hope this is really so!

    Reply To This Comment
  14. Chrissy says on February 25, 2011 at 12:20 am:

    I am a 19 year old student, and I’m a bit confused on how to file my FAFSA now that I have a daughter. I have an apartment, and I pay for my own bills and rent entirely with my student loans. That is to say, I do not have a job. Am I still eligible to apply as an independent even if I’m under 24? Please help! Thanks.

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on February 25, 2011 at 10:10 am:

      @Chrissy- As long as you are a parent who claims their child as a dependent on your taxes, you are able to file your FAFSA as an independent.

      Reply To This Comment
  15. Stephanie says on February 24, 2011 at 12:02 pm:

    So i am 20 years old and my parents are not paying for anything iam independent and living on my own but i guess my parents make too much money for me to apply for any grants how am i suppose to get any help?

    Reply To This Comment
  16. Rebecca says on February 23, 2011 at 10:13 pm:


    I completed an appeal form for the 2010-2011 year and it was approved. Would I need to resubmit this appeal or will the school already acknowledge that I am an independent?

    If I do not, I have another question. I live with my “sister” (not biological),her husband, and her 2 sons. They do not pay for any of my college expenses. The only help I get from them is shelter and food. Other than that, I pay for my books and any other things I need. I have been recently able to pay some expenses for college because of my work study job.

    So, my second question is: if I am filling out a low income verification form, can I put zero as an amount for rent, food, and utilities?

    This would really help. Thanks!!

    Reply To This Comment
  17. Vanessa says on February 23, 2011 at 12:06 pm:

    Hi, so if i plan to go to college for a masters or ph.d in college but first start out at a community college to then transfer to a university am I able to list myself as independent automaticaly because i am pursueing a master or ph.d degree?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on February 23, 2011 at 12:45 pm:

      @Vanessa – Unless the classes are specifically listed as part of the path to the master or phd degree, they will be considered undergraduate or continuing education classes and not part of the advanced degree program.

      Reply To This Comment
  18. John says on February 22, 2011 at 9:27 pm:

    I am 25 y/o if my brother claimed my on his tax return because I use to live with him, what do I put on my fafsa on the filing status?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on February 23, 2011 at 12:50 pm:

      @John – Unless you were disabled for most of 2010 then he is committing tax fraud. Regardless, tax forms and FAFSA forms for dependency are separate and do not have to line up. Since you are 24 or older, you file as an independent on the FAFSA no matter what. As far as your tax form, you should also be independent but should check with your brother about what happened when he filed his with you as a dependent.

      Reply To This Comment
  19. raymond says on February 22, 2011 at 6:02 pm:


    Yo fui emancipado por un notario, que es la única forma de poder emancipara a una persona que no sea huérfana o maltratada en Puerto Rico. Esto me es suficiente para aplicar a la FASFA.? o necesitaría algo mas.?


    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on February 23, 2011 at 2:19 pm:

      @Raymond: Fortunadamente, hablo español también! Déjeme ver si puedo ayudar… Si fue emancipado como un menor (incluso si usted es no más un menor) usted debe ser considerado independiente para la FAFSA. Debe también pedir su oficina de ayuda económica (Financial Aid Office) para estar segura porque diferente estados tienen diversas leyes con respecto a la emancipación.

      Informacion sobre emancipacion en PR: http://www.youthrights.net/index.php?title=Puerto_Rico_Emancipation_Law

      English translation — Raymond is wondering if his emancipation which he received in Puerto Rico will allow him to file his FAFSA as an independent. Most likely, yes, but it could depend on which state the school is in as different states have different laws regarding emancipation. His financial aid office would know if his documentation will be accepted.

      Reply To This Comment
  20. Manuel Taveras says on February 21, 2011 at 9:02 am:

    Hello, I am 21 years old and live on my own. I understand I need my parents information when filing for financial aid anyway. My mother and father did not work or file taxes this year which means when filing, I have no information to provide of my parents. Can I still file?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on February 22, 2011 at 1:06 pm:

      @Manuel- Yes, you can still file your FAFSA if your parents did not need to file their taxes. When asked about their tax information, simply choose “will not file” from the dropdown menu.

      Reply To This Comment
  21. toni1111 says on February 21, 2011 at 7:55 am:

    I am an adult student who returned to school last fall. At the time that I filed my fafsa I was unmarried. I was wondering with I still receive financial aid now that I am married?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on February 22, 2011 at 1:44 pm:

      @toni- Potentially. You can still receive any aid for which you filed as single, but if filing your FAFSA in the future, you must file as Married. Qualifications for aid change once married, so the amount you are eligible for may not be the same.

      Reply To This Comment
  22. Joseph says on February 20, 2011 at 10:11 pm:

    I am a 21-year-old student and am trying to figure out this FAFSA thing. My problem is… I do not qualify under the aforementioned points, but my parents are unable to provide any financial support. I have filed as dependent up until this year, as my mother was claiming me on her taxes. She did not claim me this year… I was under the impression that this would allow me to file as independent, but I suppose not.

    For all intents and purposes, they are (and have always been) completely uninvolved in my ‘college finances’. My apartment lease is in my name. My utilities are in my name. My student loans are in my name.

    I feel that while I am not yet 24, I should qualify as independent as my parents are not really in the picture financially. Would it be possible to file as independent as one of the “special cases” you’ve mentioned? If so, what sort of information do I have to provide my financial aid office outside of my lease/utilities?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on February 22, 2011 at 1:40 pm:

      @Joseph- Overriding dependency is on a case-by-case basis so there is no one rule for qualifying. The best thing you can do is provide as much documentation as you can regarding your situation. This can include rent, utilities, medical bills, proof of insurance, letters from counselors etc.

      Reply To This Comment
  23. Eric says on February 19, 2011 at 7:40 pm:

    I am 44. My wife and I have 2 sons, 16 and 13 year olds. I have a BA + MA, and will begin courses toward a certificate in 2010-2011. Then, I will begin a doctoral program in a few years. I’d like to fill out the FAFSA for myself right now. But, my 16 year old will begin university in the fall, 2012, so I will fill out the FAFSA for him next year.

    Can I do this? Do I fill it out with me as student this year, then with me and him as student next year??? Any insight would be appreciated…


    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on February 23, 2011 at 12:43 pm:

      @Eric – Don’t worry, you are doing exactly what you need to do. You AND your son will both be students next year and will both fill out individual FAFSA forms. On yours, he will be listed as a dependent of yours. On his, you will be listed as his parent, and he will be dependent to you. The FAFSA form is for the individual student – not the family – so each student submits one even though you must share information to complete them.

      Reply To This Comment
  24. Jasmine says on February 19, 2011 at 5:20 pm:

    I’m 18 and no longer live with my parents. I live with my aunt and she’s the one that cares for me. I’m not sure how I fill out my fasfa. Indenpendent or denpendent of my aunt?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on February 22, 2011 at 1:47 pm:

      @Jasmine- Simply living away from home is not enough to qualify you for independent status. According to FAFSA guidelines, you are still dependent upon your parents and must therefore file as dependent.

      Reply To This Comment
  25. Alicia says on February 19, 2011 at 1:15 pm:

    I’m 23 and I just filed my FAFSA online. It counted me as an Independent Student, despite not being married, emancipated, a mother, etc. However, I do live on my own and pay my own bills. I’ll be 24 before the end of the first semester of the coming school year, but I doubt that makes a difference. Any insight into why it didn’t require my parents’ tax information?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on February 23, 2011 at 12:40 pm:

      @Alicia – The FAFSA asks you certain questions about your age, and financial information to determine your dependency status. Make sure to review your Student Aid Report (SAR) in case you made any mistakes, but it seems they’ve made that determination based on the information you provided. That will be good for you!

      Reply To This Comment

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