How to Qualify as an Independent Student on the FAFSA

shutterstock_140079115 (2)Can you just not claim your student as a dependent on your tax return and allow them to complete the FAFSA as an independent student? Since most kids have little in the way of income or assets, that would be a great strategy, if not for one small detail – it won’t work.

Students who are under the age of 24 are automatically deemed to be dependent students when filing the FAFSA unless they meet certain specific criteria whether you claim them on your taxes or not. As dependent students, they must include the custodial parents’ financial information as well as their own on the FAFSA form.

Independent status

To qualify as an “independent student”, students must meet at least one of the following requirements:

  • Born before January 1, 1992
  • Married
  • A graduate student
  • Have children who will receive half or more of their support from you
  • An orphan, in foster care, or a ward of the court
  • An emancipated minor or in legal guardianship
  • Homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless
  • Serving on active duty in the U.S. military
  • A veteran of the U.S. military

If you like to split hairs there are specific nuances to some of the criteria above, but in the majority of cases the dependent vs. independent status of a student is pretty clear.

What if you don’t meet one of the above, but still feel that you should be considered an independent student for purposes of financial aid?

Colleges and Universities can choose to override a student’s dependent status. If you feel strongly that your student should be considered as an independent student, contact your school’s financial aid administrator and explain your situation. They may grant you an exception. Each school’s policy can vary so its best to check with them directly.