Requirements to Apply as a FAFSA Independent Student

To determine your eligibility for federal university financial aid, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). What information you submit on the form and what help you’re qualified for depends, in part, on your dependency status—whether you’re a dependent of your parents or legal guardians or an independent student.

The following information will be useful to you if you intend to submit the FAFSA for the upcoming academic year and are an independent student applying for financial aid.

What Does It Mean to be an Independent Student on the FAFSA?

The U.S. Department of Education determines a person’s dependency status. If you satisfy any of the following requirements, you could be regarded as an independent learner:

    • You’re 24 or older by January 1 of the school year in which you’re applying for aid.
    • You’re married or separated, but not divorced.
    • You’re working toward a master’s or doctorate degree.
    • You have children who receive more than half of their support from you.
    • You have dependents other than children or a spouse who live with you and receive more than half of their support from you.
    • You’re an active duty military member or a U.S. veteran.
    • You were an orphan or ward of the court after age 13.
    • You’re an emancipated minor, a homeless youth, or a youth at risk of becoming homeless who is self-supporting.

If you choose “yes” to any of these inquiries, you might qualify as an independent learner. However, if you respond “no” to each question, you are probably a dependent student for the purposes of filing the FAFSA.

Why Dependency Status Matters When Completing the FAFSA

Understanding whether you are an independent or dependent student is crucial because it affects what information you must include in your FAFSA.

Dependent students must disclose financial and income details regarding their parents or legal guardians. Using this, the Expected Family Contribution is calculated (EFC). This figure is used by schools to determine how much financial aid you should receive.

It is usually accepted that you are accountable for providing for your own financial needs as an independent student. Thus, the financial information of your parents or legal guardians is not taken into consideration. The benefit of having that status is that you can be eligible for more financial aid even without the additional financial assistance.

How to Apply for the FAFSA as an Independent Student

The next step is submitting the FAFSA if you’ve examined the Department of Education’s requirements for independent student status and believe you meet them. Consequently, you must divulge your financial and personal details, including:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security number
  • Address
  • Income
  • Checking and savings account balances
  • Details about the school you plan to attend

Your school’s financial aid office will review your FAFSA after you submit it. You won’t need to provide any further documentation if you are solely eligible for unsubsidized federal loans; however, if you are also eligible for subsidized federal loans, you may need to provide more evidence proving your position as an independent student, such as:

  • Income tax returns
  • Military service records
  • Marriage certificate
  • Court documentation explaining your status as a ward or orphan
  • Contact information for a social worker, if you’re in foster care, or for a housing assistance caseworker, if you’re homeless

Your school may send your information to the U.S. Department of Education once it has confirmed your status. Your FAFSA processing can then be completed from there.

Claiming FAFSA Independent Student Status Using a Waiver

Even if you don’t fulfill the requirements set forth by the Department of Education, you may still be able to submit the FAFSA as an independent student in some circumstances. You’ll need to request a dependency override to accomplish this.

You are permitted by the Department of Education to complete the FAFSA without giving information about your parents or legal guardians if:

  • Your parents are incarcerated
  • You left home because of an abusive family environment
  • You don’t know where your parents are and are unable to contact them
  • You’re older than 21 but younger than 24, homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless and self-supporting

Even if you are a dependent student, you will have the chance to identify specific circumstances that prevent you from giving information about your parents or legal guardians when filling out the FAFSA. After filing the FAFSA, you won’t receive an EFC calculation and you won’t be eligible for subsidized loans or grants.

If your parents or legal guardians simply decline to provide their financial information so you can make a payment, an override usually isn’t an option.

Plan Ahead if You’re Claiming Independent Status

First-come, first-served financial aid policies are used by some schools. Verifying your dependency status if you’re applying as an independent student may prolong the processing of your application. It’s crucial to submit your FAFSA well in advance of the annual filing deadline because of this. FAFSAs were accepted for the 2020–21 academic year beginning on October 1, 2019, and must be submitted by June 30, 2021. FAFSAs were accepted beginning on October 1, 2020, and had to be submitted by June 30, 2022, for the 2021–22 school year.

Remember that you can request a dependency review from your school if you previously submitted the FAFSA as a dependent student but are now an independent student. You might be able to get more aid if you do this.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do I change my FAFSA from being a dependent student to an independent student?

By going into the FAFSA website and choosing “make FAFSA corrections” on the My FAFSA page, you can make changes to your FAFSA form. If your dependent status changes, you must update your FAFSA data.

What is the maximum loan an independent student can get from FAFSA?

Independent students have more borrowing capacity as graduation draws near. Independent first-year students may borrow a total of $9,500 in direct loans (including $3,500 in subsidized loans). Independent third-, fourth-, and fifth-year students are permitted to borrow up to $12,500 annually (including $5,500 in subsidized loans). Details on maximum loan amounts, terms, and other information can be found in the Student Aid Handbook.

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