Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the first time can be daunting, especially for students completing it on their own. The application is designed to collect information to define the need for the student, to paint a consistent picture of the student, the family, and their full financial capacity.
Your dependency status isn’t about whether you live with your parents; dependency is based on your response to certain questions on the FAFSA. Importantly, the answers provided on the application determine your situation: dependent versus independent. Some examples of questions that prove your dependency are whether or not you have children, if you are married or separated, if you have served in the military, and your age.
As a dependent, you must report your family’s information as well as your own in the application. But what happens if you are independent? How do you fill out the FAFSA – in particular, the questions about parents?
How to Fill Out the FAFSA as an Independent
If you have answered yes to one or more of the questions in the dependency status questionnaire portion of the FAFSA, the federal government will classify you as an independent. The independent label doesn’t necessarily mean you can leave the section on parent information blank. Some schools may require the information anyway.
The federal government recommends filling out the FAFSA with as much information as possible, including the information on parents. Contact your school in advance to determine what their specific preferences are, because some schools will require additional proof of independence before providing student aid.
For students with no contact or no information on their parents, they should fill out the application with as much data as possible, and then contact the financial aid office of your school immediately after submission. The federal government also has information available for those students with special circumstances.
How Does Independent Status Affect Federal Student Aid?
Because dependent students are assumed to receive some assistance from their family, there are some benefits to being an independent. For example, the maximum limit for financial aid is $4,000 higher ($9,500 versus $5,500) for an independent undergrad student for the first year than for a dependent student. The increased limit covers undergraduates, graduates, and all other levels of education.
There might also be increased eligibility for students who are assumed to have little to no support from their families to pursue their education. There are finally income tax benefits for students with independent status; they can claim back a portion of their education expenses on their tax return.