Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, can be confusing, especially when it comes to questions about whether you’re a dependent or independent student. If you’re under the age of 24, the federal government assumes you’re a dependent student for the purposes of financial aid—and you can’t simply choose to file as independent. You’ll need to prove that you are truly an emancipated minor.

Proving independence isn’t always difficult. If you’re married, for instance, you’re automatically considered independent. This is also true for veterans of the armed forces, students who are parents themselves, or students who were in the foster care system in their state.

For emancipated minors, the question of dependency may seem a bit murkier—and it’s important to understand what you need to do to receive financial aid.

Applying for Financial Aid as an Emancipated Minor

It’s not enough for any student to simply put themselves down as an independent, even if they are—or have been for a while. If you’re under 24, you’ll need to provide documentation for your independent status.

If you’re married, for instance, you’d simply provide a copy of your certificate of marriage. For veterans or those currently serving in the military, they would provide a DD-214 showing past service or their orders showing current assignment.

Living on your own or going without everyday financial support from your parents isn’t enough to prove independence. In order to apply for financial aid as an emancipated minor, you’ll need to provide proof of your emancipation and resulting independence. That means having a copy of the order from the judge showing that you have been legally deemed emancipated.

Once you’ve provided this, you won’t need to enter your parents’ information on the FAFSA, and your financial need will be determined based upon your independent status—which will often result in far more financial aid for you when it’s time to attend school.

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Filling Out the FAFSA as an Emancipated Minor

Regardless of how much financial aid you need or what type of aid you’re hoping for, the FAFSA is the first step to getting set up. Even if you haven’t reached the age of 18 yet, you can complete a FAFSA for your first year of school and alert the federal government and any schools you’re considering attending that you have a special situation.

If you’re an emancipated minor, there are certain questions on the FAFSA that you’ll want to pay specific attention to. Go ahead and enter your own personal income and assets, and then under Step 3, where you’re entering student information for yourself, check yes to Question 53, which asks if a court in your legal state of residence has deemed you an emancipated minor.

Once you’ve completed that section, you can skip the entire Step 4 section, which would deal with your parents’ income and assets.

If you receive financial support from any legal guardians or foster parents, you’ll want to enter that on Worksheet B and include it as personal income.

Lastly, make sure to contact the financial aid office of any schools you plan to attend and let them know what your situation is. Since your school determines your financial aid package, they may have specific guidelines that they want you to adhere to as an emancipated minor in order to maximize your financial aid.

Summary

Because you’re considered an independent student for the purposes of financial aid, you’ll be granted access to far more aid as an emancipated minor who is literally on their own when it comes to paying for school. It’s important, therefore, that you ensure you have the documentation to prove it and that you work directly with your school to get all of their specific requirements checked off as well.