The FAFSA is an acronym for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and it is a form that college students must fill out in order to receive any form of federal financial aid to pay for college. The process of filling out the form can cause a lot of anxiety and confusion for families.

One of the points of confusion can be whether the student is considered a dependent student or an independent student. The difference between dependent and independent students is important because the answer could drastically change how much federal financial aid a student can receive.

From the perspective of the federal government, both the student and the family bear the burden of paying for college. For FAFSA dependent students, financial need is calculated based on the capacity for both the parents and the student to contribute to the college expenses. For FAFSA independent students, financial need is only calculated off of the student’s ability to contribute to college expenses.

Dependent Student Status

Most undergraduate students filling out the FAFSA fall into the dependent student category. Students cannot claim independent status just because their families won’t contribute to their college education.

That means students cannot claim independent status just so that they can receive a greater amount of federal financial aid. For the purpose of determining federal financial aid, students are not considered to be dependent just because they don’t live with their parents or receive monetary support from their parents.

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Independent Student Status

When a student has FAFSA independent student status, the federal government considers the student’s financial capacity to meet the obligations of paying for college rather than those of the parents. Students are considered to be independent if they fall into one of the following categories:

  • They are at least 24 years old
  • They are married or separated but not divorced
  • They are enrolled in a graduate degree program
  • They have children or other dependents for which they provide at least 50% financial support
  • They are veterans of the U.S. armed forces who were not dishonorably discharged
  • They were in foster care or a ward of the state after the age of 13
  • Their parents are deceased
  • They have been declared emancipated minors by a court
  • They were considered homeless or an unsupported youth

Changing Dependency Status on the FAFSA

Students who need to change their FAFSA dependency status can do so two different ways. First, they can contact their college financial aid office and ask if they are able to make the change. Second, they can make a change by logging into their account at FAFSA.gov and choosing the “Make FAFSA Corrections” option.