How Your Dependency Status Affects Your Federal Student Aid Application
By Ryan Laspina
Analyst, Red Flags and External Reviews at APUS
Your dependency status plays a large role in how you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and how your Federal Student Aid (FSA) package is created. There are only two types of dependency statuses: independent and dependent.
All dependent students must provide their parents’ or guardians’ information on the FAFSA. Independent students add their own information on the FAFSA, as well as their spouse’s information if applicable.
Here are some of the most common questions associated with your dependency status:
1. How do I know if I am an independent or dependent student?
There are a handful of questions on the FAFSA to help you determine your dependency status. If you answer “Yes” to any of those questions, then you are an independent student. The questions involve your age, marital status, education level, military service and parenthood.
For example, military service members, even if they are only 18, are considered independent. Other independent students include graduate students, married students or students who currently cares for one child or several children. If none of these scenarios apply to you, then you are considered dependent.
2. If I’m a dependent student, what parent information do I need?
Your parents need to complete all of the FAFSA sections that pertain to them. Your parents may be asked about their income, tax information and other related topics. Advise your parents to have the necessary documentation handy when they fill out your FAFSA.
3. My mother and father do not live together. Whose information do I use?
Assuming you are a dependent student, you’ll want to use the information of whichever parent(s) takes care of you. For example, if you are living with just your mother, you will want to use her information. If you are living with both parents but they are not married, you will still want to use both of their information. Some students live with a parent and a step-parent. If they are both taking care of you, then you will use their collective information to fill out the FAFSA.
4. My parents are refusing to help me pay for college and will not fill out the FAFSA. What do I do?
The Department of Education (ED) will not consider you independent just because your parents will not fill out the FAFSA or you have no contact with them. There are some options for you, however. Fill out the FAFSA to the best of your availability, and then call the university’s financial aid department. We’ll instruct you professionally on how you should proceed.
In most situations, it is fairly easy to determine whether you are an independent or dependent student. The Department of Education understands that not all situations are black and white, so they have options in place for students with special circumstances. If you have further questions, be sure to contact a financial aid advisor at the university.