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What does dependency status mean on the FAFSA®?

Published June 12, 2024| minute read
Hadiya Iqbal

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    On the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), you’re required to answer a question regarding your dependency status. The answers to these questions likely determine whether you need to include your parents' financial information on the application.

    The FAFSA® provides clear guidelines around dependency status and how to fill out the application accordingly. Still, for many students, this can be confusing as it's hard to know if you’re an independent or dependent student.

    In this article, we’ll explain what it means to be independent or dependent for FAFSA® purposes.

    What does dependency status mean on FAFSA®?

    Your FAFSA® dependency status determines whose information you must report when you fill out the FAFSA®.

    For example, if you're a dependent student, you’ll most likely report your personal and contributors' (like your parents’) financial information on the application.

    Starting with the 2024-25 FAFSA®, a contributor is defined as anyone who’s required to provide their information on a FAFSA®, along with their consent and approval to share their tax information from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for the form to be processed. A contributor may be a spouse, a biological or adoptive parent, or a parent’s spouse.

    Why is dependency status important? A dependent student is assumed to have the support of their parents, so their parents’ information has to be assessed along with the student’s to get a full picture of a family’s financial strength.

    This doesn't mean your parents are required to contribute to your education, but the information is used to determine what aid, if any, gets awarded to you.

    On the other hand, if you’re an independent student, you’ll report only your information (and, if you’re married, likely your spouse’s) on the application.

    Am I dependent or independent?

    The answers you provide to the questions on the FAFSA® will determine whether you’re considered a dependent or independent student. Make sure to read the questions carefully, as they may change a little every year.

    Dependency status questions on the 2024–25 FAFSA®:

    • Were you born before January 1, 2001?
    • As of today, are you married? (Answer “No” if you are separated but not divorced.)
    • At the beginning of the 2024–25 school year, will you be working on a master’s or doctorate program (such as an M.A., MBA, M.D., J.D., Ph.D., Ed.D., graduate certificate, etc.)?
    • Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces for purposes other than training? (If you are a National Guard or Reserves enlistee, are you on active duty for other than state or training purposes?)
    • Are you a veteran of the U.S. armed forces?
    • Do you have children or other people (excluding your spouse) who live with you and who receive more than half of their support from you now and between July 1, 2024, and June 30, 2025?
    • At any time since you turned age 13, were you an orphan (no living biological or adoptive parent)?
    • At any time since you turned age 13, were you a ward of the court?
    • At any time since you turned age 13, were you in foster care?
    • Are you or were you a legally emancipated minor, as determined by a court in your state of residence?
    • Are you or were you in a legal guardianship with someone other than your parent or stepparent, as determined by a court in your state of residence?
    • At any time on or after July 1, 2023, were you unaccompanied and either (1) homeless or (2) self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?

    If you answered yes to at least one of these questions, you’re considered an independent student and won’t be required to provide information about your parents on the FAFSA®.

    If you answered no to all the questions, you’re considered a dependent student, and you must provide information about your parents when filling out the FAFSA®, subject to certain exceptions.

    Keep in mind, that if you are not living with your parents or are not claimed by them on tax forms, that does not make you an independent student for purposes of applying for federal student aid.

    Does dependency status affect FAFSA®?

    As a dependent student, you’ll most likely need to include your parent’s income on your FAFSA®. Depending on their financial status and income, this may affect how much you're eligible for in federal student aid.

    No matter what your status is, income and assets help FAFSA® and your college determine how much aid you're eligible for. For example, if you’re an independent student with the same income as a dependent student’s parents, there may not be much of a difference in your award.

    How do I override my FAFSA® dependency status?

    Financial aid administrators have the authority to change a student’s status from dependent to independent under limited circumstances.

    The U.S. Department of Education has given guidance regarding situations that do and don’t qualify as unusual circumstances that merit a dependency override.

    Situations that may qualify for a dependency override include:

    • Human trafficking, as described in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000
    • Someone with legally granted refugee or asylum status
    • Someone with parental abandonment or estrangement
    • Student or parental incarcerations

    Below are some cases that don’t qualify for a dependency override:

    • Parents refusing to contribute to their child’s education
    • Parents unwilling to provide information on the FAFSA® or are unwilling to verify information
    • Parents not claiming the student as a dependent for income tax purposes
    • Student demonstrating total self-sufficiency

    To apply for a dependency override or find out if your situation qualifies you for one, contact your financial aid administrator as soon as possible.

    Final thoughts

    Your dependency status can affect how much aid, if any, you qualify for and what counts as income and assets on your FAFSA®. Any questions about your dependency status should be directed to a financial aid administrator.