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Can I appeal my FAFSA® dependency status?

    Students can appeal their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) dependency status through the financial aid office at the school they wish to attend. The administrators there can grant a change if there’re compelling reasons to support it. This’s a case-by-case decision, and usually, it won’t happen unless there’re extenuating circumstances.

    In this article, we’ll cover exactly what dependency status is as it relates to the FAFSA®, why you might want to change it, and how exactly to go about it.

    What’s dependency status?

    When you complete your FAFSA®, you receive a dependency status of either dependent or independent. If you’re a dependent, you’ll likely need to supply your family’s financial information as a part of the process. This’s based on the premise that paying for education is the student’s and their family’s responsibility.

    If you’re an independent student, you only report your information, and likely your spouse’s if you’re married. Independent students may receive more assistance, though that depends on individual circumstances.

    You can’t decide for yourself whether you’re independent or dependent, even if you don’t live with your parents or depend on them financially. But you can appeal if you feel that the FAFSA® process assigned your status incorrectly.

    What circumstances could change my status?

    Sometimes, special and unusual factors may qualify you for a status change from dependent to independent. The final decision rests with the financial aid administrators at your school.

    Every case is different, but here are some reasons a FAFSA® dependency status change request may be denied or approved.

    Examples of requests that often get denied:

    • Parents live abroad
    • Parents refuse to provide the student with the necessary information to complete the application
    • Parents don’t want to contribute to their child’s education
    • Parents don’t claim the student on their tax returns

    Examples of requests that might get approved:

    • The student doesn’t have any contact with the parents or doesn’t know where their parents are
    • Parents are in prison, incapacitated, or deceased
    • The student has left home due to an abusive family environment
    • The student is an unaccompanied, self-supporting youth at risk of homelessness

    How do I request a change?

    If you have a special circumstance that you feel warrants a change in your FAFSA® dependency status, contact the financial aid administrator at your school. They’ll let you know what steps you need to take. You’ll likely need to provide your school with additional written information, including:

    • A summary of your circumstances
    • Any supporting documentation that relates to those circumstances, especially from professionals like teachers, social workers, law enforcement, or psychologists familiar with your case

    It’s important to remember that if your status change is approved, it may be good for only one year, and you may have to repeat this process the following year.

    What if my school refuses my request?

    There’s no avenue for an appeal if your school’s financial aid administrator denies your request for a status change. Not even the U.S. Department of Education can overrule the decision.

    Final thoughts

    Changes to your FAFSA® dependency status aren’t easy to get, but there’s a process in place for those with a legitimate need based on their circumstances. Contact your school’s financial aid office for assistance.