Declaring Yourself Financially Independent

College is the first time in many students' lives that they are independent of their parents. Becoming an independent student is not for everyone, but educating yourself on the differences and the qualifications could benefit you as you begin your educational journey!

By Jessica Dickenson — October 26, 2022

Declaring Yourself Financially Independent

College is the first time in many students' lives that they are independent of their parents. It is a new and exciting transitionary period. However, although you may no longer live at home and finance your college education, chances are you still rely on your parent's financial information when completing the FAFSA. By the legal definition of the word, you are still a legal dependent of your parents or guardians.

According to the U. S. News and World Report, an independent student meets the legal requirements to receive federal financial aid to pay for college. In contrast, a dependent student's ability to pay is determined by information provided by both the student and one or both parents.

This is not a bad thing at all, as it is standard fare for most undergraduates. If you complete an undergraduate degree in the United States and are under 24 years old, you are considered a dependent. This means that when you complete the FAFSA or any other applications for determining financial aid awards, you will need your parent's financial and legal information.

How Can You be Declared an Independent Student?

Being classified as an independent student versus a dependent student is critical because it determines how much student aid you're eligible for. Although most traditional undergraduate students are considered dependents, there are some automatic qualifiers to be listed as independent:

  • Are applying for graduate school
  • Married
  • A parent
  • U. S. Veteran/active military
  • Homeless
  • Someone who has been in foster care, orphaned, or a ward of the court for any period after the age of 13.

Some reasons you may not be declared financially independent are your parents are uncooperative and won't provide you with their financial information, you s upport yourself, or you want to be independent. For the most part, being declared a dependent makes the most sense for the student and the school, so the average person does not need to seek financial independence.

Not everyone comes from ideal parenting situations, so the Department of Education does make some exceptions. In these situations, you may be able to submit your FAFSA form without parent information despite being considered a dependent student:

  • Your parents are incarcerated.
  • You have left home due to an abusive family environment.
  • You do not know where your parents are and can't contact them (and you are not adopted).
  • You are older than 21 but not yet 24, are unaccompanied and are either homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless.

Students that find themselves in this situation may also consider dependency student override.

What is Dependency Student Override?

Dependency overrides are rare. According to the Department of Education, only 2% of undergraduate students become independent through dependency overrides. Dependency overrides are the involuntary dissolution of the family or situations in which it would be harmful to the student to have contact with their parents. Examples include incarceration or institutionalization of both parents, abuse, and abandonment.

A student cannot become in dependent just because the parents are unwilling to help pay for the student's college education. Some reasons a student can request a dependent student override is by demonstrating:

  • An abusive family environment (e.g., sexual, physical, or mental abuse or other forms of domestic violence)
  • Abandonment by parents
  • Incarceration or institutionalization of both parents
  • Parents lacking the physical or mental capacity to raise the child
  • The parents' whereabouts are unknown
  • Parents hospitalized for an extended period
  • You are from an unsuitable household (e.g., the child was removed from the household and placed in foster care)
  • A married student's spouse dies, or the student gets divorced

How Do You Apply for a Dependent Student Override?

If you feel you meet the qualifications for dependent student override, you should complete your FAFSA and not include your parent/guardian's information. Upon completing this file, reach out to your college's financial aid office and explain your situation. The financial aid office will likely have more questions and may request additional documentation before they will declare you an independent student.

The procedure varies from school to school, but you may need to complete a form and provide the necessary documentation to demonstrate how you meet their qualifications. Documentation could come in the form of court documentation, police records, psychiatric counselor, social workers, clergy, school counselors, or other legal documentation. You may ask someone who closely knows your situation to vouch for you.

After you submit this information, the school's financial aid office will then determine your dependency status. If they find you are an independent student, your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will be lowered to $0. Unfortunately, if the school determines that you are a dependent student, there is no way to appeal the decision to the Department of Education. Students must request a dependency override every year.

Although a dependent student override may be a lot of work upfront, you may reap the rewards of an affordable and sustainable college education.

Becoming an independent student is not for everyone, but educating yourself on the differences and the qualifications could benefit you as you begin your educational journey!

Jessica Dickenson

Jessica Dickenson

Jessica Dickenson graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran College with degrees in English and communication. She has applied her abilities working as a young marketing professional for a local university but works as a freelance writer and photographer in her spare time. She currently resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her husband.
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