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When you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you’ll be considered either a dependent student or an independent student, which determines whether your parents’ income and assets factor into your financial aid calculation. Students under the age of 24 are usually considered dependent, meaning the parents’ financial details will be counted — but there are some situations where students can request a dependency override to be considered an independent student. This may open up more opportunities for financial aid.
Dependent vs. independent students on the FAFSA
The FAFSA considers you an independent student if you answer “yes” to any of the questions outlined in Section Three of the application:
- Will you be 24 or older by Jan. 1 of the school year for which you are applying for financial aid?
- Are you married or separated but not divorced?
- Will you be working toward a master’s or doctorate degree?
- Do you have children who will receive more than half of their support from you during the school year for which you are applying for financial aid?
- Do you have dependents (other than children or a spouse) who live with you and will receive more than half of their support from you during the school year for which you are applying for financial aid?
- Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces for purposes other than training?
- Are you a veteran of the U.S. armed forces?
- At any time since you turned age 13, were both of your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a ward or dependent of the court?
- Are you an emancipated minor as determined by a court?
- Are you in a legal guardianship as determined by a court?
- Are you an unaccompanied youth who is experiencing homelessness or self-supporting and at risk of experiencing homelessness, as determined by a school district homeless liaison, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-funded emergency shelter or homeless youth basic center?
Answering yes to any of these questions makes you independent, meaning you will use only your income and assets on the FAFSA, not that of your parents.
If you answered “no” to all of these questions, you’re considered dependent and will have to fill out the parent information sections of the FAFSA unless you qualify for a dependency override.
What is a dependency override?
A dependency override is a status granted by a school’s financial aid office that allows you to exclude your parent’s information from your FAFSA even if you’re originally considered dependent. This can qualify you for significantly more financial aid if your parents have income and assets that would make you ineligible.
Who qualifies for a dependency override?
The requirements to qualify for a dependency override are very strict. A dependency override may be granted if:
- Your parents are incarcerated.
- You left home due to an abusive family environment.
- You don’t know where your parents are (and you have not been adopted).
- You’re experiencing homelessness or at risk of experiencing homelessness and are between the ages of 21 and 24.
Your situation will have to be verified and approved by your school’s financial aid office; the school’s decision is final and cannot be appealed.
How to get a dependency override for the FAFSA
To get a dependency override for the FAFSA, you’ll fill out the form as usual but skip Step Four and Step Five. After it’s submitted, your FAFSA won’t process; you must contact your school’s financial aid office immediately to begin the application process for the dependency override.
Each school has its own documentation requirements and application steps. Documentation you may need to provide depends on the reason for your dependency override:
- Parents incarcerated: Documentation of parents’ incarceration, like jail records, sentencing hearing documents or an inmate registry.
- Parents’ whereabouts unknown: Police reports, missing person’s reports and signed statements from a professional third party like a landlord or former employer stating that they can’t locate your parents.
- Homelessness between age 21 and 24: Records from homeless shelters, assistance from a program like Section 8, food stamps you received on the basis of experiencing homelessness and signed statements from professionals like counselors and teachers who can verify that you’re experiencing homelessness. Remember that if a school district homeless liaison, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-funded emergency shelter or homeless youth basic center has determined that you are experiencing homelessness or at risk of experiencing homelessness, you can qualify as an independent student without applying for a dependency override.
- Abusive family: Court records, medical records, child welfare records, police reports and signed statements from professionals like former teachers, social workers and counselors. Remember that if you were in foster care for even a day after you turned 13, you can qualify as an independent student without a dependency override.