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Financial Aid 101: The difference between independent and dependent students

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Independent vs. Dependent Students

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) determines your status as either an independent student or a dependent student. The difference between the two centers on the level of access the student has to financial resources from their parents. Knowing your dependency status is very important, as it determines how your financial aid is calculated and the maximum amount in Stafford Loans you can borrow.

Most traditional college students are dependent, even if they are paying their own way through college or no longer have a relationship with their parents. There are specific circumstances in which a traditional college student would be considered independent and that will be explained at the end.

Why is this important? Because knowing what you qualify for will help you maximize your financial aid potential, including your eligibility for federal student aid.

The federal definition of an independent student is one who meets at least one of the following criteria:

In unusual circumstances, a student who does not meet any of these criteria may still be considered independent student (for the purpose of financial aid, including federal student aid) if a compelling case can be made to override the dependent status. This can only be done by a qualified financial aid officer and is very rare.

Exceptional circumstances (which may affect whether you’re an independent student) include but are not limited to:

Neither of these circumstances automatically give you independent status. All circumstances must be documented before consideration. If you believe your circumstances may be one of these exceptions, please see a financial aid counselor at your school or at a prospective school.

Also, in unusual circumstances, a student may be able to make a compelling case for their inability to provide the necessary information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Such examples are:

If any of these are the case, please contact the financial aid office at your school or schools you plan on applying to.

The Following DO NOT qualify you as an independent student for the purposes of financial aid, including federal student aid:

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