Dependent vs. Independent
The U.S. Department of Education defines an independent student as one of the following:
- at least 24 years old,
- a graduate or professional student,
- a veteran,
- a member of the armed forces,
- an orphan,
- a ward of the court,
- or someone with legal dependents other than a spouse, an emancipated minor or someone who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
If you do not meet any of those criteria, you are a dependent student. If you are still unsure, there are 13 questions used to determine your status. If you answer “No” to all of these questions, you are a dependent student and must provide parent information on the FAFSA, even if you do not live with them.
On a case-by-case basis, a financial aid administrator (FAA) may make an otherwise dependent student independent if they can document in the student’s file that the student’s individual circumstances warrant the decision. The FAA’s decision is final and cannot be appealed to the U.S. Department of Education.
A legal parent is biological, adoptive or as determined by the state. There are instances in which a person other than a biological parent is treated as a parent. In these instances, the parental questions on the application must be answered, since they still apply.
Tip: A stepparent is treated in the same manner as a biological parent if the stepparent is married, as of the date of application, to the biological parent whose information will be reported on the FAFSA, or if the stepparent has legally adopted you.
Tip: A widowed stepparent is not considered a parent for the FAFSA unless they have legally adopted the applicant.
Tip: A foster parent, legal guardian, or a grandparent or other relative is not treated as a parent for purposes of filing out a FAFSA unless that person has legally adopted the applicant. An adoptive parent is treated in the same manner as a biological parent on the FAFSA.
The U.S. Department of Education has provided a quick video posted below and more information regarding which parent should be used when completing the FAFSA.
Source: Federal Student Aid