Being considered a dependent or independent student can have serious financial implications. In some cases, the difference in your dependency status could mean the difference between getting grants and scholarships or not. The federal government has established different guidelines for determining dependency status based on whether you live with your parents or not. These classifications are important because they determine how much financial aid you can qualify for, which is why we’ve outlined them here:
Independent vs. Dependent Student: Which Are You?
As a student, you may be wondering which type of student you are. If your parents are still providing you with financial support, then chances are you’re a dependent student. However, if your parents do not provide any financial support and they have not provided it for at least four years (either while attending high school or after), then you can claim yourself as an independent.
Independent vs Dependent Student
Your dependency status determines how much financial aid you will receive from the government and other sources. As demonstrated above, if you are considered an independent student, only your own finances will be taken into account when determining how much grant money or merit-based scholarships to award. On the other hand, if you are considered a dependent student (i.e., under 24 years old), your parents’ finances will also be taken into consideration when determining how much grant money or merit-based scholarships to award—and vice versa: if they were able to afford to send their child(ren) off to college but now cannot afford doing so anymore because of financial difficulties of their own…then don’t expect any additional funding from them!
You’re considered a dependent student if:
You’re considered a dependent student if:
- You are under 24 years old.
- You are married.
- You have dependents other than a spouse (such as children or parents).
- You are an orphan or ward of the court.
- You are a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces
You’re considered an independent student if:
If you’re 24 years old or older by December 31 of the school year you’re applying for aid, married, divorced, separated, or widowed (as long as your spouse doesn’t plan to attend college), have had a baby in the last year (and don’t expect to do so again in the next year), are an orphan or ward of the court and/or were adopted after age 13 by parents who never filed federal income tax returns as single people, you’re considered an independent student.
If you meet any other criteria that would make it unlikely that your parents could contribute toward your education costs and expenses — such as being a veteran of the US Armed Forces — then you can also be considered an independent student.
Being a dependent or independent student can be tricky.
It’s important to know whether you are a dependent or independent student, and how your dependency status affects the FAFSA, scholarships, and grants.
The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s used by colleges and universities to determine how much financial aid you qualify for, including grants, scholarships, and student loans.
If you are a dependent student, your parents will be asked to provide information about their income and assets on the FAFSA. If you are an independent student, however, only your own income and assets will be considered by schools when determining how much financial aid you qualify for.
What If You’re a Dependent Student Without Family Support?
If you’re a dependent student without family support, but your parents have abandoned you and you can prove it, then yes you may be able to claim an additional dependency exemption. If your parents have abandoned you, but they are still claiming you as a dependent on their tax return, then no—you will not be eligible for an additional dependency exemption.
If your parents have abandoned you, but they are still claiming you as a dependent on their tax return, then no—you will not be eligible for an additional dependency exemption. If you’re a dependent student without family support, but your parents have abandoned you and you can prove it, then yes you may be able to claim an additional dependency exemption.
Dependent Vs. Independent Student: How it Affects Scholarships and Grants
The difference between a dependent and independent student status can affect your financial aid eligibility. In general, if you are dependent on your parents for most of your income, you will likely qualify for more financial aid. If you are financially independent or financially self-sufficient, then the amount of money that you receive in grants and scholarships may be less than someone who is a dependent student. You may also have to file a FAFSA as an independent student when applying to colleges and universities because they will ask this question when determining what type of aid packages they offer their students.
The best way to understand how dependent vs independent student status affects scholarships and grants is by comparing these two types of students with each other:
Dependent Versus Independent Student Status
3 ways your dependency affects your financial aid
- Dependency status affects the amount of aid you receive.
- Independent students can get scholarships, grants, and loans, while dependent students cannot.
- Loans have a high-interest rate that your family is responsible for paying back (even after you graduate).
If you’re a dependent student and your parents have low income or assets, you may qualify for need-based aid. This is more common than scholarships, but still not as common as it should be.
Parent’s Responsibilities as an Independent Student
As an independent student, you are responsible for paying your own tuition and fees, room, board, and other expenses. You are also responsible for paying for your own health insurance (if not covered by the school). Independent students will be able to purchase their books at the college bookstore or online.
Independent students still have many of their normal responsibilities as a parent when it comes to financial aid. You may be asked to submit tax information each year as well as provide any additional documentation needed in order to support your child’s eligibility status.
Parents’ Responsibilities as a Dependent Student
As a dependent student, you are considered your parents’ dependent. You’ll be required to provide information about them in order to complete the FAFSA. You should expect that they will need to provide additional information as well. This could include:
- Income and assets on which they pay taxes (including retirement accounts)
- Information about their financial situation (including savings, investments, and debts)
- Information about their household size
If your parents have divorced or separated since June 1st of this year, you’ll need to supply information for both of them. When filling out your FAFSA online, it will ask if you’re providing information for both parents. If so, select “yes.” Then enter the school year each parent completed 12th grade (if different). It’s important that you use the same parental income info for all years; otherwise, it may take longer for us to verify your financial aid package at an increased cost!
Student’s Responsibilities as a Dependent Student
As a dependent student, you are required to report the income and assets of your parents or legal guardians on the FAFSA form. If the financial information provided by your parents is not accurate, you will be held responsible for any penalties resulting from this inaccuracy. You should also know that your family may be asked to make up any junior college costs not covered by federal aid if they have a history of annual incomes over $60,000. Dependent students can only receive federal student aid in the form of grants, work-study programs or loans; however, there are some additional benefits available to dependent students such as health care coverage under their parent’s plans.
Student’s Responsibilities as an Independent Student
As an independent student, you are responsible for:
- Demonstrating financial self-sufficiency.
- Not providing parental information on the FAFSA.
- Paying your own educational expenses.
The Bottom Line
The best way to figure out your dependency status is by asking yourself these questions: Do I have parents? If yes, are they supporting me financially? Do I have children or other dependents? Are my parents helping with these expenses as well? If you answered “no” to all three questions, then congratulations! You’re likely an independent student. On the other hand, if you answered “yes” to any one of them then congratulations too because now we know what we need to do next: fill out the FAFSA form!