Financial Aid

Applying for Financial Aid as an Independent Student

Learn what classifies a college student as independent, including being married, older than 23, a veteran, or an emancipated minor, as well as how students can apply for a dependency override and common reasons that a college may grant a student independent status.
Independent student walking on college campus

We're often asked how a student can qualify as "independent" for financial aid purposes. Independent students don't have to supply their parents' income or asset information on the financial aid applications. Though the formula used to assess independent students for financial aid is a bit different (putting more weight on the student's finances), excluding parent information seems like an attractive option, and one that might give a student more financial aid. But who qualifies?

Independent Student Criteria

Federal Student Aid has a short list of criteria that automatically classifies a college student as independent. Any student who falls into at least one of these categories qualifies:

  • Older than 23
  • Married
  • Working on a graduate degree
  • Has children and provides more than half of their support
  • Has live-in dependents and provides more than half of their support
  • Serving in the U.S. armed forces
  • A Veteran
  • An emancipated minor
  • An unaccompanied youth who is homeless or at risk of being homeless
  • Since turning 13, has been an orphan, in foster care, or a dependent/ward of the court

Dependency Override

If students don't fall into one of the categories above, they can petition their college to consider them independent based on their personal circumstances. This is often referred to as a dependency override. To submit that request, students need to send a letter to their college (or all colleges where they're applying, if they're in the application process) explaining the reason they believe they should be considered independent. Any relevant documentation should accompany the letter. It's helpful to include a letter of support from an adult who is aware of the student's circumstances.

Reasons for Dependency Override

What are some reasons that a college may grant a student independent status? There is no exhaustive list, but typical reasons include the following:

  • Abandonment by the parents
  • Parents' location is unknown
  • Safety issue in contacting the parents
  • Parent incarceration
  • Parent long-term hospitalization or institutionalization

Here are reasons that a college in most cases will not consider a student as independent:

  • Parent refusal to contribute toward college costs
  • Parent refusal to complete the financial aid applications
  • Student is financially self-sufficient
  • Parent does not claim the student as a dependent on the tax return

If you have questions about a student's dependency status at a college, contact the financial aid office. And for more information on the difference between dependent and independent students, visit the Federal Student Aid website here.

Learn more about financial aid