Who is a Dependent Student on the FAFSA?

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The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) asks a set of 13 questions to determine whether a student is a dependent student or an independent student.

Why Does Dependency Status Matter?

Parent information is required on the FAFSA of a dependent student but not on the FAFSA of an independent student.

The student's dependency status may affect the amount of financial aid for which the student is eligible. In most cases, an independent student will qualify for more financial aid. However, if a student is independent because he or she is married, the FAFSA will substitute the financial and demographic information of the student's spouse for the financial and demographic information of the student's parents. This can sometimes result in less financial aid.

FAFSA Dependency Status vs. IRS Dependents

Dependency status on the FAFSA is different than dependency status on federal income tax returns. FAFSA dependency status is defined by the Higher Education Act of 1965, while dependency status on IRS tax forms is defined by the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. The definitions are different.

Whether the parents claim the student as a dependent (exemption) on their federal income tax return does not affect whether the student is considered a dependent for federal student aid purposes (or vice versa). The age thresholds, residency requirements and support tests all differ for the two definitions . A student could be financially self-sufficient and file his or her own federal income tax returns yet still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes.

Dependency Status Questions

A student who answers "no" to all 13 of these dependency status questions is considered to be a dependent student, even if the student is financially self-sufficient and does not live with his or her parents. A student who answers "yes" to at least one of the FAFSA dependency status questions is considered to be an independent student. Effectively, a student is dependent if the student is not considered to be independent.

In unusual circumstances, dependent students may be treated as independent students if their college or university's financial aid administrator performs a dependency override.

The order of the dependency status questions on the online version of the FAFSA is designed to reduce the number of questions that must be answered by independent students. The most general questions are listed first. These are the questions that are most likely to get a "yes" answer from an independent student. As soon as an independent student answers "yes" to one of the questions, the remaining questions are skipped (except for questions about marital status, children/dependents and military status).

  1. Were you born before January 1, 1991?
  2. As of today, are you married?
  3. At the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, will you be working on a master's or doctorate program (such as an MA, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, EdD, graduate certificate, etc.)?
  4. Do you now have or will you have children who will receive more than half of their support from you, between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015?
  5. Do you have dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and who receive more than half of their support from you, now and through June 30, 2015?
  6. Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training?
  7. Are you a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces?
  8. At any time since you turned age 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care, or were you a dependent or ward of the court?
  9. As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you an emancipated minor?
  10. As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you in legal guardianship?
  11. On or after July 1, 2013, were you homeless or were you self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?

  12. At any time on or after July 1, 2013, did your high school or school district homeless liaison determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?
  13. At any time on or after July 1, 2013, did the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?
  14. At any time on or after July 1, 2013, did the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?

Unsure of how to answer these questions? Review answers to common dependency questions regarding who is an independent student and take the FAFSA dependency status quiz.