Being an independent student comes with enough financial hardships, but you can still apply for financial aid through the FAFSA. But only certain circumstances qualify.

The FAFSA is difficult enough when you’ve got your parents around to help. But when you’re an independent student, everything gets a little more complicated.

The federal government considers it the responsibility of your parents to fund your education, so if they can’t afford it, you’re (supposedly) going to get more aid. But what if you’re an adult looking to go to college for the first time? Or you’re an emancipated minor? Or you’re married?

We try to answer a few of these questions.

What is an independent student?

There are very specific requirements for someone to be considered an independent student. You must:

  • Be 24 years of age or older by December 31 of the award year;
  • Or an orphan (both parents deceased), ward of the court, in foster care or was a ward of the court when 13 years or older;
  • Be a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States or serving on active duty for other than training purposes;
  • Or a graduate or professional student;
  • Be a married individual;
  • Have legal dependents other than a spouse;
  • Be an emancipated minor or in legal guardianship;
  • Or a homeless youth.

If you don’t fall into any of these categories, but believe yourself to still be an independent student, you can fill out a Dependency Review Form through your college by sending them a letter requesting consideration as an independent student, although these rarely go over in your favor.

For example, if you never got the chance to get yourself declared as an emancipated minor, but you have no contact with your parents and don’t know where they live, you could be declared an independent student. You can check to see if your family situation is considered for a review.

A big reason someone might consider filing one of these review is if their parents refuse to help pay for college or provide the information for the forms. This is unfortunately, not enough of a reason to be considered an independent student.

In addition, as student cannot qualify as an independent

  • because the parents choose to not claim the student as a dependent on their federal income tax return, not even if the student demonstrates total financial self-sufficiency,
  • or because the parents refuse to participate in verification,
  • or because the student’s parents live in another country.

What to fill out as an independent student

The process for filling out the FAFSA as an independent student is practically the same as if you were dependent, you just won’t be filling out the parent demographic section.

Instead you’ll immediately jump to the section where you’ll enter your financial information. You’ll put in all your tax information, so have your W-2s and your tax return on hand.

Here’s a simple video to help walk you through each step.

What to do if your parent’s won’t help, but you’re not considered independent

When filling out the FAFSA, if you don’t qualify as independent, you’ll be asked if you have any special circumstances and a page will appear explaining that only your college’s financial aid department has the right to decide if you’ve got special circumstances and you’ll be directed to contact them.

If you don’t qualify as an independent student, you don’t have any special circumstances, but you still have no way to provide parental information, you’ll see an unsubsidized loan option appear.

An unsubsidized loan doesn’t require a demonstrated financial hardship to get. But, this means, that borrowers are responsible for paying all the interest on their unsubsidized loans, even during the six-month grace period and during deferment or forbearance. This is not true for subsidized loans where the government pays the interest during your time in school.

Since financial need isn’t necessarily required to get a Stafford Loan, you won’t need any of your parents’ financial information. Unfortunately, this is really the only option if you don’t qualify as an independent student.


Applying for financial aid is grueling process, even more so if you’re considered independent from your parents. But it’s not impossible. If you believe you should qualify as an independent student but don’t meet the qualifications, contact your university. They’ll tell you if you are considered to have special circumstances.

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About the author

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Christopher Murray is a professional personal finance and sustainability writer who enjoys writing about everything from budgeting to unique investing options like SRI and cryptocurrency. He also focuses on how sustainability is the best savings tool around. You can find his work on sites like MoneyGeek, Money Under 30, Investor Junkie, MoneyCrashers, and Time. You can find out more about Christopher on his website or via LinkedIn.