Category Archives: Dependency Status

When to Talk to Your Financial Aid Office About Special Circumstances

Do you have reason to believe that the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) you recently submitted needs to be updated or reconsidered due to special circumstances in your family? You can correct simple errors by logging in to your FAFSA at FAFSA.gov, but some adjustments can only be made by a financial aid officer at your college.


Dependency Status

The FAFSA will ask up to 13 dependency questions, and the answers to those questions will determine whether you are dependent or independent. If you answer NO to every dependency question, you’ll be considered a dependent student, which means you’ll be asked to report one or both parents’ income and tax information. But supplying parental information can be a challenge to some students due to ‘special circumstances’. You’ll have an opportunity on the FAFSA to state that you’re unable to provide your parents’ information, at which time the FAFSA will inform you that a dependent student who doesn’t include his/her parents’ information will only be eligible for one type of federal financial aid—an Unsubsidized Federal Student Loan. Not reporting your parents’ information can definitely affect the amount of financial aid that you would otherwise be eligible to receive.

There are times when a financial aid officer can ‘override’ your dependency status and change it to an independent status. This can be done if:

  • You had to leave home due to an abusive environment,
  • Your parents are incarcerated or
  • You’re unable to contact your parents and don’t know where they live.

A financial aid officer won’t be able to switch your status to ‘independent’ simply because:

  • Your parents refuse to contribute their information,
  • You weren’t claimed as a dependent on their tax return or
  • You aren’t living with your parents.

Basically, a dependency override can only be done in extreme situations. If you still believe you should be declared independent, discuss your circumstances with a financial aid officer at your school(s) of interest.

Adjustments to Family Income

If you and your parents have experienced a loss of income since 2019*, be sure to talk to someone in financial aid. Some reasons your income could be lower are:

  • Change in employment status
  • A divorce or separation
  • Unusual medical expenses not covered by insurance
  • Unusual dependent care expenses

Once you supply documentation that shows your current family income or special circumstance, a financial aid officer may be able to make adjustments that reflect what you and your family are currently experiencing, rather than what was reflected on your FAFSA. This would be done after you have reported your correct 2019 income on your FAFSA, and only someone from your financial aid office can adjust those figures.

The financial aid staff at your college will always be your best resource when you have questions about special circumstances. It’s important to contact them if you have any comments or concerns.

*Information from the 2019 tax year must be reported on the 2021-2022 FAFSA. The FAFSA will always ask for information from two years prior to the academic year for which the application is being submitted.

Homeless Students and the FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) asks up to three questions about homelessness. They ask if you’ve been determined as an unaccompanied youth who was homeless, or you were self-supporting and at risk of becoming homeless any time since July 1, 2020…if you’re completing the 2021-2022 FAFSA. This timeframe is based on the year prior to the academic year for which you will need financial aid for college.

The homeless determination can be given by:

  • A high school or school district homeless liaison,
  • A director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or
  • A director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program.

A student is considered unaccompanied if he or she is not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. A student is considered homeless if he or she lacks fixed, regular, and adequate housing. This includes students who are living in shelters, motels, cars, parks, or who are temporarily living with other people because they have nowhere else to go. Students are also considered homeless if they are fleeing an abusive parent who would otherwise provide the student with financial support and a place to live.

If you answer yes to any one of the questions about homelessness on the FAFSA, you’ll be considered an independent student; therefore, you won’t have to provide your parents’ income information on the application. Later, you may be asked by a financial aid administrator to provide a copy of the homeless youth determination. If you did not receive a determination provided by one of the officials listed above, you’ll be considered a dependent student on the FAFSA, but you may ask a financial aid administrator to consider making their own decision. The aid officer will probably ask you for additional documentation before reaching a decision.

When providing a street address on your FAFSA, follow these instructions given by the U.S. Department of Education: “You must provide a mailing address where you can reliably receive mail. Your mailing address can be the address of a relative or friend who has given you permission to use it, or it can be your college’s address. If you want to use your college’s address, you must contact the school for permission and instructions to ensure that your mail reaches you.” Don’t forget to update your FAFSA later when you find more permanent housing.

For more information and a list of additional resources for homeless students, read Questions and Answers: Federal Student Aid and Homeless Youth from StudentAid.gov.

We wish you the very best as you begin your journey to a bright future!

Dependent or Independent?

It’s October which means it’s FAFSA season! The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, can now be accessed at FAFSA.gov. This form becomes available every October 1st and serves as your first step in applying for federal and state financial assistance for college.

The types and amounts of aid you’re eligible to receive are based on the answers you provide on your FAFSA. The information you’re required to include is also based on your answers to some very important questions that will determine your dependency status. Being considered Dependent will require that you include parental data on the FAFSA; being Independent means you will not.

Many factors determine whether a student is considered Dependent or Independent. Review our Dependency Questionnaire to see a full list of the inquiries so you can determine your status before starting the application. Here are a few questions you may be asked:

  • Were you born before Jan. 1, 1998?
  • What’s your marital status?
  • Do you have dependents that you support?
  • Are you a veteran?
  • Have you been in foster care?

After your dependency status has been determined, you’ll be better prepared for the type of documentation you’ll need to complete your FAFSA. The information shown below will be required by the student if he/she’s Independent. And if the student is Dependent, both student and one parent will be required to provide this information:

  • Your Social Security Number.
  • Your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen).
  • Your 2019 federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. (You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.)
  • Bank statements and records of investments.
  • Records of untaxed income.
  • An FSA ID to sign the FAFSA electronically.

For additional information on the FAFSA, check out the Resources tab and also visit UCanGo2.org. You’ll find things like the FSA ID worksheet, FAFSA instructional videos, informative FAFSA Modules and helpful tips on state and federal financial aid programs. If you have questions regarding your dependency status or any items on the FAFSA, feel free to contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 800-433-3243 or your financial aid office.

The FAFSA Is Now Available

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is now available!

It’s the key you need to unlock money that will help you pay for college or other education after high school. Students often ask if the FAFSA is a scholarship, it’s not. The FAFSA is simply a statement about a family’s financial situation, and it’s used to determine how much federal financial aid a student may be eligible to receive.

A new FAFSA is available October 1 each year. You can submit your FAFSA even if you haven’t applied to any colleges yet. In fact, if you’re not sure which college you want to attend, you can request that your FAFSA information be shared with up to 10 different campuses that you may want to learn more about. Every student who may need money for college for the 2021-22 school year should complete this FAFSA.

The current FAFSA is available online at FAFSA.gov.

Need some guidance to get started on your FAFSA? Check out our resources:

FAFSA in Five Steps: This publication explains the steps to completing the application and provides reminders for additional materials you might need.

FAFSA Modules: These five PowerPoint presentations walk through the details of each step of the FAFSA process.

FAFSA and Financial Aid Video: Sometimes it helps to hear someone explain the FAFSA process. Our new FAFSA video walks students through common FAFSA questions.

If you’re still wondering why the FAFSA is so important, keep in mind that during the 2018-2019 school year, $2.6B dollars in federal financial aid for college was left unclaimed by students. They would have been qualified to receive the aid, but they didn’t simply because they didn’t submit a FAFSA. Discover what you’re eligible for by submitting your FAFSA today!

Who is My Parent on the FAFSA?

The answer to this question depends on your dependency status. If you’re considered an independent student, meaning you’ve answered YES to at least one dependency question on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you’ll report your own information (and your spouse’s, if married).

If you’re a dependent student for FAFSA purposes, you’ll need to provide information about your legal parent(s) on the application. A legal parent is your biological or adoptive parent, or your legal parent as determined by the state (for example, if the parent is listed on your birth certificate). If you have a stepparent currently married to your legal parent, you generally also must provide information about him or her.

If you need to report parental information, here are some guidelines to follow:

  • If your legal parents are married to each other, include information for both of them on your FAFSA.
  • If your legal parents (biological and/or adoptive parents) are not married to each other and live together, include information for both.
  • If your legal parent is widowed or was never married, include information only for your legal parent.
  • If your parents are divorced or separated and don’t live together:
    • Include the information about the parent you lived with most over the last 12 months. Also provide information for the stepparent, if your parent has remarried.
    • If you lived with each parent for an equal amount of time, include information for the parent who provided you the most financial support over the last 12 months, or during the most recent 12 months that you received support from your parent(s). Also provide information for your stepparent, if your parent has remarried
  • If your parents are divorced but are still living together:
    • Report their status as ‘Unmarried and both legal parents living together’
    • Include information for both parents
  • If your parents are separated but are still living together:
    • Report their status as ‘Married or remarried’ (not ‘Divorced or separated’)
    • Include information for both parents

One exception to note: The FAFSA will ask about your parents’ education level. Please answer the questions about the education levels of your birth or adoptive parents. A stepparent is not classified as a parent for those questions.

FAFSA Preview

If you’re an incoming high school senior, you’ll probably be hearing an important question this fall that you haven’t heard before: “Have you completed your FAFSA yet?” Let us tell you what the FAFSA is, and why it’s so important.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the key to unlock money that will help you pay for your education after high school. It’s simply a ‘snapshot’ of your family’s financial situation, and it’s used to determine how much federal financial aid a student may be eligible to receive.

Now that you know what the FAFSA is, let’s talk about what it’s NOT. It’s not an application to college, a loan application or any type of commitment to accept the aid you’re offered. It’s not a credit check, and it’s not limited only to students with stellar grades; the application won’t even ask for your grade point average (GPA).

A new FAFSA is available October 1 each year. For high school seniors, this means yours will be ready for you to submit this October – almost a year before you begin college. Don’t sweat it if you haven’t picked a college yet. One great thing about the FAFSA is that you can have your information sent to up to 10 different campuses.

Even though your FAFSA won’t be ready until October, you can take a look at the current form to see what it’s like. There are two options you may want to consider.

Please keep in mind that neither of these tools is a replacement for the real FAFSA. You’ll still need to complete the actual form online ASAP after October 1 in order to apply for federal and some state-based financial aid.

According to the National College Attainment Network, billions of dollars in federal financial aid for college is left unclaimed each year by students who would have qualified to receive the aid; they just didn’t submit a FAFSA. You’ll never know what you’re eligible for unless you submit the application.

For more information about the FAFSA and the types of aid that are available, visit FAFSA.gov and studentaid.gov.

Resources for Students Experiencing Homelessness

Higher education can be a promising path out of poverty. However, students who experience homelessness or an unstable home life often have to overcome barriers to access financial aid. Some students have difficulty applying for school and scholarships, while others are unable to complete their secondary education. Despite these challenges, there are many resources for students experiencing homelessness to succeed and achieve their goals.

For students who are on track to graduate high school and are preparing to attend college, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step they should take. When they complete the form, they will be asked if they’re homeless, at risk of becoming homeless or an unaccompanied youth. If they answer “yes” to being at risk of homelessness, they won’t need to provide parental financial information. The student will be then be labeled “independent” on the FAFSA. After the application has been submitted, most financial aid offices will require documentation proving that the student has been declared an unaccompanied or homeless youth.

It’s important to note that students should secure a reliable mailing address in order to receive financial aid and college information. This can be a family member’s or friend’s address, if needed. For additional information on filling out the FAFSA as an unaccompanied youth, click visit StudentAid.gov

Students who are unsure if they are classified as an unaccompanied youth can contact their high school counselor, their college financial aid office or the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) Higher Education Helpline at 855.446.2673. NAEHCY is a good resource for students in special circumstances to find educational and personal support in their state. Students can visit the NAEHCY website to find their state’s coordinator, learn about specific opportunities that can help them reach their goals, and access additional scholarships and academic resources. Additionally, most high schools have a homeless liaison that will work directly with students. If you aren’t sure who your district’s homeless liaison is, ask a teacher or counselor to help.

Often, a student’s basic needs should be met before they can pursue higher education. Programs like Pivot in Oklahoma City provide services that help young people find security by giving them access to basic necessities and housing solutions. Pivot also provides education and job assistance, prevention and intervention, and therapeutic care. For more information on Pivot’s resources visit www.pivotok.org.

Homelessness and the FAFSA

In recent years, questions about the circumstances surrounding homelessness have been added to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to give homeless students the help they need when considering college. Three questions about homelessness canned be summed up this way:

At any time on or after July 1 [in the year prior to the academic year covered by this FAFSA], did an official* determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?

*This determination can be given by:

  • A high school or school district homeless liaison,
  • A director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or
  • A director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program.

If you answer yes to any one of the ‘homelessness’ questions, you’ll be considered an independent student and will not be required to provide your parents’ income information on your FAFSA. Later on, though, you may be asked by a financial aid administrator to provide a copy of the homeless youth determination. If you did not receive a determination provided by one of the officials listed above, you’ll be considered a dependent student on the FAFSA, but you may ask a financial aid administrator to consider making their own determination. The administrator will probably ask you for additional documentation before reaching a decision.

To clarify some of the terms used in the questions about homelessness, an unaccompanied student is one who is not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. The term youth refers to someone who is 21 years of age or younger or is still enrolled in high school at the time they submit their FAFSA.  A student is considered homeless if he or she lacks fixed, regular, and adequate housing. This includes students who are living in shelters, motels, cars, or parks, or who are temporarily living with other people because they have nowhere else to go. Students are also considered homeless if they are fleeing an abusive parent who would otherwise provide the student with financial support and a place to live. A self-supporting student is one who covers his/her own living expenses.

Often, homeless students ask about how to report their mailing address on the FAFSA. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “You must provide a mailing address where you can reliably receive mail. Your mailing address can be the address of a relative or friend who has given you permission to use it, or it can be your college’s address. If you want to use your college’s address, you must contact the school for permission and instructions to ensure that your mail reaches you.” Don’t forget to update your FAFSA later when you find more permanent housing.

For more information and a list of additional resources for homeless students, read:

Questions and Answers: Federal Student Aid and Homeless Youth and

FAFSA Tips for Unaccompanied Youth

Dependency Status on the FAFSA

It’s FAFSA season and you may be wondering what type of information you’ll have to include on your form. The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, asks multiple questions including your name, age, school(s) of interest, and dependency status, as well as parent and student income and asset information. Since you’ll be in college next year, won’t you be considered an independent student? Do you even need to provide your parent’s information since you’ll be an adult when you start college? The answers to these questions are not simple ones, they require more explanation.

On the FAFSA, many factors determine whether a student is considered independent or dependent. The application asks students various questions to determine their dependency status. Dependent students must provide their parents’ information, while independent students do not. A series of yes or no questions asked on the FAFSA will help students determine their classification. If a student answers yes to any of the questions, s/he does not have to provide parental information. However, if every question in this section is answered no, parental information will be required. This can be confusing, so here’s a simple equation to help you remember:

  • All No’s = Dependent Student (Provide parent information)
  • One Yes = Independent Student (Don’t have to provide parent information)

What do these questions entail? They ask for a variety of information, including college grade level, age, military status, if you support dependents, if you’re at risk of being homeless, and many more. For additional information about the FAFSA, check out the tools available at StartWithFAFSA.org and UCanGo2.org, which offer a Dependency Status Questionnaire and a variety of articles, publications and videos to assist you with the FAFSA.

If you have questions regarding your dependency status or any items on the FAFSA, feel free to contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 800-433-3243 or your financial aid office