Anyone working in the world of federal financial aid will tell you that the 2024-25 Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, has had its set of challenges. These have been due to the massive overhaul in the methods used for calculating and disbursing federal student aid to those who qualify, which comes in the forms of grants, work-study programs and loans for students and parents.
All in all, these changes are expected to bring more aid to more students. One change could specifically affect dependent students who may be experiencing “unusual circumstances” in their life. Up until this year, there have been two different statuses on the FAFSA determined by a student’s personal circumstances — dependent or independent. Most students will still fit into one of the two categories. One or both parents will be required to contribute their income information to their dependent students’ FAFSA, while independent students will only be required to contribute their own information, along with their spouse’s, if married. However, sometimes there are circumstances beyond a dependent student’s control that would make it difficult to obtain their parents’ information. That’s where the new “Provisional Independent” status comes into play.
On the 2024-25 FAFSA, students will be able to state if they’re unable to obtain their parents’ information due to an extreme circumstance. This may pertain to putting a student at risk if they try to obtain their parents’ personal data or perhaps at times when the student has lost contact with the parent(s) altogether. The student will see examples of unusual circumstances on their FAFSA, and if they state that one of them describes their situation, the FAFSA will grant them a Provisional Independent status, meaning the FAFSA can be processed without the parent(s) contributing their information.
Once the FAFSA has been received and processed at the colleges listed on the student’s application, the financial aid offices at those colleges will reach out to the student and ask for documentation that verifies the unusual circumstances they’re currently facing. The college will tell the student what they need for this determination, and provide a deadline for turning in the requested information. Required documents can be in the form of signed statements and/or letters from different parties who are familiar with the student’s situation, proof of parent incarceration, or documented/recorded interviews with one or more people who know the student. If all documentation is received by the deadline, the financial aid office will determine whether the student should remain at an independent status. Once a student’s status is changed to “Independent,” they will remain at that status for the remainder of the time at the school and will not be required to request an independent status again, unless a change in their circumstances warrants a re-evaluation.
While certain financial aid personnel have always been capable of initiating a “dependency override” on a student’s FAFSA due to extreme circumstances, answering this new question on the FAFSA can help a student get the attention they need much more quickly and will alert them to the possibility of being able to receive aid without being required to supply their parent(s)’ information. The whole intent of the Provisional Independent status is to give more relief to the students who may need it most.
For more information about Unusual Circumstances, see this FAFSA Simplification Fact Sheet.