Dependent / Independent Federal Definition

When determining eligibility for federal student aid, dependency status is considered. Because federal student financial aid funds are limited, all resources available to students must be considered in determining financial need.

Traditionally, parents are deemed the primary source of a dependent student's support. The law requires that parents' financial information be included in the U.S. Department of Education's (ED's) need analysis formula for a dependent student. For the 2017-2018 award year, the law defines an independent student as one who meets at least one of the following criteria:

  • Were you born before January 1, 1994?
  • As of today, are you married? (Answer "yes" if you are separated but not divorced).
  • At the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, will you be working on a master's or doctorate program (such as an MA, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, EdD, or graduate certificate, etc.)?
  • Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training?
  • Are you a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces?
  • Do you have children who receive more than half of their support from you between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018?
  • 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, 2018?
  • At any time since you turned 13, were both of your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court?
  • Are you or were you an emancipated minor as determined by a court in your state of legal residence?
  • Are you or were you in legal guardianship as determined by a court in your state of legal residence?
  • At any time on or after July 1, 2016, did your high school or school district homeless liaison determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?
  • At any time on or after July 1, 2016, 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?
  • At any time on or after July 1, 2016, 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?

Congress established these criteria through the legislation authorizing the federal student aid programs. Because Congress established the criteria, changes to the criteria would require Congress to pass additional legislation.In special or unusual circumstances, however, a student who meets none of these criteria may still be considered independent. The financial aid administrator at the student's school can make a special determination of independence and must document in the student's file the reason for that determination. The financial aid administrator's decision is final and cannot be appealed to Department of Education.

A dependent student must provide parental information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). A dependent student may still be eligible for federal student aid.