Students are classified as dependent or independent based upon information submitted on the FAFSA. According to the U.S. Department of Education, most undergraduate students are considered dependent. Parents have the primary responsibility of providing for post-secondary education costs. Graduate students are automatically considered independent by the federal government for financial aid purposes, even if they are still claimed on their parents' taxes.
When you submit the FAFSA, your answers to multiple questions on the application will determine your dependency status. If you are considered independent you report only your own income and assets and the income of your spouse. If you are considered a dependent student, you must report your parents' income and assets along with your own. A parent must also sign the FAFSA.
The federal criteria for independent status is not based on the student physically residing with the parents or on the parents providing financial support. The philosophy behind the criteria is that parents should be the first resource to pay for their child's college education–before all other taxpayers. However, financial aid administrators are allowed to review student situations individually, and under limited circumstances with sufficient cause, may determine that a student should be considered independent for financial aid purposes. Only extreme, documented cases will warrant a change in the student's status. Your parents' refusal to assist you with educational costs, your decision to live separately from your parents, or tax filing status are not, by themselves, considered valid reasons for a dependency appeal approval.
If you think you have unusual circumstances for which you should be considered independent the process to apply for a dependency appeal may be pursued. You are encouraged to contact a financial aid counselor prior to submitting the appeal.