Determining Dependency Status

You may consider yourself independent because you don't receive support from your parents and/or don't live in your parents' home. You may even qualify as independent for income tax purposes, but the U.S. Department of Education has stricter standards for financial aid purposes.

Are you dependent or independent?

In order to file your financial aid application as an independent student, you must meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Age 24 by January 1 of the aid year
  • Veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces
  • Currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training
  • Graduate, graduate/professional, or doctoral student
  • Married prior to filing and signing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
  • Orphan, ward of the court, or in foster care age 13 or older
  • Have legal dependents other than a spouse
  • An emancipated minor as determined by a court
  • In legal guardianship as determined by a court
  • Any time on or after July 1, 2013 an unaccompanied youth who was homeless as determined by a high school guidance counselor, the director of an emergency shelter, or the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center

See the FAFSA instructions for additional information on these criteria. If you do not meet one of the above conditions, you must file as a dependent student and include your parents' information. Note: If you do answer "yes" to one of the above questions, you may be subject to verification by the Financial Aid Office.

If your parents are divorced and your custodial parent has remarried, your stepparent's information must be included as well, even if your parent and stepparent file separate tax forms, and even if they have an agreement not to assist each other's children with college expenses.

The only exception to the dependency rules is in very rare instances where it can be proven that there is a total breakdown in the relationship between student and parent(s). Grand Valley calls this a Dependency Status Appeal. If you are unsure if your situation would qualify for consideration contact a financial aid counselor in our office or review the appeal form available on our website.

Filing incorrectly as independent when you're actually a dependent student can seriously delay the processing of your financial aid. If you have questions about your status, contact a financial aid counselor before filing your FAFSA.