Understanding Independent Student Status

When should you file as an independent student on the FAFSA?

When filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you may wonder whether to classify yourself as a dependent or independent student. The major difference between the two designations is that dependent students currently receive financial support from a parent or legal guardian while independent students do not. In this guide from Citizens Bank, you'll learn more about determining if you qualify for independent student status and how your status affects your FAFSA application.

How to determine if you qualify as an independent student for the FAFSA

How can you decide if you are considered an independent student under the law? That's easy. You simply have to answer the following questions:


Question

Yes/No
Will you be at least 24 by December 31 of the upcoming school year?
Yes

No

Are you married? If you are separated, but not divorced, check yes.
Yes


No

Are you, or will you be (during the coming semester) working toward a master's or doctorate level degree?
Yes


No

Are you either:
A) On active duty in the U.S. armed forces (not including training) or
B) A veteran?

Yes


No

Do you have children who you support? Your portion of support must be at least half of what the children receive.
Yes


No

Do you have live-in dependents who receive more than half of their support from you?
Yes


No

Are your parents deceased (since you turned 13), were you a ward of the court or were you in foster care?
Yes


No

Are you an emancipated minor?
Yes


No

Are you in a legal guardianship as determined by a court?
Yes


No

Was it determined that you were an unaccompanied or homeless youth during the past year?
Yes


No

How your answers to the independent student status questions affect your FAFSA

If you answered "yes" to at least one of the above questions, you may be considered an independent student for the purposes of federal student aid. This means you won't need to provide any information from your parents on the FAFSA. You may be eligible for higher federal student loan limits as an independent student, which can help make paying for school more manageable.

Conversely, if you answered "no" to every question, you are likely considered a dependent student, and your parents must include their financial information on the FAFSA form. If you don't live with your parents or they are not providing aid for college, but none of the above circumstances apply to you, you must still file as a dependent student. However, there are specific steps to follow and you should contact the financial aid office immediately after applying to explain your situation. Likewise, if you're unsure of an answer, contact your financial aid office to ask what they recommend.

How filing as an independent student affects private student loan options

Once you have your FAFSA award letter and you have taken advantage of any federal student loans available to you, you may also want to consider using a private student loan to help cover remaining education expenses. While your status as an independent student does not directly impact private student loan options (you won't be asked to apply any differently), the circumstances which led you to file as one could.

If you are an independent student you can still apply for private student loans, but it may be more difficult to qualify for competitive rates if you don't have a strong credit history or a cosigner. However, at Citizens Bank, a guardian, spouse or any creditworthy adult can cosign a student loan with you or take out a Citizens Bank Student Loan™ for Parents on your behalf.

Consider how private student loan options from Citizens Bank can help you pay for school

If you qualify for independent student status, your financial aid options and applications will be different than those of other students – but they could be more beneficial to you in the long run. You may be able to receive more free aid or larger loan amounts. Whether you're a dependent or independent student applying for private loans, Citizens Bank can help. Both our options offer flexible repayment, a variety of terms and competitive rates. If you have questions about private student loan options, contact a Student Lending Specialist and we'll walk you through the process.

Additional student loan and college planning resources

Understanding Financial Aid
Continuing Education Student Loans
Guide to Paying for Graduate School
Types of Student Loans for Graduate Students