Most undergraduates applying for federal student aid must provide their parents' financial information when filling out the FAFSA.  But there are a few exceptions if you are an independent student or a student with an unusual circumstance.

Financial aid for independent students

Dependent Students

The government, in all its wisdom, assumes that your parents or legal guardians will contribute toward your college education, and therefore requires that they disclose their income and assets on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). However, and here's the rub, your parents or legal guardians have no obligation to actually pay your tuition.

If your parents or guardians, wealthy or poor, do not contribute toward your college education, you nonetheless need their information to complete the FAFSA.

Independent Students

Independent students do not report their parent’s information on the FAFSA. You qualify as an independent student if you meet any of the following criteria (which you can find in Section 2 of the FAFSA):

  • You are 24 or older.
  • You are in a master's or doctorate program (such as an MA, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, EdD, or graduate certificate).
  • You are married.
  • You have children who receive more than half of their support from you.
  • You have dependents (other than children or a spouse) who live with you and receive more than half of their support from you.
  • Your parents are dead, or you are (or were until age 18) a dependent of the court.
  • You are currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training (membership in the ROTC doesn't count).
  • You are a veteran.

If you do not meet any of these criteria, you are a dependent student; your parents' financial information is necessary to complete the form and be considered for aid

Financial Aid Officers (FAOs) Are People Too

If you are a dependent student yet have no contact with your parents, or if you have another unusual circumstance that is not reflected in your FAFSA application, you should contact your school's financial aid office.

FAOs are seasoned professionals, but they're also regular people like you and they want to help. Because FAOs distribute federal funds to students from a pool of money, they have a degree of latitude and discretion. You may be asked to provide evidence of your situation, so be prepared with the relevant documents.

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