Online Degrees Blog How to Become an Independent Student for Financial Aid

How to Become an Independent Student for Financial Aid

23 August
woman in striped blue shirt smiling

If you’re a student applying for federal financial aid using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, one important consideration is whether you are a dependent student or an independent student. This status will determine if you must provide just your own financial information, or that of your parents as well. Do independent students get more financial aid? Not necessarily, but the government wants to have a complete picture of you and your family’s financial situation when determining aid.1

The process of applying for financial aid, and the implications of being dependent versus independent, can be confusing. In this article, we explain who qualifies as an independent student and whether they receive more federal financial aid than dependent students. Learn how to become an independent student to apply for financial aid for your higher education. We also explain what information you must provide as an independent student.

Who Qualifies as an Independent Student?

The U.S. Department of Education has strict rules about who qualifies as an independent student when applying for federal financial aid through the FAFSA form.

To be considered an independent student, one of the following conditions must apply:

  • You are 24 years of age or older by January 1 of the school year for which you are applying.
  • You’re married to or separated from your spouse, but not divorced.
  • You will be working towards your master’s or doctorate degree.
  • You are responsible for more than half of your children’s support.
  • You’re living with dependents other than a spouse or children and are responsible for more than half of their support.
  • You currently serve on active duty in the U.S. armed forces.
  • You’re a veteran of the U.S. armed forces.
  • Since age 13, both of your parents were deceased, and you were in foster care or were a dependent or ward of the court.
  • You are an emancipated minor or are in a legal guardianship that has been determined by a court.
  • You’re an unaccompanied youth who is self-supporting or homeless, or you are at risk of being homeless.1
  • An individual enrolling to earn an advanced degree is automatically considered an independent student.1

Do Independent Students Get More Financial Aid?

Independent students do not automatically receive more financial aid than dependent students. However, certain Department of Education (DOE) financial aid programs will provide more help to students who are independent. This is because, as a younger person earlier on in your career, your income may be lower and you will likely have fewer assets than the combined income and assets of your parents. This will affect your FAFSA information. Also, you may have a spouse and your own dependent children, as well as your own debts. Because of these reasons, you may qualify for more financial aid as an independent student.2

How to Become an Independent Student

You can’t simply become an independent student or choose to declare yourself as one for your financial aid application. However, if you are under 24 years old and meet one of the requirements listed above, you may be granted what is known as a dependence override. A university may grant this in the case of a “dire circumstance,” such as if you are homeless, your parents are incarcerated, or you come from an abusive home. This must be confirmed by a neutral third party. In this case, it is important to explain your situation to the school’s financial aid and admissions departments.3

Understanding FAFSA and How to File as an Independent Student

The U.S. Federal Student Aid department provides individuals who wish to apply for financial aid with a comprehensive help page that includes frequently asked questions.4,5

  • To file as an independent student, you will need the following:
  • An FSA ID (your username and password combined)
  • Personal information
  • Name, date of birth, social security number, address
  • Driver’s license number (if you have one)
  • Alien registration number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
  • Federal tax returns or tax information
  • Untaxed income records
  • Records of cash, checking and savings accounts, investments, and assets
  • Details about the school you wish to attend4,6

Other required documents may include your marriage certificate, military service records, court documents confirming your status as an orphan or ward, or contact information for a caseworker or social worker, if you’re homeless or in foster care.6

If you are filing as an independent student, you do not have to include any financial information for your parents. For more information and guidance, see the government website for FAFSA.4

Advance Your Career at The University of Kansas

A KU online graduate degree, graduate certificate, or licensure endorsement is an important investment for your future earning potential. KU is a highly esteemed university, named by U.S. News & World Report as the #1 Best Online Master’s in Special Education Programs, in addition to other top rankings.7

With a top-ranked degree from the University of Kansas School of Education and Human Sciences, you’ll advance your career and make a positive impact in education. Learn to engage students of all ages in our Department of Curriculum and Teaching, share your gifts with students with disabilities in our Department of Special Education, or keep motivation strong in instructional teams in our Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. We offer online master’s degrees, graduate certificates and licensure endorsement programs.

Federal financial aid programs can make higher education more affordable than you may think. Contact the KU Financial Aid & Scholarships Office at or 785-864-4700 for more information.


1. Retrieved on July 13, 2021, from
2. Retrieved on July 13, 2021, from
3. Retrieved on July 13, 2021, from
4. Retrieved on July 13, 2021, from
5. Retrieved on July 13, 2021, from
6. Retrieved on July 13, 2021, from
7. Retrieved on July 13, 2021, from