The federal government sets strict guidelines for determining whether a student is dependent or independent. Dependent students must include both their own income as well as the income of their parents (by blood or adoption) when filling out the FAFSA.
If you are at least 24 years old, you are considered an independent student and do not have to provide parental income and asset information.
If you are younger than 24, you may still qualify for independent status if you are:
- Legally married on the day the FAFSA was filed;
- The parent of a child for whom you provide more than half of the support they receive;
- Living with dependents for whom you provide more than half of the support they receive;
- An orphan (both natural parents are deceased);
- A ward or dependent of the court (or were until age 18);
- A member of the U.S. Armed Forces currently serving on active duty for purposes other than training;
- A veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces;
- A foster youth (in a foster youth program sometime after the age of 13);
- An emancipated child as determined by a court judge; OR
- Homeless or at risk of homelessness as determined by the director of a HUD approved homeless shelter, transitional program, or high school liaison.
If none of the above criteria applies, you are a dependent student–even if you claim yourself on your taxes.
If you are a dependent student and your parents refuse to provide parental information on your FAFSA, you have two basic options for receiving financial aid:
- Request a Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan for dependent students without parental support by filling out the appropriate form and submitting it to our office.
- File for a dependency override. If successful, we will calculate your eligibility based on your income alone.
However, the Financial Aid Office has the authority, through Section 480(d)(7) of the Higher Education Act, to change a student's status from dependent to independent in cases involving unusual circumstances. We call this process a “dependency override.”
Circumstances that merit a dependency override
- Abusive family environment (e.g., sexual, physical, or mental abuse or other forms of domestic violence);
- Abandonment by parents;
- Incarceration or institutionalization of both parents;
- Parents lacking the physical or mental capacity to raise the child;
- Parents hospitalized for an extended period;
- Unsuitable household (e.g., child removed by court action) AND/OR
- Any other situation that the Financial Aid Office deems worthy of independent status, save those excluded by regulation (see below).
Circumstances that do NOT merit a dependency override
- Parents refuse to contribute to the student's education;
- Parents are unwilling to provide information on the application or for verification;
- Parents do not claim the student as a dependent on their taxes; OR
- Student demonstrates total self-sufficiency.
How to request a dependency override
To petition for a change to your dependency status, request a Dependency Override Form on http://cuesta.verifymyfafsa.com for the academic year in which you would like financial aid. If you need assistance, please contact the Financial Aid Office and we'll be more than happy to help!