When a student applies for federal student aid, the answers to certain questions will determine whether the student is considered dependent on their parent(s) or whether the student is independent. A dependent student must report the student's parents’ income and assets as well as the student's own income and assets. An independent student must report only the student's own income and assets (and those of the student’s spouse, if married).
A student is classified as dependent or independent because federal student aid programs are based on the idea that the student (and the student's parents or spouse, if applicable) have the primary responsibility of paying for the student's postsecondary education. Students who have access to parental support (dependent student) should not receive need-based federal funds at the expense of a student who does not have such access (independent student).
A student is considered independent if at least one of the following applies:
- The student was born before January 1, 1990 for 2013-2014 applicants
- The student is married
- The student has legal dependents other than a spouse
- The student is an orphan or ward of the court (or was a ward of the court until age 18) or
- The student is a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces.
(If a student cannot answer "yes" to one of the above questions, the student is dependent.)