Dependent or Independent?

You may consider yourself independent because you don't receive support from your parents or you don't live in their home. You may even qualify as independent for income tax purposes, but the U.S. Department of Education has stricter standards for financial aid purposes.

In order to file your financial aid application as an independent student, you must meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Age 24 by January 1 of the aid year
  • Veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces
  • Currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training
  • Graduate or graduate/professional student
  • Married prior to filing and signing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
  • Financially supporting legal dependents other than a spouse
  • Orphan, foster youth, or ward of the court
  • Emancipated minor or unaccompanied homeless youth

The online FAFSA will guide you through questions designed to determine whether you are dependent or independent. If you are independent it will allow you to skip the parent section. If you do not meet the criteria to be considered independent, you must file as a dependent student and provide information about your legal parent(s).

If your parents are divorced and your custodial parent (the parent you reside with most throughout the year) has remarried, your stepparent's information must be included as well, even if your parent and stepparent file separate tax forms, and even if they have an agreement not to assist each other's children with college expenses.

The only exception to the dependency rules at Michigan State is in very rare instances where it can be proven that there is a total breakdown in the relationship between student and parent(s). If you believe that this describes your situation, contact a financial aid advisor for advice on how to document your circumstances.

Filing incorrectly as independent when you're actually a dependent student can seriously delay the processing of your financial aid. If you have questions about your status, contact a financial aid advisor before filing your FAFSA.