What does it mean to be financially independent in college? While being independent—being on your own, cooking your own meals, buying your own clothes—may mean not relying on parents to take care of you every day, being financially independent is another matter. The common belief is that when students declare themselves to be independent, they will receive more financial aid. Declaring independence as a financial strategy may work in some cases, but you must know that you must first adhere to strict guidelines in order to be considered independent.
Students who have just embarked on college life may do well to read up on issues affecting other students like them so that they can be informed about the possible solutions to their financial needs. Complaints websites contain valuable information about managing money effectively in order to avoid scenarios like having to leave school because they can no longer afford to pay tuition. There are also saving strategies and banking options that students may employ before considering an independent status.
Who are considered independent?
To be considered independent for purposes of financial aid, students must meet and prove one or more of the following requirements:
- Be married on the day of the application for financial aid
- Be enrolled in a post-baccalaureate degree program (Masters, PhD, or other professional degree)
- Have children who receive more than half of their financial support from them
- Have legal dependents (other than a spouse and children) who are currently living with them
- Be at least 24 years old by December 31 of the financial aid award year
- Had been a ward of the court
- Currently serving active duty in the armed forces aside from training
- A veteran of the United States Armed Forces
- Have deceased parents
Based on the qualifications, it is clear to see that “traditional” college students—those with parents who are still living, under 24 years of age, not in the military, without children—will not have an easy time getting an independent status. Students who are not considered independent under the guidelines will be evaluated for financial aid by taking into account the income and assets of their parents.
There are cases when students receive no financial support from parents at all. Under the guidelines however, they are still considered dependents. This hardly seems fair, but in these cases, students applying for financial aid are advised to discuss their personal situation with financial aid officers. Often, financial aid officers ask students who are truly independent from their parents but fall short of the qualifications to write a detailed letter explaining their situation.
If, even after negotiating with the financial aid office, you cannot be declared independent, financial aid officers are there to help you make plans about funding your college education. They may help you obtain personal loans, give advice on student loans and banking options, secure a scholarship, and even refer you for work on campus.
Ask and apply
Financial aid is given on a case-to-case basis and if you are unsure whether you qualify as an independent or not, it is best to always ask. You can anticipate how each status will affect the financial aid package that you will be given so that you’ll know what to expect. Application for financial aid is free—who knows, you may be given something better, such as a grant or scholarship. The universe works in mysterious ways, so go ahead and give it a try.