Most colleges and universities use the government's FAFSA and resulting Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to determine how much financial aid a student should receive. A significant factor in the aid calculations is whether or not the student should be considered dependent on his or her parents, or if the student has independent status.
It used to be that students could claim independent status pretty easily by living on their own and having their parents not claim them as dependents on their tax forms. The result would often be thousands of dollars more in financial aid because the parents' assets wouldn't be taken into consideration.
Widespread abuse of the system has led to a much stricter standard for qualifying as independent. Today, to be considered independent of your parents for financial aid purposes, you must prove that one of the following is true:
- Be at least 24 years of age by December 31st of the financial aid award year
- Be enrolled in a Masters, PhD or some other post-baccalaureate degree program for the academic year of the financial aid award
- Be married on the day you apply for financial aid (being separated still counts as being married)
- You have children who receive more than half of their support from you
- You have dependents other than children who live with you and receive more than half of their support from you (for example, a grandparent)
- Your parents are deceased
- You were a ward of the court until age 18
- You are serving active duty in the armed forces (other than training)
- You are a veteran of the U.S. armed forces