Can my student be considered “independent” for financial aid?

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 Q. We make too much money, or, too much for our kids to get much financial aid. Is there a time when it makes sense for the child to no longer be a dependent so they can hopefully qualify for more aid?

A. Yes, but it’s not easy.

For starters, you’re in a situation similar to many families.

“You earn too much money to qualify for need-based aid, yet after the high cost-of-living in this area you don’t have enough surplus income to pay for the exceptionally high cost of college for your children,” said Peter McKenna, a certified financial planner with Highland Financial in Riverdale.

He said the federal government does not feel a need to support every student in their quest for higher education. It wants that burden to be borne by the student and their family, so policies have been enacted by the government, and by the schools, too, that make it difficult for a student to declare that they are “independent.”

“Some factors that could make the student independent for federal aid purposes are if the student is over 24 years old, is pursuing a graduate degree, is married, has children, is orphaned, etc.” McKenna said. “From this list you can see that most undergraduate students wouldn’t qualify as independent and the schools may have an even tougher standard you need to meet.”

To see what the government’s requirements are to be considered independent on the FAFSA, click here.

Even if you don’t think you’ll qualify for much aid, you should absolutely complete the FAFSA anyway.

Your student would also need to complete a “Dependency Review Form” with the college, said Jerry Lynch, a certified financial planner with JFL Total Wealth Management in Fairfield.

“They are going to want to see proof that the student is independent,” Lynch said.

If you’re paying for your child’s car insurance or health insurance, they’re probably not going to be considered independent.

While this discussion has focused on need-based financial aid, there are other sources of aid that are not need-based.

“These may be merit-based, sports-related, activity-related or affiliation-related grants or scholarships that may help with the bills,” McKenna said.

And there’s one other important consideration. If you can’t afford to pay for an expensive college, and your child doesn’t want to be saddled with student loans, perhaps a costly school isn’t the right choice.

“Why not try a county college, which is a lot less expensive?” Lynch said. “You can do that while working full-time, and you still get a great education!”

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This story was first posted in April 2015. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.