Am I Dependent or Independent?

Both the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the California Dream Act (CDA) Application require information regarding the student's income and available resources. Additionally, some students are required to submit information about their parents. Knowing your dependency status can help you when you are going to fill out your financial aid application.

  • If you’re a dependent student, you will report your and your parents’ information.
  • If you’re an independent student, you will report your own information (and, if you’re married, your spouse’s).

Both federal and state student aid programs are based on the concept that it is primarily your and your family’s responsibility to pay for your education. These programs also assume that dependent students have the support of parents, so the parents’ information has to be assessed along with the student’s, in order to get a full picture of the family’s financial strength. If you’re a dependent student, it doesn’t mean your parents are required to pay anything toward your education; this is just a way of looking at all applicants in a consistent manner.

Below is a video by the Federal Department of Education that helps determine dependency status. Additionally we have added Frequently Asked Questions below which may assist you as your determine your dependency status and how to report parent information on applications.

Are you ready to complete the FAFSA applicationOpens in new window , but are unsure whether you'll need to provide parental information on the form? Check out this video to help you determine whether you're an independent or dependent student. For additional information, visit Student AidOpens in new window . (Information and Video source, YoutubeOpens in new window Federal Student AidOpens in new window ).

Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ's Regarding Dependency Status & Parent Information Reporting

Am I Dependent or Independent?

All applicants for financial aid are considered either “independent” or “dependent.” Dependent students are required to include information about their parents on the application. By answering a few questions, you can get a good idea of which category you fit into.

  • Will you be 24 or older by Dec. 31 of the school year for which you are applying for financial aid?
  • Will you be working toward a master’s or doctorate degree (such as M.A., M.B.A., M.D., J.D., Ph.D., Ed.D., etc.)?
  • Are you married or separated but not divorced?
  • Do you have children who receive more than half of their support from you?
  • Do you have dependents (other than children or a spouse) who live with you and receive more than half of their support from you?
  • At any time since you turned age 13, were both of your parents deceased, were you in foster care, or were you a ward or dependent of the court?
  • Are you an emancipated minor or are you in a legal guardianship as determined by a court?
  • Are you an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?
  • Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces for purposes other than training?
  • Are you a veteran of the U.S. armed forces?

If none of the criteria listed above apply to you, you may be considered a dependent student and may be required to provide your parents’ financial information when completing the application. If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you may be an independent student. You may not be required to provide parental information on your application.

Who is my parent according to these applications?

If you need to report parent information, here are some guidelines to help you:

  • If your legal parents (your biological and/or adoptive parents, or parents as determined by the state—e.g., a parent listed on your birth certificate) are married to each other, answer the questions about both of them, regardless of whether your parents are of the same or opposite sex.
  • If your legal parents are not married to each other and live together, answer the questions about both of them, regardless of whether your parents are of the same or opposite sex.
  • If your legal parent is widowed or was never married, answer the questions about that parent.

What if my parents are divorced or separated?

In this case, how you fill out the application depends on whether your parents live together or not.

Keep the following in mind as you read this section:

  • For financial aid purposes, your married parents are separated if they are considered legally separated by a state, or if they are legally married but have chosen to live separate lives, including living in separate households, as though they were not married.
  • When two married persons live as a married couple but are separated by physical distance (or have separate households), they are considered married for financial aid purposes.

Divorced or Separated Parents Who Do Not Live Together

If your parents are divorced or separated and don’t live together, answer the questions about the parent with whom you lived more during the past 12 months.

If you lived the same amount of time with each divorced or separated parent, give answers about the parent who provided more financial support during the past 12 months or during the most recent 12 months that you actually received support from a parent.

Divorced or Separated Parents Who Live Together

If your divorced parents live together, you’ll indicate their marital status as “Unmarried and both parents living together,” and you will answer questions about both of them on the application.

If your separated parents live together, you’ll indicate their marital status as “Married or remarried” (NOT “Divorced or separated”), and you will answer questions about both of them on the application.

What if I have a stepparent?

If you have a stepparent who is married to the legal parent whose information you’re reporting, you must provide information about that stepparent as well.

Including your stepparent’s information on the application helps form an accurate picture of your family’s total financial strength.

What if I live with someone other than my parents?

It doesn’t matter if you don’t live with your parent or parents; you still must report information about them. The following people are not your parents unless they have legally adopted you: grandparents, foster parents, legal guardians, older brothers or sisters, uncles or aunts, and widowed stepparents.

What if I'm unable to provide parent information due to special circumstances?

In situations such as the ones below, you may be able to submit your application without parent information despite being considered a dependent student:

  • Your parents are incarcerated.
  • You have left home due to an abusive family environment.
  • You do not know where your parents are and are unable to contact them (and you have not been adopted).
  • You are older than 21 but not yet 24, are unaccompanied, and are either homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless.

The online application will ask you whether you are able to provide information about your parents. If you are not, you will have the option to indicate that you have special circumstances that make you unable to get your parents’ information. The site then allows you to submit your application without entering data about your parents.

However, it is important for you to understand the following:

  • Although your application will be submitted, it will not be fully processed. You will not receive an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and must contact the Office of Financial Aid.
  • The Office of Financial Aid at CSUF will ask for you to complete a Dependency Override Appeal FormPDF File to determine whether you can be considered independent and have an EFC calculated without parent data. Gather as much written evidence of your situation as you can. Written evidence may include court or law enforcement documents; letters from a clergy member, school counselor or social worker; and/or any other relevant data that explains your special circumstance.
  • Form available here: File

What if my parents are unwilling to provide their information?

You can’t be considered independent of your parents just because they refuse to help you with the applications. Still, we do understand that in some cases, the parents are not supporting the dependent student at all and refuse to provide their information on the student’s application. If you’re in that situation when the application asks you whether you are able to provide information about your parents, say no. Select the option that says you don’t have a special circumstance but you still can’t provide parent information.

The Office of Financial Aid will receive your partial application and will request the completion of a Parent Statement of Non-Support FormPDF File . The form requires that your parent sign a statement certifying that they do not and will not financially support you.  If approved, you won’t be able to get any federal student aid other than an unsubsidized loan.  

If you are considering this option and have any questions, please contact our office. You may want to come in and speak to financial aid staff to determine if this is the best course of action for your circumstances. 

What if my parents are concerned about providing their information because of their citizenship status?

Your parents’ citizenship status does not affect your eligibility for federal student aid. In fact, the applications don’t even ask about your parents’ status.

Note: If your parent does not have a Social Security number, you may enter all zeros for him or her on the application where it asks for that information.

Please contact us if you have any questions about dependency status.