Heck Yeah, It’s Hard to Qualify as an Independent Student

It is hard to qualify as an independent college student when seeking federal financial aid. I wrote about this big hurdle recently in this post:

Getting Financial Aid as an Independent Student

Yesterday about four dozen students posted passionate comments on my blog after Chegg, the giant online source for textbook rentals, carried a post that I wrote earlier this year in its newsletter. I felt for many of the students because their parents make too little to help with college.

I must emphasize that if parents make little money,  federal financial aid is always an option and often there’s state financial and assistance from the schools themselves available. As I’ve written countless times on my blog and book, The College Solution, price tags are meaningless! A $50,000 school might cost next to nothing for a student from a low-income or even middle-income family.

One of the comments that jumped out at me came from Allison, a college student, who chastised me for questioning why parents with good incomes would shirk their responsibility to help with their children’s college costs.

Here is what she wrote:

I don’t understand how you can label a parent with a good-paying job that does not contribute to college a bad one. It is an offensive thing to say. I am a senior in college, and my parents paid for my first two years of college (it was a community college). After that I was on my own, and I am going to grad school after I graduate. I have my own health insurance, my parents do not contribute (God forbid a parent save for retirement), and I am getting screwed by the government because I am not considered an independent student. However, I do not blame my parents, and I don’t think you have the right or the brainpower to either. Try to help someone next time you write an article.

I think what Allison is asking  — in wanting to be declared an independent student – is for me and all other taxpayers to become her parents.

Here’s why: When students are declared independent, they can qualify for more financial aid since their parents’ income wouldn’t be considered in financial aid formulas.

As independents, these students could belly up to the federal food trough for more financial aid. One of the goodies they would get is a federal Pell Grant, which doesn’t have to be repaid. The indy kids could also receive state student aid, as well as money from the schools themselves.

Why in heaven’s name should this girl get more financial aid, as well as a better deal on federal student loans, just because her parents, who make a good salary, want to check out financially?

It was the parents’ decision to freeze out their daughter, but please leave me and all the other taxpayers out of it.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch. Follow her on Twitter.

Further Reading:

Schools With the Best Financial Aid Policies — For Now

Top 10 College Websites to Find Great Schools

The Shrinking Cost of College

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  1. Is it true that students whose parents do not want them to go to college and therefore refuse to supply the family’s financial information on the parent section of the fafsa must wait until they are 24 to be considered independent or make a major life change such as marriage, children or military? Wont they forget many skills between high school and 24 years old?

    I am 23 currently and having to wait until I am 24 to complete my bachelors. My mom signed Fafsa for 2 years but now neither parent will. It will be August 2016 before I can become independent. I am so afraid I’ll forget so much and i really want to be a good student.

    1. Hi Theresa,

      It is quite a shame that neither parent will sign the FAFSA! Do they know that simply signing it won’t obligate them to help you with your college costs? Maybe if you explain that this in no way obligates them to help, they will relent. Also, explain that you would have to drop out of school!

      I would take your case to your school’s financial aid office. Explain that your parent refuses to sign (I’m assuming that they refuse to help you financially also) and that without money generated by the FAFSA results, you would have to drop out of school. Through a professional judgement, your school has the discretion to allow you to file by yourself.

      It’s good that you will be 24 next year. I’d find out from the FAFSA folks if you could apply independently as early as Jan. 1 of 2016 since that is the year you turn 24. I don’t know if you have to be 24 on the day you file the FAFSA. It could be that you have to be 24 on the year you file the FAFSA. Here is the FAFSA contact info to ask: https://studentaid.ed.gov/contact

      Good luck!

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  2. Look at the parents who pay taxes and never asked for assistance. They work hard, psy their bills, and are trying to save for their retirement along with taking care of their parents not on assistance. We have probably paid taxes for a lot longer than you, give to charities, in our 50’s and still working two full time jobs. If we don’t take care of ourselves and plan for out retirement we will be in trouble. We have no one to depend on. The goverment encourages people to be dependent. They will assist others before they help their own citizens. Our daughter is 22, working at a minimum wage job and cannot get assistance. We let her live with us and carry insurance on her. I call that protecting ourselves. If she got seriously sick or injured that could ruin us. If she was unmarried, had a child and did not work she could go to school free. What is fair about that? She is punished for working, not having children. You should be more upset for your tax dollars being spent on supporting single parents being able to beat the system by not working, having children and getting paid to go to school. I have seen this time and time again. They think they are just beating the system but really they are beating us.

    As a taxpayer, I have no problem with my taxes being used for education. If a person ask for education they should be able to get financial help in getting it.

  3. I think if you are not living wioth your parents you are independent…if you live with parents then you are not independent…I have a young boy living in my home who has met his father one time in his entire llife whos mother put him on a plane sent him from the phillipines to my home in massachusetts and then called to ask if i could care for him. that was just before his junior year of highschool. I took him in and noone sends me a cent to support him. I do that all on my own. I currently attend college on my own and have 2 sons that do as well. This boy also attends college and is forced because of the laws to email a father that abandoned him at age 4 and beg for tax returns so that he can get financial aid because his mother does not file taxes and he hasnt spoken to her but 2 times a year in five years. To me thats not fair. I support him to me if you are going to call him dependent it should go by my income not his fathers who he hardly knows. I had to search for him online to track him down for tax papers and that is much like pulling teeth most times. I know the magic age is 23 by the Fafsa and he is currently 21 so that helps him none. The child is swamped in loans that he will never be able to repay and I think thats unfair. Guidelines are ok so long as there aree exceptions to the rule and I think when your mother lives out of the country and abandons you at 17 and yer father at age 4 its an exception!Furthermore, As a taxpayer I’d much rather pay for kids to attend college than for them to attend prison cause they didnt!

  4. The problem with people being declared independent if they can prove their parents are no longer helping them… or… helping “minimally” is that this gives parents an excuse to not pay for their kids’ education even when they can afford it… And that would involve a lot of parents… And it would bankrupt the government and consequently the taxpayers.

    What needs to happen is for there to be a law passed that puts the spot on parents who do not try to contribute to their kids’ education, even though they were perfectly willing to provide for the kid up until the age of 18… And by putting them on spot, I mean threatening fines and jail time… and/or possibly taking away their younger kids and putting them in foster care with strange people, so that those kids will later be able to be classified as “independent” since the parents seem to want it so much…

    Yeah. I don’t have a very high opinion of parents, but then… I’ve been in foster care. I’ve been neglected (as in there was a period in my life where the only time I got to eat was at school) and abused (not just emotionally)… It comes to no surprise, then, that I am classified as a 21-year old “independent student.”

    Right now, I’m on food stamps… often uncertain where I am going to live (thankfully, the financial aid I get helps me with that)… dealing with severe emotional issues (that kind of thing comes with the crap I’ve been through…)… and oh… lucky me… I have a chronic disease I suffer with as well (known as Crohn’s disease… it’s painful, and I’ve been hospitalized many times… It has really slowed down my education…)

    So, I ask you people who disagree with Lynn O’Shaugnnessy… Do you think its unfair that you’re not in my position? Why should you be so envious of me? Because I get help in the form of grants? Did I mention that I still have to work to cover my college and/or living expenses? Or that I had to take out a small loan once because of constant withdrawals from class (apparently, there is not much distinguishing between medical withdrawals and regular withdrawals)…

    I’m not generally an angry person (I try not to be angry because it tends to lead to hate, and I’ve seen enough of that in my life)… but when I see things like this, I can’t help myself.

  5. I think I fully understand both sides of the argument but of course I’m more sympathetic towards Allison because I’m in a similar situation. I have parents who lost their jobs so money is very tight. They are paying what they can towards my tuition but there is little left over for textbooks, food, laundry, rent and utility bills. I live with my boyfriend and currently we are living pay check to pay check(off of one pay check and help from parents). I have lost my job and don’t qualify for unemployment. I feel so overwhelmed. It seems like when it rains it pours. Like Allison I’m fustrated that students get screwed over because they don’t fit the requirements set by the government for financial aid. It makes me very angry when I see my neighbors(who are 19 dropped out of high school) get government assistance and big tax refunds and spend it on stupid things like rims and tattoos and i get nothing. Those are your tax dollars being spent irresponsibly. These are people that will be on government assistance for the rest of their lives. I think it would be cheaper to support a college student who would only need assistance for 4- 6 years and will(likely) not need any kind of government assistance for the rest of their life.

    I understand that tax payers don’t want to pay more taxes. I don’t think they should pay more taxes because students like me can’t afford school. Its unfair for tax payers to pick up someone elses slack. I think the one to blame is the government for investing less and less in education.I think the government needs to spend our money more responsibly and sensibly. Invest in the future of the country not the people who take advantage of the system. Don’t reward people for messing up. If me and my boyfriend got married and had a kid we would get more financial aid. We would be considered independent. Its like if we mess up we can get more government assistance. Some people are in unfortunate situations with circumstances outside of their control. Some people have stingy parents. Regardless of the situation if you are trying to improve your life through education there should be help for those who need it. You should be able to be declared independent if you can prove your parents are no longer helping you or helping minimally.

  6. I can see this debate from both sides, but I must agree with those on Allison’s side of the fence. My boyfriend is one such person whose parents make enough money to pay for his education (he goes to an inexpensive school), but they don’t, and he can’t MAKE them do it. He is not eligible for any pell grants or anything like that. Why should we (students) get screwed because our parents are stingy? I believe this is monumentally unfair. Financial aid should be determined by the financial strength of the student, not parents.