Qualifying as an Independent Student

I periodically get emails from teenagers, who are freaking out because their parents plan to contribute little if anything to their college education.

Many of these kids are from affluent families, who could afford to kick in far more than they are planning. I don’t understand parents with good paying jobs who have no problem dumping the entire college expense on their children. I got an email a few days ago, for instance, from a high school senior from Maryland, who told me that her parents made about $130,000 a year and had saved just $8,000 for her and her twin brother to attend college.  She was going to be on her own to pick up the almost the entire tab.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe students need to contribute to their college education no matter how much their parents make. It is, however, unfathomable that some students are taking on debt of $50,000, $75,000 or more for a college education.

Some parents hope that their teenagers can be declared independent students so they can qualify for  financial aid. But folks, that route is extremely difficult.  If you’re curious, what follows are the questions from the federal government to determine if a student can qualify for student financial aid as an independent student.

Qualifying As an Independent Student

You have to answer “yes” to at least one question to be considered an independent student:

  1. Are you at least 24 years old?
  2. As of today, are you married?
  3. At the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year, will you be working on a master’s or doctorate program (such as an MA, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, EdD, or graduate certificate, etc.)?
  4. Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training?
  5. Are you a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces?
  6. Do you have children who will receive more than half of their support from you between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010?
  7. Do you have dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and who receive more than half of their support from you, now and through June 30, 2010?
  8. At any time since you turned age 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court?
  9. Are you, or were you an emancipated minor as determined by a court in your state of legal residence?
  10. Are you, or were you in legal guardianship as determined by a court in your state of legal residence?
  11. At any time on or after July 1, 2008, did your high school or school district homeless liaison determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?
  12. At any time on or after July 1, 2008, did the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?
  13. At any time on or after July 1, 2008, did the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless.

I’m the author of The College Solution and I also write a college blog at  CBSMoneyWatch. Follow me on Twitter.

Further Reading:

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

20 Facts About Today’s College Freshmen

How Much College Loan Debt is Too Much?

Let's Connect

Leave a Reply

  1. I lost my parents when i was grade 2 then my uncle help me until grade 9 then when he.s children grow up they kik me out of they home i become help less home less i coudnt go to shool i left my country b /c of houngry here i am in south africa i come from ethiopia if i get any body can help me i stil wanna go to shool plz find me

  2. I have a situtation that is very upsetting to me. My daughters friends mother kicked her out of the house 3months ago and she has been living with us. She is a senior in high school and had every intention of attending college. However, now she is afraid she will not be able to do this as her mother refuses to help her. Is there any way she could qualify as independent.

    I am in no postion financially to contribute to her education as I already have a son in college and my daughter will be attending next fall as well. Does anyone have any information as where we could turn for help?

    1. Hi Lisa,

      It doesn’t sound like this girl could qualify as independent. She could appeal to the schools that she is applying to and ask for a professional judgement to allow her to be treated as independent. Typically she would have to be an excellent student for that to work because schools are interested in helping students that will make them look more exclusive And in broken homes that often is not the case. She could also attend a community college which is usually a relatively inexpensive option.

      Good luck.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  3. I am freaking out. I am 20 years old. My mother is a single parent to my little brother, and my father committed suicide before I was born. I don’t know what I am going to do about my books and things this fall. I am killing myself to make this college experience work. Especially seeing as my mother kicked me out when I was 16. My family isn’t helping me, and i don’t know where to turn, if there is anything, Please! I am begging you to help me find it…

    1. Hi Brandon,

      I am so sorry to hear about your circumstances. I am glad you are trying to attend college. I don’t know anything about your circumstances, but I hope you have applied for financial aid. Did you complete the FAFSA? Actually you would need information from your mother. If she does not cooperate you could ask your college for a professional judgment that would allow you to qualify for aid without considering your mother since she’s been out of the picture for years.

      Without her income, you would certainly qualify for the full Pell Grant, which is worth up to $5,500 a year. You should also seek a work-study job on campus. You should also borrow through the federal Stafford Loan program. As a freshman you can borrow $5,500, $6,500 as a sophomore and $7,500 as a junior and then a senior. If you have trouble repaying the Stafford, you can qualify to participate in the federal Income Based Repayment program which allows you to repay the loans based on what you can afford not on what you owe.

      As for books, you can get them used. Also look for older editions that can be greatly discounted.

      Good luck!

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy