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FAFSA / CADAA FAQ: Student Dependency Status

FAFSA / CADAA FAQ: Student Dependency Status

One of the most common financial aid questions received by counselors from students and families is “Do I really have to include parent information on the FAFSA?”

The answer to this question is actually an answer to another question: Is the student Independent or Dependent according to FAFSA rules?

Is the student Dependent or Independent?

It is not a novel concept for high school seniors (or their parents) to believe that they are independent as they prepare to graduate high school and move on to college. It’s essential that as counselors, you help students understand what it means to be independent within the context of the financial aid process, which can be vastly different to the definition of independence in other parts of their lives.

Below is the list of questions students are asked on both the FAFSA and CADAA to determine their dependency status. In the majority of cases, students will answer NO to all questions, classifying them as DEPENDENT, which requires parent financial information to complete the FAFSA/CADAA.

In the case where a student selects “Yes” to one of the questions below, they should be prepared to provide supporting documentation that confirms their answer choice. In the case that the student does not have supporting documentation, you as the counselor may need to pull your team together (e.g., social worker, McKinney–Vento Homeless liaison, teachers, and/or administrators) to help provide context surrounding the students’ situation and assist the student in procuring the needed evidence.    

Bridging Tip: Don’t allow yourself to get caught in the trap of “what if’s,” default back to the question being asked. The question of student dependency status is simple; they can either answer “Yes” or “No” to the qualifying statement, which will indicate where they fall.

 

Table 1. Dependency Status Questions on the 2021–22 FAFSA

Were you born before Jan. 1, 1998?

Yes

No

As of today, are you married? (Also answer “Yes” if you are separated but not divorced.)

Yes

No

At the beginning of the 2021–22 school year, will you be working on a master’s or doctorate program (such as an M.A., MBA, M.D., J.D., Ph.D., Ed.D., graduate certificate, etc.)?

Yes

No

Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces for purposes other than training? (If you are a National Guard or Reserves enlistee, are you on active duty for other than state or training purposes?)

Yes

No

Are you a veteran of the U.S. armed forces? *

Yes

No

Do you now have—or will you have—children who will receive more than half of their support from you between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022 [during the award year]?

Yes

No

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, 2022?

Yes

No

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?

Yes

No

Has it been determined by a court in your state of legal residence that you are an emancipated minor or that someone other than your parent or stepparent has legal guardianship of you? (You also should answer “Yes” if you are now an adult but were in legal guardianship or were an emancipated minor immediately before you reached the age of being an adult in your state. Answer “No” if the court papers say “custody” rather than “guardianship.”)

Yes

No

At any time on or after July 1, 2020, were you determined to be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless, as determined by (a) your high school or district homeless liaison, (b) the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or (c) the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program?**

Yes

No