The Federal requirements for independent student status, the student must satisfy at least one of the following criteria to be considered independent:
The only criterion listed above which is under the student's control is marriage. However, students who are contemplating married should be aware of the following:
Financial aid administrators do have the authority to override a student's default dependency determination, but only in unusual circumstances and with proper documentation. Students who are faced with obstinate parents should talk to the financial aid administrator at their school, but be prepared for the aid administrator to turn them down. Parents who refuse to pay don’t constitute an unusual circumstance.
The financial aid administrator would love to be able to help every student, but they know that if they don't have sufficient justification for using professional judgment, they will be penalized for it at the next audit. Moreover, if the aid administrator made a practice of declaring students independent, many more parents would start refusing to pay.
Some of the more common situations in which financial aid administrators may be willing to override the dependency determination include:
The financial aid administrator will want the student to provide a signed statement describing the unusual circumstances. The financial aid administrator will also want evidence that the student is genuinely self-supporting, such as copies of tax returns and pay stubs. (Refusing to provide this information will result in a denial of the request for a change in dependency status.) If the student does not demonstrate an income that is sufficient to cover basic needs, the aid administrator will become suspicious and require additional documentation. (If the student's earnings aren't even close to the poverty line, they're going to want a lot of documentation of how the student is physically able to live.) They will also be suspicious if the student is still living at home or if the student stopped living at home recently. They will want to see copies of cancelled rent checks. (Having the student pay rent to the parents will not help.) The aid administrator will want all statements confirmed by third-party documentation.
Given this documentation, the financial aid administrator will determine whether or not the student is independent. The financial aid administrator's decision is final, and is not subject to appeal. Putting pressure on the school administration or calling the US Department of Education will have no effect, other than to irritate the financial aid administrator.
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