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Dependent/Independent Federal Definition

When determining eligibility for federal student aid, dependency status is considered. Because federal student financial aid funds are limited, all resources available to students must be considered in determining financial need.

Traditionally, parents are deemed the primary source of a dependent student's support. The law requires that parents' financial information be included in the U.S. Department of Education's (ED's) need analysis formula for a dependent student. The dependency status is determined by the questions in Step 3 of the FAFSA or CA Dream Act application. Below is a link to the Federal Student Aid website for more information.

Congress established these criteria through the legislation authorizing the federal student aid programs. Because Congress established the criteria, changes to the criteria would require Congress to pass additional legislation.  In special or unusual circumstances; however, a student who meets none of these criteria may still be considered independent. The financial aid administrator at the student's school can make a special determination of independence and must document in the student's file the reason for that determination. The financial aid administrator's decision is final and cannot be appealed to the Department of Education.

A dependent student must provide parental information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). A dependent student may still be eligible for federal student aid.