Your Declaration of Independence

Your Declaration of Independence

By Brandon

You've moved out of your parents' house, you've decorated your dorm room—you've achieved total independence! Right? Mmmm, maybe, but not in the eyes of the Department of Education.

Under the federal aid system, by default, you're dependent on your parent(s), and it's their responsibility to pay for college. That's fine for many students. But what if your parents are unwilling or unable to pay? Or what if you're married with a kid and hoping to go back to school? If your parents won't be footing the bill for one reason or another, it's possible to get better financial aid by declaring yourself independent of them—basically, by saying, "I'm in charge of myself, and I'm paying my own way."

For the 2009-2010 award year, a student is automatically determined to be an independent applicant for federal student aid if he or she meets one or more of the following criteria:

  1. Student was born before January 1, 1986.
  2. Student is married as of the date of the application (answer "Yes" if the student is separated but not divorced).
  3. At the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year, the student will be enrolled in a master's or doctoral degree program (such as MA, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, EdD, or graduate certificate, etc.).
  4. Student is currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, or is a National Guard or Reserves enlistee called into federal active duty for other than training purposes.
  5. Student is a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces.
  6. Student has children who receive more than half of their support from him or her between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010.
  7. Student has dependents (other than children or spouse) who live with the student and who receive more than half of their support from the student, now and through June 30, 2010.
  8. At any time when the student was age 13 or older, both of the student's parents were deceased, the student was in  foster care, or the student was a dependent/ward of the court.
  9. Student was or is an emancipated minor as determined by a court in his or her state of legal residence.
  10. Student was or is in legal guardianship as determined by a court in his or her state of legal residence.
  11. Student was determined to be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless by a high school or school district homeless liaison on or after July 1, 2008.
  12. Student was determined to be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless by an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on or after July 1, 2008.
  13. Student was determined to be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or was self supporting and at risk of being homeless by a director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program on or after July 2, 2008.

If you can say, "Yep, that's me!" about any of the above criteria, you can be declared financially independent from your 'rents. If you can't, but you believe you have a case for independent status, make an appointment with a financial aid counselor. If you can document evidence of abuse, neglect or abandonment, then the financial aid office may be able to help.

Got a question for Brandon? Email him at advice@sparknotes.com.

Topics: financial aid

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