College financial aid administrators can change a student’s dependency status from dependent to independent through a dependency override on a case-by-case basis. This can make a student eligible for more financial aid, since parent income and asset information is no longer required on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Students Who Are Eligible for a Dependency Override
Dependency overrides are rare and occur in unusual circumstances. Dependency overrides often involve an involuntary dissolution of the family or situations in which it would be harmful for the student to have contact with their parents. Examples include incarceration or institutionalization of both parents, abuse and abandonment.
Death of the custodial parent is another scenario that sometimes qualifies for a dependency override. Or if the student’s parents are divorced and the student is living with a custodial parent and a stepparent. If the custodial parent dies, the stepparent is no longer considered a parent for federal student aid purposes. The non-custodial parent then becomes responsible for completing the FAFSA.
But, sometimes, a student has no financial support from or contact with the non-custodial parent for a long period of time. In such a situation, some colleges will use a dependency override to treat a student as an independent student.
Students Who Are Not Eligible for a Dependency Override
The U.S. Department of Education has provided guidance for using a dependency override in some situations. None of the following criteria, alone or in combination, is sufficient for a college to make a dependency override:
- The student is financially self-sufficient
- The student does not live with his or her parents
- The student is not claimed as an exemption on the parent’s federal income tax returns
- The parents refuse to complete the FAFSA, participate in verification or pay for college
- The parents live in a foreign country
An exception is made for unaccompanied youth who are homeless or unaccompanied youth who are self-supporting and at risk of becoming homeless. College financial aid administrators have the discretion to treat such students as independent.
How to Apply for a Dependency Override
To apply for a dependency override, contact the college’s financial aid office. You can request a dependency override at any time, even in the middle of the academic year. The financial aid office can ask you to complete a form or to submit a letter along with documentation of the unusual circumstances.
Documentation is essential. The student will need to provide the college’s financial aid administrator with independent third party documentation, such as reports from police and the courts, and letters from clergy, school counselors, social workers, doctors, nurses, teachers and others who are familiar with the student’s situation. Students must request a dependency override every year.