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If I live on campus can I be independent from my parents for financial aid?

QUESTION: I'm a full-time college student. Is it true that I'm not able to get financial aid because my parents claim me on their tax returns? What if I were to move out of my parents’ home and stay on campus? Would I qualify to get more assistance since I would be on my own and a full-time student? Signed, Confused

Dear Confused: Like the rules for taxes, the rules for financial aid can be complex. Since you are in college the first thing you should do is make an appointment with your financial aid office to go over the specifics of your situation. There are a lot of variables the affect your eligibility for financial aid, and to get an accurate answer you need to examine all aspects of your and your parents’ finances.

That being said there are guideline about when you are considered to be legally independent. If you are considered independent, then only your assets (income, savings, stocks, etc.) are looked at when determining your financial need. If you are not independent (which is the vast majority of students) then both your parents’ and your assets are used to determine your need. Obviously, you would receive more aid if you were considered independent. However, to be considered independent one of the following must be true:

-You’re over 23 years old, or
-You're married, or
-You're enrolled in a graduate or professional program, or
-You have legal dependants other than a spouse, or
-You're an orphan or ward of the court, or
-You're a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces.

If none of the above is true then you are not considered to be independent. These guidelines are pretty strict. The only way to gain independent status if you don’t meet these qualifications is for an exception to be made by your financial aid office. So make an appointment with your financial aid office and be sure to bring information such as copies of your FAFSA and details about your parents’ income. Be prepared to make a case for additional funds. The financial aid officers have the power to help, but they need to be convinced that your circumstances justify the assistance.

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Gen & Kelly Tanabe

Gen and Kelly Tanabe are the founders of SuperCollege and the award-winning authors of 11 books on college admission, financial aid and scholarships. Together they were accepted to all of the Ivy League colleges and won more than $100,000 in merit-based scholarships to graduate from Harvard debt-free.