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Financial aid regulations assume that the student and the parents have primary responsibility for meeting the educational costs of post-secondary education. The level of contribution is based on ability – not willingness – to pay.

What does dependent or independent student mean for financial aid?

  • Dependent students report their information and their parent(s)’ information on the FAFSA.
  • Independent students report their own information (and their spouse’s information if they are married) on the FAFSA.

What is the definition of a “parent” for the FAFSA?

For Federal Student Aid (FSA) purposes, a parent includes a biological or adoptive parent, or someone married to a biological or adoptive parent.

The following may NOT be considered as "parents":   

  • Legal guardians
  • Foster parents
  • Grandparents
  • Other relatives

Learn more about who is considered a parent for the FAFSA.

Do I have to report my parent’s information on the FAFSA?

If you can answer yes to at least one of the Dependency Status questions on the FAFSA, you are considered "independent," meaning parental information is not required on the FAFSA. Additional verification or documentation may be required by our office.

  • Will you be 24 or older by Jan. 1 for the school year you are applying for financial aid?
  • Are you married as of the day you file FAFSA?
  • Are you working on a master's or doctorate program?
  • Are you currently active duty military personnel for other than training purposes?
  • Are you a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces?
  • Do you have children who receive more than half of their support from you?
  • Do you have dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and receive more than half of their support from you?
  • Are both of your parents deceased? Were you in foster care or were you a ward of the court after age 13?
  • Are you an emancipated minor as determined by a court in your state of legal residence?
  • Do you have a legal guardian? This is not a biological parent, but someone who has been appointed by a court to serve as your guardian.
  • Did your high school or school district homeless liaison determine you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?
  • Did the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?
  • Did the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?

All programs offered by AACC are considered undergraduate programs. No AACC student can achieve Independent status based on the pursuit of a graduate/professional degree program (M.S., Ph.D. etc.).

Watch the FAFSA: Determining Your Dependency Status video on YouTube to learn more about Dependency Status and the financial aid process.

Dependency Appeals for Unusual Circumstances

If you have unusual family circumstances that are not covered by the questions of the FAFSA, you may be able appeal to our office for Independent Status. Unusual family circumstances include, but are not limited to:

  • A guardian has cared for you because your parents were unable to provide proper care, but your guardian was never declared a "legal guardian" by the court.
  • Your parents were physically or emotionally abusive toward you or your siblings.
  • Your parents have substance abuse or other serious mental health problems.
  • Abusive family environment
  • Abandonment

If you have other unusual circumstances that you think might qualify, contact our office to discuss your situation in more detail.

If you think you might be eligible to appeal for independent status, contact our office to discuss your situation. If we think you might qualify for an override, we will email you the Dependency Appeal Form and ask you to it return it with documentation of your circumstances.

Once your appeal is reviewed, you will be emailed a decision by the financial aid office stating whether it was approved or denied. If it is denied, you will be asked to provide information about your parent(s) on the FAFSA and you have the option to make other payment arrangements with the college.

Our policies and federal student privacy laws (FERPA) ensure that all your information will be kept strictly confidential. We will NOT contact your parents or share any information with them. In addition, AACC offers free personal counseling services to AACC students.

Circumstances That Do Not Warrant a Dependency Appeal

  • Parents refuse to contribute to educational costs
  • Parents cannot afford to help
  • Parents unwilling to provide information on FAFSA application or for verification purposes
  • Parents do not claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes
  • Student demonstrates total self-sufficiency

Federal regulations give schools the authority to allow a student to borrow a Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan when the student’s parent(s) have ended all financial support or have refused to complete and sign a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Contact our office if this situation applies to you.

For information visit the Federal Student Aid page on Dependency Status.

Foster Care and Unaccompanied Homeless Youth

Students identified in these categories for financial aid will be considered Independent for financial aid purposes. The Maryland Higher Education Commission has programs to grant tuition waivers for foster care and unaccompanied homeless youth. Applications for both of these waivers are available through the financial aid office.

Learn more about applying for these state tuition waivers at AACC.

Foster care youth may also qualify for Education and Training Voucher Program (ETV) benefits. ETV offers financial assistance to eligible youth to attend an accredited college, university, vocational or technical college. The maximum ETV award is $5,000 per academic year. Awards vary and not every qualified youth will receive the maximum amount. ETV funds may be used for tuition, fees, books and supplies, housing, transportation, and other education-related costs. Interested students must contact the ETV coordinator for their state of residence to apply for this benefit.

How Does Dependency Status Affect Financial Need?

Do not automatically assume that dependent students receive less aid. Students can show less financial need than independent students because the FAFSA formula is only considering their income and one person to support in the household.

You can use the Federal Student Aid Estimator to help calculate your financial aid eligibility.

Students and families who experienced a significant income reduction from what was originally reported on the FAFSA should inquire about a Special Circumstance Appeal.

Parents Refusal to Complete the FAFSA

Financial aid regulations state the family has primary responsibility for meeting the educational costs of students. Dependent students are required by law to provide parental information and signature(s) to be considered for financial aid. Completing the FAFSA and submitting parental information does not obligate the parent to provide funds toward the student’s education.

When parents refuse to provide their information on the FAFSA there is an exception that allows the student to apply for an Unsubsidized Loan only, at the discretion of a financial aid administrator. However, most students would get more financial aid if their parents complete the FAFSA or if the student is granted a dependency override.

Students need to make every attempt to complete the FAFSA with their parent(s') information. If this is challenging and no other unusual circumstances apply you can answer "Yes" to the question that asks, "Are the student’s parents unwilling to provide their information, but the student doesn’t have an unusual circumstance that prevents them from contacting the parents or obtaining their information?"

Once your FAFSA is received, our office will present more information on this process. 

You should contact our office to discuss your situation in greater detail before pursuing this option for financial aid.