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Articles / Applying to College / Applying for Financial Aid as an "Independent Student"

Dec. 23, 2002

Applying for Financial Aid as an "Independent Student"

Question: I can hardly get any help from the government because I am considered dependent on my parents, and they make quite a bit of money. The problem is, they won't help me with tuition. I have lived on my own for over a year and will be 23 next month. I've heard of emancipating yourself from your parents to be considered independent (I'm not married, nor do I have children). Is this possible for someone my age?

Unfortunately, as you’ve probably figured out all ready, college financial aid officesâ€"and the U.S. government as wellâ€"aren’t very sympathetic when it comes to students whose parents have the resources to help pay for college yet refuse to do so. That is, while they may feel sorry for you and the bind that you’re in, there isn’t a lot they can do to get you out of it.


You can only become an independent student when you hit the ripe old age of 24â€"still more than a year away. There are some mitigating factors than enable students to be declared independent sooner, but it sounds like none apply to you. These include: being an orphan or ward of the court or an Armed Forces veteran, having a legal dependent other than a spouse, being married or in a graduate/professional program.

It’s difficult to advise you without knowing more about your situation. For instance, have you already completed any years (or semesters) of college? How strong is your academic record (either high school or, if applicable, college)? Did you take SATs? If so, how did you do?

Your best bets at this point would be either to:

·Wait another year until you are 24 and apply for aid as an independent student

·Apply to colleges that offer Merit Aid to qualified students, regardless of their abilityâ€"or inabilityâ€"to pay. (You would have to be a strong student to get a substantial award, although you don’t have to be Ivy League material. The trick is often to apply to colleges whose typical student boasts a GPA and test scores significantly below your own.)

·Begin your education at a low-cost community college and then transfer. By the time you do, you’ll be 24+.

·Depending on the dynamics in your family, you can apply to the colleges of your choice and explain your situation to financial aid officers. At some schools, staff members may be willing to contact your parents and point out that you will not be able to attend without their help. Some parents seem to pay attention (and even change their thinking) when they hear the news from a college official, regardless of what they’ve said to you. Others, of course, are more apt to blow a gasket that could turn a sticky situation into a downright explosive one. So that’s a call you’ll have to make yourself.

Good luck to you. Keep persevering.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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