Financial Aid Dependency Status

One of the confusing elements of financial aid may be dependency status. Too often, families don't understand that, while the terms "dependent" and "independent" are used to classify students for financial aid purposes, these terms are not related to financial support.

FAFSA Determination of Dependency Status

Student status for purposes of financial aid is defined by federal regulations and is determined through a series of questions when completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The University of Cincinnati and the State of Ohio follow these same regulations when determining aid eligibility.

NOTE: When completing the FAFSA, you are likely not to be asked all of these questions. If your answers to simplified versions of these questions provides enough information, the system will avoid taking the student through a long series of somewhat complicated scenarios as described in full below.

Dependent students are required, when completing the FAFSA, to include parental information. Independent students do not have to use parental financial and household information when filing their FAFSA.

You are considered a dependent student for aid purposes unless one or more of the following very specific conditions is met:

  • AGE
    • You are 24 as of January 1 of the FAFSA filing year (i.e., you do not become independent when you turn 24).
  • GRAD PROGRAM
    • You are or will be enrolled in a master’s or doctoral degree program
      (beyond a bachelor’s degree with at least 72 undergraduate hours achieved -- see special note for PharmD) at the beginning of the academic year.
  • MARRIAGE
    • You’re married on the day you complete the FAFSA (even if you are separated but not divorced).
  • MILITARY
    • You are currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training.
    • You’re a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces. (A "veteran" includes students who attended a U.S. service academy and were released under a condition other than dishonorable. For more details on who is considered a veteran, see the explanatory notes on the FAFSA.)
  • DEPENDENTS
    • You have children who will receive more than half their support from you between July 1st and June 30th of the FAFSA academic year.
    • You have legal dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and who receive more than half their support from you now and through June 30th of the FAFSA academic year.
  • ORPHAN/GUARDIANSHIP
    • When you were age 13 or older, both your parents were deceased and you were in foster care or a dependent or ward of the court.
    • You are or were an emancipated minor as determined by a court in your state of legal residence.
    • You are or were in legal guardianship as determined by a court in your state of legal residence.
  • HOMELESS
    • At any time on or after July 1, 2009, your high school or school district homeless liaison determined that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless.
    • At any time on or after July 1, 2009, the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, determined that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless.
    • At any time on or after July 1, 2009, the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determined that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless.

When examining this list, you can see most traditional students will be considered dependent (and therefore required to use parent information when completing the FAFSA) throughout their undergraduate college career.

Issues like self-support and tax filing status do not cause a student to be independent for financial aid purposes (though they may influence residency decisions). Therefore, students and parents should continue to follow tax laws and take advantage of appropriate claims when filing their federal and state income taxes.

Parental Information

When a student is classified as dependent for financial aid purposes, the parental financial and household information will be requested along with student financial information when completing the online FAFSA and when completing any verification process. If you do not know what parents to use, this information may be helpful.

  • If your parent was never married and does not live with your other legal parent or is widowed, you will report about that parent.
    • If your widowed parent is remarried as of the FAFSA filing date, answer the questions about that parent and your stepparent.
  • If your legal parents (biological or adoptive) are not married to each other and live together, use both parents regardless of their gender.
    • Do not include any person who is not married to your parent and who is not a legal or biological parent.
  • If your parents are married, report both parents.
    • Consistent with the Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), same-sex couples must report their marital status as married if they were legally married in a state or other jurisdiction (foreign country) that permits same-sex marriage. 
  • If your legal parents are divorced but living together, report information for both parents.
  • If your parents are divorced or separated and not living together, answer the questions about the parent you lived with more during the past 12 months.
    • If you did not live with one parent more than the other, report the parent who provided more financial support during the past 12 months or during the most recent year that you actually received support from a parent.
    • If this parent is remarried as of the FAFSA filing date, use that parent and their spouse (your stepparent).

Parental information on the FAFSA may be required even if the student no longer lives with the parent(s).

Providing parental information does not mean that parents plan to pay for the student’s college education. That is a personal, family determination. However, the FAFSA requires parental information for dependent students to get a picture of the overall family’s financial strength and ultimately determine eligibility for aid programs.

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students in CCM Village

Some students find themselves in more extreme situations that prevent a student from being able to have parents complete the FAFSA. If you don’t know where your parents are or you’ve left home due to an abusive situation, contact the Student Financial Aid Office. We can assist you with the proper course of action.

NOTE: Parent refusal or desire not to complete the FAFSA is not the same as an inability for parents to complete the FAFSA. There are many sensitive family issues, and staff will work with you within federal regulation limitations to get you the proper aid.