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Should You Become an Independent Student to Get More Financial Aid Help?

Should You Become an Independent Student to Get More Financial Aid Help?

Unlike the Pell Grant, both types of loans in the federal direct loan program vary in amount based on whether you are a dependent or independent student. For example:

  • First-year undergraduate students: Dependent students can take out as much as $5,500 ($3,500 of which can be subsidized loans), while independent students can take out $9,500, with the same amount in subsidized loans.
  • Second-year undergraduate students: Dependent students can borrow up to $6,500, while independent students can borrow $10,500.
  • Third-year undergrads and beyond: Dependent students qualify for $7,500 in loans, while independent students qualify for up to $12,500 in loans.

Graduate students are considered independent, so everyone can take out up to $20,500 in unsubsidized loans, without any subsidized loans, per year.

Research shows that about half of students attending undergraduate programs are independent, and many have dependents of their own, such as children and spouses. Among independent students, most are the first in their families to attend this level of higher education. Many took years off from school after getting their high school diploma so they could work and support a larger family unit, including parents and younger siblings.

More independent students are people of color, recent immigrants or from immigrant families, or from abusive family situations who emancipated themselves.

While emancipation from your parents is one route to becoming an independent student, it is not inherently worthwhile for your financial aid application. There are several complicating factors in the FAFSA.

If your parents give you any financial support at all, but you are an independent student, your EFC number could be much payday loans Wyoming higher than if you remained a dependent student. Most students qualify for several forms of financial aid, from need-based grants to merit-based scholarships to student loans.

You ount of financial aid every year, but taking on a little more in student loans one year, or finding outside scholarships or work opportunities, can help you make up the difference. Private student loans are a great way for many college students, both dependent and independent, to make up small gaps in their education costs.

Private student loans do not rely on FAFSA information, but on your credit score, so you can get a better deal on some of these.

As a college-bound high school graduate or the parent of a student applying to colleges, you may wonder if independent students get more financial aid, like student loans, than dependent students.

Overall, the answer is no, although some Department of Education (DOE) programs provide more money to independent students than dependent ones.

Dependent vs. Independent Students

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Many college-bound students fit the requirements of dependent students. These are young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 who are recent high school graduates, still rely on their parents’ financial support, and are not married. When most people think about a student pursuing an associate or bachelor’s degree, that is the profile they think of.

However, more independent students are enrolling in college. The job market increasingly requires education beyond a high school diploma or GED, and older adults who may have dropped out of college or completed an associate degree rather than a four-year degree are returning to school after working for a few years. Independent students are those who do not rely on their parents for financial support.

How Do Independent Students Get More Financial Aid?

The DOE uses several factors to determine whether students qualify for financial aid. One part of the calculation for student loans is dependency status, but this is the only program that uses this information directly.