Independent Student

How Do I Know If I’m an “Independent” Student?

When considering what financial aid is available for a student, the UC Merced Office of Financial Aid staff must determine an applicant’s dependency status using information from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) (www.fafsa.ed.gov).

If parents do not claim a student on their taxes, the student is not considered independent for financial aid purposes. According to the U.S. Department of Education, a student is determined to be an independent financial aid applicant if meeting at least one of the following criteria:

  • Is 24 years or older as of Jan. 1.
  • Is married or separated (but not divorced) as of the date of the application.
  • Will be enrolled in a master’s or doctoral degree program at the beginning of the school year.
  • Is serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, or is a National Guard or Reserves enlistee called into federal active duty for other than training purposes.
  • Is a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces.
  • Has one or more children who receive more than half of their support from the student.
  • Has dependent(s) (other than children or spouse) that live with the student and who receive more than half of their support from that student.
  • If both of the student’s parents were deceased, the student was in foster care, or the student was a dependent/ward of the court at any time when the student was age 13 or older.
  • Is now or was, upon reaching the age of majority, an emancipated minor as determined by a court in the student’s state of legal residence.
  • Is now or was upon reaching the age of majority, in legal guardianship as determined by a court in the student’s state of legal residence.
  • Was determined to be an unaccompanied homeless youth by a high school, school district homeless liaison or by the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • Was determined by a director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program to be an unaccompanied homeless youth or was self-supporting and at risk of being homeless.
  • Is determined by the college financial aid administrator to be an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or is self-supporting and at risk of being homeless.

If you were not able to answer yes to any of these questions you are considered a dependent student and are required to list parent data on the FAFSA. A parent’s refusal to contribute to a student’s education, an unwillingness to provide information on the FAFSA, not claiming the student as a dependent on a tax return, or a student’s demonstration of self-sufficiency does not constitute a students as an independent student. If you have a special situation involving your dependency status, please contact our office at 209-228-4243, or email finaid@ucmerced.edu.