Can’t My College Kid Just Declare Independence From Me?

Won't This Get Him More Money for College?

The dad was smiling at me, like he had a special secret that no one else knew. He folded his arms, rocked back on his heels, and got ready to tell me just why he was never going to need my help getting his kids’ college paid for.

“I don’t have to worry about that,” he told me. “I’m going to have my kids ‘declare independence’ from me. Then my income won’t count on their financial aid forms, and the money for college will just roll on in.”

Then he tilted his head and smiled at me.

“That’s what I did when I was in college, and it worked out great for me.”

I’m so sorry to tell you, Dad—your information is long outdated.

Here’s why declaring independence from parents no longer helps students get extra financial aid for college.


The rules have changed.

Prior to 1992 a student could claim independence from his or her parents if 1) “the parents didn’t claim the student as an exemption on their tax returns for two years” and 2) “the student provided evidence that he or she was self supporting.” The laws have changed since 1992, though, so this definition of “independent student” is no longer valid.

The new rules are inflexibly strict.

Under the current rules, which you can see here, a student must satisfy at least one of the following criteria in order to be considered independent for financial aid application purposes:

Students are only “independent” if they satisfy one or more of the following criteria:

  1. The student is 24 years of age or older by December 31st of the award year.
  2. The student is an orphan or ward of the court or was a ward of the court until the student reached the age of 18.
  3. The student is a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States.
  4. The student is a graduate or professional student.
  5. The student has legal dependents other than a spouse. (Dependent means receiving more than half the individual’s support from the student.)
  6. The student is married.

If the student doesn’t satisfy any of these requirements, then the student is automatically a dependent student.

“Oh, no. Isn’t there any way around this?!?!”

There are a few creative ways around these rules. You can see the kind, sympathetic article I wrote for students whose parents refuse to fill out financial aid forms here.

“So, what’s the most important thing for me as a parent to do right now?”

The very first step for parents is always this: You must make a plan for your own retirement first, before you start thinking about your kids’ college. This is a nonnegotiable. My best advice for parents is to visit a certified financial planner as early as you can, solidify a good quality retirement plan, and only then start strategizing about college.

Find a financial planner who specializes in paving the path to college and the path to retirement at the same time.

You can find one on the Approved Consultants tab on this website.

Once you’ve done this, fill out the FAFSA financial aid form every October that you’ll have a kid in college the following fall.

Do this every fall, even if you’re rich.

Have you heard?

Exciting FAFSA changes may apply to you in 2022–2023 and beyond. Be the first to learn about them when you subscribe here.

Remember, getting financial aid and scholarships is only a small part of the picture when it comes to getting your kid through college debt-free. 

For clear, step-by-step help with the whole process, get a copy of my book:

It’s a reference book, so nobody reads the whole thing cover to cover. Pick out what you need to read in it using the fast-paced, 10-minute video instructions here.

You can see more than 100 reviews of it on Amazon at:

(Tell your friends.)

You can see why financial advising professionals love LAUNCHhere.

You can see the top 9 questions parents are asking me about LAUNCHhere.

Read just one chapter of LAUNCH every 1–3 months while your child’s in middle school and high school, and you’ll know every viable strategy for debt-free college at exactly the right time to implement it. 

And if your child’s already well past middle school? That’s OK; you can run to catch up. But the process of getting your kids through college debt-free goes more smoothly the earlier you start it—especially if you’re not planning to save up any money to pay for college.

Take a step on this right now. Get regular, inspiring help from me—every Monday morning.

Subscribe to my free weekly email newsletter here.

Do you have specific questions for me about debt-free college and career for your kids?

It’s my members that get most direct access to me. Doors to my membership open each year for just 5 days in March, and 5 days in September. It costs just pennies per day, but space is limited. Join the Waiting List here.

Do you know any parents who are currently thinking through how to get their kids’ college paid for?

SHARE this post on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn right now.

What about you?

Do you know anyone who’s successfully declared independence from parents since 1992, and gotten extra financial aid as a result? How did they do it? Comment below or LIKE Jeannie Burlowski Author on Facebook, find this post on that page, and let’s talk about it there.

Who is Jeannie Burlowski?

Jeannie is a full-time academic strategist, podcast host, and sought-after speaker for students ages 12–26 and their parents and grandparents. Her writing, speaking, and podcasting help parents set their kids up to graduate college debt-free and move directly into careers they excel at and love. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Huffington Post, USA Today, Parents Magazineand US News and World Report, and on CBS News.

Jeannie also helps students apply to law, medical, business, and grad school at her website You can follow her on Twitter @JBurlowski.

This article was originally published on this blog on November 2nd, 2015. It was most recently updated on September 26th, 2019.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

2 thoughts on “Can’t My College Kid Just Declare Independence From Me?

  1. Several years ago, I helped a nephew be considered a “independent” student through his schools financial aid office. His parents refused to file a FAFSA or provide tax documents. He had been funding his education via bank signature loans that were high interest and had no forbearance time.

    There was a very specific, completely free process that we followed. It involved myself and 2 other individuals writing letters to the financial aid office. The process didn’t involve lawyers and all who wrote letters of support were able to keep the content confidential. The letters became a permanent part of his financial-aid file.

    A committee within the university’s FA Office reviewed our letters of support. They granted him “independent” status in spite of the fact he was only 20 years old. For the remainder of his time as an undergraduate, he was able to receive grants and loans through the FAFSA application process.

    • Dawn, this is a perfect, wonderful example of what can be accomplished through asking the financial aid office for a “professional judgment review” as I mentioned in the article. No lawyers needed; just kind, compassionate adult help. Thank you so much for providing us this real world example. And thanks also for being there in such a huge way for your very blessed nephew.
      : – )

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