Policy - Independent Student Status

The Independent Student Policy is based on federal statutory requirements related to Title IV (Federal Financial Aid) eligibility. The university also follows the federal guidelines for the purposes of eligibility for institutional grants and scholarships. Students are classified as dependent or independent for student aid programs based on answers to a series of questions on the FAFSA. The philosophy behind this policy is that students' parents have the primary responsibility for paying for their children's undergraduate education. A student is automatically considered an independent student if he/she meets one or more of the criteria listed below. The following is applicable to the 2018-2019 academic year.

Independent Student Status at a Glance *

  • Student is 24 (born before January 1, 1995)
  • Student is married
  • Student is on active duty or a veteran of the US Armed Forces
  • Student has children or other dependents they support
  • Student faced extreme circumstances and lack of support from the parents and/or guardians

* Specific regulatory language 

Appealing Dependency Status

In addition to the list of specific allowable circumstances, financial aid administrator can make a determination of independence with proper documentation, even if the student initially filed as a dependent student.  In order to be considered for a dependency override the student must on an annual basis:

  • File the FAFSA (and Profile if a new undergraduate student) and leave the parental information blank.
  • Write a letter to the Appeals Committee of the Office of Student Financial Assistance, explaining the extraordinary circumstances.
  • Include corroborating statements from two professional adults (who are not family members or GW employees). The supporting documentation must be original signed statements which verify the circumstances you described in your letter.  In general, professional adults include clergy members, guidance counselors, teachers or professors, doctors, family counselors, mental health professionals and law enforcement officials.

Notification of the appeal outcome will be sent in writing. If your appeal is successful, we will approve a dependency override and make a correction to the FAFSA. The decision of the Appeals Committee is final. 

Independent Student Status Specific Rules **

  • Student was born before January 1, 1995.
  • Student is married or separated (but not divorced) as of the date of the application.
  • At the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, the student will be enrolled in a master’s or doctoral degree program (such as MA, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, EdD, or graduate certificate, etc.).
  • Student is currently 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.
  • Student is a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces.
  • Student has one or more children who receive more than half of their support from him or her between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019.
  • Student has dependent(s) (other than children or spouse) who live with him or her and who receive more than half of their support from the student, now and through June 30, 2019.
  • At any time when the student was age 13 or older, both of the student’s parents were deceased, the student was in foster care, or the student was a dependent /ward of the court.
  • The student is now or was upon reaching the age of majority, an emancipated minor (released from control by his or her parent or guardian) as determined by a court in his or her state of legal residence.
  • The student is now or was upon reaching the age of majority, in legal guardianship as determined by a court in his or her state of legal residence.
  • Student was determined to be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless by a high school or school district homeless liaison on or after July 1, 2017.
  • Student was determined to be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless by the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on or after July 1, 2017.
  • Student was determined to be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or was self supporting and at risk of being homeless by a director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program on or after July 1, 2017.
  • Student 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.

** These rules are determined by the US Congress and are enforced by the US Department of Education’s oversight over financial assistance programs.

Please note the following with respect to students under age 24:

  • Students previously classified as independent cannot be grandfathered into an independent status on the basis of prior independence.
  • Likewise, students are not independent solely because they previously depended on state, federal or institutional aid to attend school.
  • For financial aid purposes, a student may not declare independence due to internal family arrangements, family disagreements, or attainment of "legal age".
  • Parental unwillingness (rather than inability) to contribute cannot be used to justify a dependency override.
  • A student's resources or the fact that a student is or is not claimed by the parent(s) as an income tax deduction will not be used to determine independent status.
  • While it is quite possible for an individual to be self sufficient while working full time, it is very difficult for that same individual to be self sufficient while attending college full time.  Therefore, the fact that an undergraduate student under 24 was on his or her own prior to attending GW is not sufficient in itself to change the student to an independent status. 
  • The only acceptable reason for appealing dependency status is a documented severe and unplanned situation which indicates that it would be impossible for the student to obtain financial assistance from their parents.  Examples include physical or emotional abuse, severe estrangement, abandonment, parental drug abuse, incarceration, mental incapacity, or another such situations beyond the student’s control.