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Students Struggle With FAFSA Income Requirements

Screenshot of FAFSA webpage (By Sam Jones)

By: Faith Vrieland

College students are voicing their concerns about their inability to gain financial aid. These students claim they can not receive their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, due to their parents’ income, despite not being financially supported by their parents.

Students must apply for FAFSA to be eligible for any federal student aid. At the University of North Georgia, the financial aid office recommends students apply for FAFSA before pursuing any other options.

Students who file for FAFSA must claim to be independent or dependent. An independent is anyone over 24 years old, a graduate student, or married. University students who are unmarried or do not meet independent criteria must file as dependent. Regardless of if they are reliant on their parents or not, dependents must file through their parent’s income.

FAFSA Infographic (Faith Vrieland)

Sydney Farber, a junior interdisciplinary studies major at UNG, applied for FAFSA and received Federal Work-Study for one year.

Farber says her parents were willing to pay part of her tuition. She filed as a dependent and did not receive FAFSA, despite living in a big family on one income. She says “it was a mess,” explaining that she was not getting paid; when Farber did get paid, COVID-19 hit, and she was able to work for one or two months, then no longer received aid.

All in all, Farber says, “It’s a lot to do for nothing, you know?”

Kaity Pittard graduated with a degree in graphic design from UNG. Pittard applied for FAFSA and received it for three and one-half years. For the first two years, she claimed as a dependent. In her last two years of FAFSA, she says she had to file as an independent “because [her] parents stopped claiming [her] as a dependent.” Pittard says she had a few issues, not with filing for FAFSA, but rather having aid removed due to a change in her Expected Family Contribution. She became frustrated with her family income being considered instead of her own.

Pittard says, “It was my own responsibility, I worked hard through 16 on, and yet my financial aid was calculated as if my parents were paying for it. It wasn’t a true representation of my need for financial aid.”

Pittard was stripped of all financial aid as a senior, except for the HOPE scholarship. The HOPE scholarship initially barred Pittard from using noncredited transcripts because she was homeschooled. However, she printed all her transcripts off and sent them to HOPE. Only after that did they repay her in full.

There are solutions and options for students who are declined FAFSA due to parental income. FAFSA lists these students as a “special circumstance,” according to A dependency override allows a student to apply as an independent. says that students can qualify for dependency override if, “Parents refuse to contribute to the student’s education, are unwilling to provide information on the application or for verification, or do not claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes.” Students can also qualify for a dependency override if they “demonstrate total self-sufficiency.”

Jill Rayner, the financial aid director at the UNG Financial Aid Center, says that she has granted dependency overrides to students. She says dependency overrides only happen if it helps the student gets in touch with their parents. For instance, she says that there have been scenarios where parents cut off all contact with their children. In this case, a dependency override can help a student receive FAFSA. She says the only struggle with this process is that students must provide valid proof of their situation.

Rayner says, “It’s not that we don’t hear students… We’re guided by these federal regulations.”

According to Rayner, the federal government wrote the regulations in 1956. During that time, university students relied on parental income. She explains that the criteria of an independent used to be different; If the student was over 24 years old, was married, or had dependents, they qualified as independent. However, she highlighted that the UNG financial aid team has been fighting to lower that age to 21 or 22.

Rayner says students should take advantage of the federal scholarship application; only 4,000 of the 19,000 students on the UNG campus applied. She says the primary reason students do not receive financial aid is not meeting the academic standards. She advises students to strive to keep FAFSA, “Well, you know, the importance is keeping your grades up and completing the classes that you attempt.”

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    Taylor ForresterApr 7, 2022 at 4:10 pm

    Such an informative article! Excellent information!

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Students Struggle With FAFSA Income Requirements