Most students entering college directly from high school are considered dependent students. This means that your parents are expected to contribute to your education expenses.
If you are independent, you’ll report only your income and assets (and those of your spouse, if you are married).
There are specific conditions you must meet in order to be considered an independent for the purposes of financial aid. For a full list of conditions please visit http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/help/fftoc02k.htm. At a minimum one condition must apply and that is that you are at least 24 years old by Dec. 31 of the award year.
In special or unusual circumstances, the school's financial aid administrator can change your dependency status on reviewing the documents you provide if they think circumstances warrant it.
The decision relies on their best judgment and is final — it cannot be appealed to the U.S. Department of Education.