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Exceptional Circumstances
Financial Aid

Exceptional Circumstances

The most common types of changes in circumstances occur when families experience a job loss or income reduction, the death or divorce of student's parent or spouse, or a change in student's marital status. The Financial Aid Office may consider a student's unusual circumstances to make adjustments to the FAFSA data elements used to calculate the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and/or change a student's dependency status, according to federal education laws and guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Education.

The Financial Aid Department must have your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on file prior to reviewing your appeal. There are two different appeal processes for unusual circumstances: Professional Judgment and Dependency Override.

Professional Judgment

Eligibility for financial aid is determined by the FAFSA, which currently uses financial information from two years prior to estimate a household’s current circumstances.

When unusual situations occur, it is possible to review a student’s aid eligibility based on their current circumstances through the Professional Judgment (PJ) process.

All Professional Judgment applications are required to have a detailed letter of explanation and supporting documentation. The Financial Aid Department may request additional documentation, beyond what is requested on the appeal form, to support your unusual circumstance.

You will need to indicate the year you are requesting FAFSA information to be adjusted on your Professional Judgment Request Form. An approved Professional Judgment is only applicable to the FAFSA year for which it is granted. You may need to complete a Professional Judgment Request Form for multiple years using the same supporting documentation.

Circumstances NOT considered:
  • Mortgage payments
  • Credit card/other personal debts
  • Standard living expenses (utilities, car payments, etc.)
  • Filing for bankruptcy
  • Vacation expenses
  • Elective surgeries
  • All other discretionary expenses
  • Different university offering more aid
  • Reduction in 401K/investment values
  • Parent’s inability or unwillingness to borrow Parent PLUS loans
  • Student already has an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) of 0
Types of Professional Judgment

1. Change to Expected Family Contribution (EFC): If an adjustment to the student’s EFC is approved, an adjustment will be made to the student’s FAFSA. When the student’s corrected FAFSA returns, the Financial Aid Department will make all necessary updates to the student’s aid. Supporting documentation will be maintained in the student’s financial aid file. 

Examples of circumstances that may be considered for an EFC adjustment:

  • Loss of employment or underemployment
  • Divorce/Separation of parents/spouse
  • Change of marital status for dependent students
  • Death of parent(s) or spouse

A change to the EFC could, but is not guaranteed to, result in a change of eligibility for need based awards.

2. Change to Cost of Attendance (COA):If an increase to a student’s cost of attendance budget is approved, the student’s budget will be adjusted accordingly. Supporting documentation will be maintained in the student’s financial aid file.

A change to the COA does not result in a change for eligibility for need-based awards, only increases the room in a student’s budget for aid including PLUS and private loans.

To apply, complete the Exceptional Circumstance Request Form.

Note: An approved Professional Judgment Appeal may not result in a change to the student’s financial aid award package.

Dependency Override

Financial aid administrators have the authority to change a student’s status from dependent to independent in cases involving unusual circumstances. For financial aid purposes, a student is considered dependent and should provide parental information on the FAFSA unless the student is:

  • at least 24 years old
  • married
  • serving on active duty in the US Armed Forces
  • a veteran
  • providing more than half of the support for a dependent child or other dependent who lives with the student
  • an emancipated minor
  • homeless
  • assigned a legal guardian before the age of 18

The U.S. Department of Education has also given guidance regarding situations that do and do not qualify as unusual circumstances that merit a dependency override. In particular, the following circumstances do not merit a dependency override, either alone or in combination:

  • Parents refuse to contribute to the student’s education
  • Parents are unwilling to provide information on the application or verification process
  • Parents do not claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes
  • Student demonstrates total self-sufficiency

Sometimes there are additional circumstances that occur in conjunction with the circumstances listed above that do merit a dependency override. These can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • an abusive family environment (e.g., sexual, physical, or mental abuse or other forms of domestic violence)
  • abandonment by parents
  • incarceration or institutionalization of both parents
  • parents lacking the physical or mental capacity to provide support
  • parents whereabouts unknown or parents cannot be located
  • parents hospitalized for an extended period
  • an unsuitable household (e.g., child removed from the household and placed in foster care, tutorship, etc.)

If you have an unusual circumstance and need to begin the appeal process, complete the Exceptional Circumstance Request Form.

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Financial Aid Exceptional Circumstances
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Reason you are requesting a review of your financial aid: