Professional Judgment/Special Circumstances

Federal regulations provide financial aid administrators with the authority to use their discretion or professional judgment on a case-by-case basis and with proper documentation to adjust the data elements used on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a student’s dependency status, or the Cost of Attendance. The U.S. Department of Education does not have the authority to override a school's professional judgment decision. 

It is important to note that a professional judgment review does not guarantee additional funding, federal or otherwise.


As noted above, financial aid administrators, on a case-by-case basis  and with proper documentation, have the discretion to adjust the data elements on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that impacts a student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) in order to provide a more accurate assessment of a student’s family’s ability to contribute to the cost of education.

A professional judgment review allows for a financial aid adjustment due to a significant change in current income compared to the required tax data reported on the FAFSA. This can be due to the recent unemployment of a direct family member (mother or father) of a dependent student or the recent unemployment of an independent student, or other circumstances.

Other circumstances may include:

  • Involuntary loss of income due to reduced hours or shutdowns;
  • Loss of income due to disability;
  • Change in financial situation due to separation or divorce;
  • Death of custodial parent;
  • Death of spouse for independent undergraduate student;
  • Significant medical expenses not covered by insurance. 

Alternatively, there are circumstances that do not warrant a professional judgment review. These include but are not limited to: Credit card debt, vacation expenses, car payments or mortgage payments.

Undergraduate students who already have a 0 Expected Family Contribution (EFC) do not qualify for a Professional Judgment review since they have already received the maximum amount of aid for which they are eligible. 

The U.S. Department of Education has encouraged the use of professional judgment to reflect the financial need of students and their families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 which was signed into law on March 11, 2021, requires that the University inform financial aid applicants of the opportunity for a professional judgment review if applicable.

For more information, please visit the financial aid office for your school:

Through professional judgment, the financial aid office also has the authority on a case-by-case basis and with adequate documentation to change a student’s status from dependent to independent when there are unusual circumstances that result in the dissolution of the family unit.

The following are examples of circumstances that may be considered for a dependency override: 

  • An abusive family environment;
  • Abandonment and/or estrangement by parents;
  • Incarceration or institutionalization of both parents;
  • Parents cannot be located.

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 for verification;
  • Parents do not claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes;
  • The student demonstrates total self-sufficiency.

Dependency overrides are rare and documentation is essential. Among other information, a student will need to provide documentation from an independent third party such as doctors, social workers, clergy, police, etc. A dependency override at any time, even in the middle of the academic year. 

For more information, please contact the financial aid office for your school:

The Cost of Attendance (COA) is an amount used to determine your maximum financial aid eligibility for an academic year. The COA consists of standard school expenses (tuition, fees, and books) and an estimate of a student's standard living expenses (housing, food, transportation, and other expenses). Each student's financial needs are different so the estimated COA may not accurately reflect the student's circumstances. Federal regulations permit the financial aid office, on a case-by-case basis and with adequate documentation, to increase the COA for educational-related expenses incurred during the current academic year.

Each school within the University calculates the cost of attendance to represent a student's maximum financial aid eligibility. For more information please contact the financial aid office for your school.