Special & Unusual Circumstances

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) requires students to provide household income and tax data. For independent students, this includes spouse information. For dependent students, this includes information for parents. The U. S. Department of Education uses reported income and tax data to calculate the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for 2023-2024 and the Student Aid Index (SAI) for 2024-2025. The EFC and SAI are used in the formula to determine financial aid packages. 

Sometimes there may be a special circumstance that reduces a student’s ability to pay for college which cannot be reflected on the FAFSA. This is because the form requires reporting of prior-prior year income and tax data. The Financial Aid Office has a process that allows the FAFSA applicant to document a special circumstance and, if approved, allows us to recalculate an EFC for 2023-2024 and an SAI for 2024-2025 and re-evaluate a financial aid package. Please note that if a student already has a 0 EFC for 2023-2024 or a 0 or lower SAI for 2024-2025, there is no need to request a review of FAFSA data. This is because a 0 EFC or 0 or lower SAI student is already receiving the maximum amount of financial aid available.

Situations that may qualify as special circumstance for FAFSA adjustments include:

  • Loss of income from unemployment, furlough, disability, or retirement
  • Unreimbursed medical and dental expenses for an exceptional medical emergency or incident. 
    • Note: Unreimbursed means health care expenses not covered by insurance or third party
  • Legal separation or divorce
  • Death of a family member whose income was reported on the FAFSA
  • Termination of child support, alimony, or worker’s compensation

As part of this process, FAFSA data will be verified prior to the special circumstances review. Students must clearly demonstrate a change in finances during the tax year used to complete their FAFSA (or during later tax years not associated with the current FAFSA).

At a minimum, a student will be required to submit the following information to the Financial Aid Office if requested:

  • Signed copies of federal income tax return for the requested tax year(s).
    • Tax returns are required even if the tax data was transferred automatically from the IRS. This is because the IRS transfer does not give the Financial Aid Office all of the data elements needed to reassess tax values as a result of adjusting income.
  • All tax schedules and attachments associated with the requested tax return(s).
  • W-2’s for the appropriate tax year(s).
  • Special Circumstances form and Verification Worksheet
  • Documentation of untaxed income (if applicable).
  • Third party documentation to validate the request for a review of FAFSA data.
    • Examples of documentation include unemployment payment history, layoff notice, severance letter, legal separation papers or divorce decree, death certificate, explanation of benefits for unreimbursed exceptional medical/dental expenses not covered by insurance.

Students are reminded that a review of special circumstances does not automatically guarantee an EFC or SAI adjustment and increase in financial aid funding. To apply, contact the Financial Aid Office to request the Special Circumstances form. This form must be completed and submitted to the Financial Aid Office with all required supporting documentation.

Financial aid regulations assume that the family has primary responsibility for meeting educational costs. If a student is considered dependent, according to the financial aid definition, aid eligibility is determined by using student and parent income and asset information. Dependent students are required by law to provide parental information and signatures to be eligible for financial aid. With this said, financial aid administrators have the authority to change a student’s status from dependent to independent in cases involving unusual circumstances.

Financial aid regulations assume that the family has primary responsibility for meeting educational costs. If a student is considered dependent, according to the financial aid definition, aid eligibility is determined by using student and parent income and asset information. Dependent students are required by law to provide parental information and signatures to be eligible for financial aid. With this said, financial aid administrators have the authority to change a student’s status from dependent to independent in cases involving unusual circumstances.

The phrase “unusual circumstances” means a situation that make it inappropriate to expect a parental contribution for the student. The following unusual circumstances may warrant a dependency override if the student:

  • Left home due to an abusive or threatening environment;
  • Was abandoned or estranged from their parents, and has not been adopted;
  • Has a history of parental alcohol or drug abuse;
  • Has refugee or asylee status and is separated from their parents, or their parents are displaced in a foreign country;
  • Is a victim of human trafficking;
  • Has parent(s) who are incarcerated, and contact with their parents would pose a risk to the student;
  • Is otherwise unable to contact or locate their parents, and has not been adopted.

Due to federal regulations, none of the conditions below qualify as an unusual circumstance resulting in a dependency override:

  • Student does not live with their parents by choice or is self-supporting.
  • Student does not communicate with parents by choice.
  • Parents refuse to contribute to student’s education.
  • Student will not qualify for aid if parents’ income is used.
  • Parents refuse to provide income information to complete the FAFSA.
  • Parents live out of state.

It is very important to note that when it comes to dependency overrides, there is a distinction between parents who are unable to provide information and parents who are unwilling to complete the FAFSA. Unfortunately, many parents will refuse to complete their section of the FAFSA which prevents the student from receiving financial aid. Students can remind their parents that submitting their information on the FAFSA does not obligate them to pay for college. However, refusal to provide parental data on the FAFSA form will prevent the student from receiving financial aid. Sometimes a parent is concerned about the privacy of their tax data. Students can remind their parents that all financial aid information is confidential and protected under the Family Education and Privacy Act (FERPA).

The Financial Aid Office understands that many students have unique family dynamics.  If you believe you qualify for an Unusual Circumstances Professional Judgment, contact the Financial Aid Office to request an Unusual Circumstances form. This form must be completed and submitted to the Financial Aid Office with all required supporting documentation. All information and documentation provided is confidential. Please note that submission of an Unusual Circumstances Professional Judgment request does not guarantee that the request will be approved.

A student is considered homeless if they lack fixed, regular, and adequate housing. This includes students who are living in shelters, motels, cars, or parks, or who are temporarily living with other people because they have nowhere else to go. Additionally, students are considered homeless if fleeing an abusive parent who would otherwise provide the student with financial support and a place to live.

Read more about homeless youth financial aid circumstances (opens a pdf file).

If a student answers yes to the general homelessness question on the FAFSA, they will be asked if they received a “homeless youth determination.” If the answer is yes, the student will be asked to provide a homeless youth determination from:

If a student answers yes to the general homelessness question on the FAFSA, they will be asked if they received a “homeless youth determination.” If the answer is yes, the student will be asked to provide a homeless youth determination from:

  • High school or school district liaison
  • The director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • The director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program

Sometimes a student will not have a homeless youth determination from the entities listed above. In these cases, students are asked to contact the Financial Aid Office to assist us in making the determination of homeless youth status. Students may submit documentation from any of the following sources to assist with determination:

  • Local school district personnel
  • State homeless education coordinators
  • The National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE)
  • Third parties such as a private or publicly funded homeless shelters and service providers
  • Financial aid administrators from colleges that the student previously attended
  • Staff from college access programs such as TRIO or GEAR UP.
  • College or high school counselors
  • Mental health providers, social workers, mentors, doctors, or clergy

If a student cannot provide documentation from any of these sources listed above, The Financial Aid Office will still review the homeless designation request. Students are encouraged to contact the Financial Aid Office after they have completed the FAFSA and answered the questions related to their homelessness status.

 

You will need to submit supporting documentation to the Financial Aid office if you answer "Yes" to the following dependency questions

Foster Care Youth

At any time since you turned age 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care, or were you a dependent or ward of the court?

If you answer yes, please submit documentation from one of the following sources to the Financial Aid Office upon submitting your FAFSA application:

  • If you are an orphan, provide death certificate for deceased parent(s) or a signed statement declaring that your parent(s) are deceased.
  • If you were placed in foster care, provide Foster Care Residency Verification or a statement from your caseworker
  • If you are a ward of the court, provide court documentation signed, and dated by a Judge, with a court seal

Emancipated Minor

Has it been determined by a court in your state of legal residence that you are an emancipated minor? (You also should answer "Yes" if you are now an adult but were an emancipated minor immediately before you reached the age of adulthood in your state.) 

If you answer yes, please submit documentation from one of the following sources to the Financial Aid Office upon submitting your FAFSA application:

  • Court documentation signed, dated by a Judge, with a court seal.

Legal Guardianship

Has it been determined by a court in your state of legal residence that someone other than your parent or stepparent has legal guardianship of you? 

(You also should answer "Yes" if you are now an adult but were in a legal guardianship immediately before you reached the age of adulthood in your state. Answer "No" if the court papers say "custody" rather than "guardianship.”)

If you answer yes, please submit documentation from one of the following sources to the Financial Aid Office upon submitting your FAFSA application:

  • Court documentation signed, dated by a Judge, with a court seal.