Special Circumstances and Professional Judgment
The U.S. Department of Education grants financial aid administrators the authority to use professional judgment in certain areas of financial aid eligibility. The information below explains how Suffolk County Community College Financial Aid Offices assist students and families by using professional judgment to take into consideration changes in income and/or an applicant's dependency status.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) collects prior-prior year income. This reported income by not be an accurate representation of an applicant, or their families, recent financial situation. Students with documented special circumstances may be eligible for an adjustment to the income information reported on the FAFSA. Projected income, or an adjusted base year income, that better reflects the ability to pay, may be used in determining a student's federal financial aid eligibility.
For example, because of COVID-19 some employers have shut down, reduced work hours, furloughed employees and others may not have been able to work due to illness. Your campus financial aid office can review your special circumstances and possibly adjust the amount of financial aid you receive.
If your family has experienced a change in income due to unusual or extenuating circumstances, your campus financial aid office can use professional judgment, and U.S. Department of Education guided flexibility, to re-evaluate your situation for the following reasons:
- loss of employment or reduction of work hours
- loss of an untaxed income or benefit
- divorce or separation
- death of a parent or spouse
- exceptional healthcare expenses not covered by insurance
- reduction or loss of child support
- other substantial changes in income
Requests for consideration of special circumstances are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Please contact your financial aid office for instructions and guidance.
Financial aid regulations maintain that the family (student and parents) must assume the primary responsibility for meeting the student's educational costs of attending college. Therefore, parental information is normally required to determine a student's eligibility for federal financial assistance. The criteria for being considered an independent student for federal financial aid purposes is described in detail under the eligibility requirements section of the webpage. However, if a student has documentable unusual circumstances, they may qualify for a dependency override.
The Department of Education has specifically stated that the following four conditions individually, or in combination with one another, do not qualify as unusual circumstances and therefore would not merit a dependency override:
- Parents refusing to contribute to the student's cost of education
- Parents unwilling to provide information on the FAFSA or for verification
- Parents not claiming the student as a dependent for income tax purposes
- Student demonstrates total self-sufficiency
Only in unusual documented situations can parental information be waived. Examples of unusual situations include, but are not limited to: cases where the student has been removed from the family home because of parent abuse (physical and/or mental), estrangement, abandonment, drug/alcohol abuse, mental incapacity or another such situation beyond the student's control. In cases such as these, the likelihood that the student would return to the parent(s) household and/or rely upon the parents for financial support would be very low.
Students with unusual circumstances, as outlined above, may submit a Request for Dependency Override with supporting documentation to their campus financial aid office.