By: Diana Crump, FAS Consultant
Navigating special circumstances and Professional Judgments in financial aid can often feel overwhelming for professionals, given the unique nature of each case. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. When faced with a student who has special circumstances, having a clear understanding of your options empowers you to provide the utmost assistance to the student. By exploring the available avenues, you can ensure that you’re doing everything possible to support your students in their financial aid journey.
A student asks if they can get more financial aid because they are having financial difficulties. What can you do?
Talk to the student about their situation. Getting a thorough understanding of the student’s circumstances and checking their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the current Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is the first step.
If the student does not already have a zero EFC, and the request is the result of a job loss or reduction in income for the student or the parents of a dependent student, an EFC adjustment may be in order. In addition, one-time items that show as income on taxes, such as a Roth IRA conversion, can be considered for EFC adjustment.
If the request is due to unusual expenses, for categories such as medical or childcare, a cost of attendance (COA) adjustment may be helpful. This should be considered only after reviewing the Income Protection Allowance (IPA) for the appropriate expense category for that student to determine whether their expenses exceed the percentage already included in the IPA.
Dependent students have additional layers of complexity in the financial aid process due to the expectation of parent involvement. Some parents are absent or refuse to participate in the financial aid process, but when is a dependency override appropriate?
For 2022-23, if a student has unusual circumstances such as abuse, abandonment, or inability to locate the parents, a dependency override is appropriate. However, the FAFSA Simplification Act has broadened unusual circumstances warranting dependency override for the 2023-24 aid year. Unusual circumstances now include human trafficking; legally granted refugee or asylum status; parental abuse, abandonment, or estrangement; inability to locate parents; and student or parental incarceration; and other guidance has changed for 2023-24 as well. As always, the guidance is found in the Federal Student Aid Handbook, Application and Verification Guide, Chapter 5, Special Cases.
For dependent students whose situations do not include the unusual circumstances listed above, but who are self-supporting and have parents who refuse to participate in the financial aid process, the student can receive aid, but only dependent-level unsubsidized loans.
When speaking to a dependent student in a difficult situation, don’t forget to ask about housing. If the student has temporary or inadequate housing, you may be able to make the determination that they qualify as unaccompanied homeless youth, even if they did not answer yes to this question when they completed the FAFSA.
While professional judgments are made on a case-by-case basis, the key to all of them is documentation. Be sure to thoroughly document a student’s unique circumstances in compliance with the guidance provided in the FSA Handbook.
Understanding a student’s individual circumstances, and your own options for assisting them, can have a profound impact on whether a student is able to afford college. Don’t be afraid to use your professional judgment as a valuable tool to help your students.
Your institution could use an additional layer of support to give your students the individual attention they deserve. What can you do?
FAS supports your institution in navigating special circumstances and professional judgments with ease. Our experienced team of experts are ready to provide customized solutions tailored to your institution’s unique needs. Take the next step with FAS and enhance your financial aid processes and improve student outcome. Contact us today for a consultation. Together, we can make a meaningful difference in the lives of your students.