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Professional Judgement – Special and Unusual Circumstances

Applies to:Original Policy Date:Date of Last Review:Approved by:
Students and Financial Aid Staff June 2024 June 2024 Dr. John Nicklow, President

Policy Owner: Office of Financial Aid

Policy Purpose

In accordance with federal regulations for federal student aid, this policy sets forth processes for students to request a reassessment of their financial aid eligibility due to special and/or unusual circumstances.

Policy Scope

This policy applies to all students in all academic programs at Florida Tech who have submitted a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and employees whose work relates to this process and the administration of financial aid.

Policy Statement

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) uses a calculation based on a student’s FAFSA responses to determine their Student Aid Index (SAI). The SAI determines a student’s eligibility for need-based financial aid (e.g., Federal grants, Federal Subsidized loans, Federal Work Study, and some state and institutional grants). Federal regulations allow the Office of Financial Aid to exercise their use of Professional Judgement (PJ) on a case-by-case basis to adjust a student’s FAFSA data elements in the SAI calculation, components of cost of attendance (COA), and/or dependency status appropriate to a student’s situation and with appropriate documentation.

A student selected for verification may be required to complete verification and/or resolve conflicting information before a PJ can be performed.

Special Circumstances

Special circumstances refer to financial situations that may justify adjustments to a student’s FAFSA data elements in the SAI calculation, or COA components.

Examples of special circumstances that may be considered include but are not limited to:

  • Loss/reduction of income or change in employment status
  • Change in housing status (e.g., homelessness)
  • Additional family members in college
  • Change in child/dependent expenses and/or financial support
  • Divorce/Separation of parents/student
  • Death of parent/spouse
  • Excessive medical expenses not covered by insurance
  • Disability of parent/student
  • One-time taxable income (IRA disbursement, pension distribution, etc.)

Unusual Circumstances

Unusual circumstances refer to conditions that may justify an override of the FAFSA-determined dependency status—commonly referred to as a dependency override—due to a unique situation and with appropriate documentation.

Examples of unusual circumstances that may be considered include but are not limited to:

  • Human trafficking
  • Refugee or asylee status
  • Parental abandonment
  • Abusive or unsafe family environment
  • Student’s inability to contact parent(s) by normal means or where contact poses risk to the student
  • Student was a ward of the court at any time after the age of 13
  • Parent/Student incarceration

Dependent Students without Parent Support

Students who indicate on the FAFSA that their parents refuse to support them are ineligible for a dependency override but may be eligible to receive dependent level Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans only, with appropriate documentation. The Office of Financial Aid will determine if a student’s situation warrants a PJ for unusual circumstances.


Student Notification of Ability to Request a Review

All admitted and attending students will receive electronic communication from the Office of Financial Aid informing them of the available PJ processes and steps they may take should they believe they meet review criteria. Students who believe they have special and/or unusual circumstances may complete Florida Tech’s Special Conditions Questionnaire. Students may also submit to the Office of Financial Aid a completed PDF Special Conditions Request Form.

Request for Documentation

Documentation requested will vary depending on the student's situation and must demonstrate that the circumstances are unique to the student and do not exist for all students. Requested documentation may include but are not limited to:

  • Student/parent tax and income documents (e.g., W-2 forms, paystubs, tax forms, resignation/separation letter)
  • Marital status documents (e.g., marriage certificate, divorce decree)
  • Death certificate
  • Documented disability diagnosis
  • Official court documentation
  • Statements from third parties such as state or county welfare agencies; and
  • A documented interview between the student and the FAA for supplementary information (as necessary)

Students may submit their documentation through Florida Tech’s secure upload portal, fax, email (securing their attachment using 256-bit encryption), or in person to the Office of Financial Aid. All submitted documentation, both solicited and unsolicited, is reviewed. Any document containing information that conflicts with the FAFSA will require resolution in the form of FAFSA corrections and/or requesting additional information to clarify discrepancies for corrections, if necessitated.

Review by Office of Financial Aid

Documents will be reviewed within 7-10 days from receipt. Processing timeframes for PJs will vary based on documentation completeness and requests for additional information. Determinations of Independence will be made no later than 60 days after the student enrolls, or within 60 days of making such a request if the request is made.

Student Notification of Determination

Following completion of a review and/or PJ, students will be contacted by the Office of Financial Aid to disclose the results of the review and/or PJ.

Determinations made by the Office of Financial Aid regarding PJ assessments and/or adjustments are final and may not be appealed to the Department of Education.

Any corrections made by a student to a FAFSA for which a PJ was performed are subject to review once received. If there is conflicting information, additional information may be requested, and further corrections may be necessary.


Students may request a review of special and/or unusual circumstances at any point in an aid year after a FAFSA has been submitted, but not after the relevant aid year has ended.


COA: Cost of Attendance

ED: U.S. Department of Education or Federal Department of Education

FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid

PJ: Professional Judgement

SAI: Student Aid Index

Verification: A process through which schools are required to verify the data on a student’s FAFSA

Compliance Reference

20 U.S.C. § 1087tt

34 CFR 668.16(f)

34 CFR 668.54(a)(2)


The Office of Financial Aid is responsible for reviewing all requests for a dependency override. It ensures that all collected supporting documentation adequately supports a student’s special and/or unusual circumstances, and that eligible financial aid is applied to students’ accounts in accordance with policy guidelines.

Students requesting a review of their special and/or unusual circumstances are responsible for submitting supporting documentation to the Office of Financial Aid upon request.


Failure to allow students to request a review of their special and/or unusual circumstances could result in additional oversight from the Department of Education, restrictions on Title IV Participation, and/or administrative fines for Florida Tech.

Employees who fail to comply with this policy may face disciplinary action.

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