Professional Judgement is the authority granted to institutions under The Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, which provides the authority for the financial aid administrator to exercise discretion in several areas when a student has experienced special or unusual circumstances. Professional judgment decisions must be made case-by-case by examining a student's unique circumstances. All professional judgment changes apply only to data element changes and apply to all Title IV programs.
The FAFSA Simplification Act (the Act) distinguishes between different categories of professional judgment by amending section 479A of the HEA.
Special Circumstances refer to financial situations (loss of a job, etc.) that justify an aid administrator adjusting data elements in the COA or the EFC calculation.
Unusual Circumstances refer to the conditions that justify an aid administrator adjusting a student’s dependency status based on a unique situation (e.g., human trafficking, refugee or asylee status, parental abuse or abandonment, incarceration), more commonly referred to as a dependency override.
A student may have both a special circumstance and an unusual circumstance. Financial aid administrators (FAAs) may adjust each student’s situation appropriately with appropriate documentation.
Potential Reasons for Exercise of Professional Judgment
Expected family contribution adjustments:
SVCC will use professional judgment on a case-by-case basis to adjust the data used to calculate the expected family contribution.
Must relate to the special circumstances of an individual student and not a whole class of students.
The student must document special circumstances.
SVCC’s professional judgment decisions cannot be appealed to the U.S. Department of Education.
SVCC can adjust data elements on the FAFSA but not the formula used to calculate the expected family contribution.
SVCC may use professional judgment to adjust an individual student’s cost of attendance.
A budget adjustment may be requested to cover certain additional costs above the standard cost of attendance (which includes tuition and fees, estimated costs for health insurance, books and supplies, long-distance travel, utilities/internet, rent, food, local travel, and miscellaneous/personal expenses during the academic school year).
Adjustments must be made for reasonable and allowable expenses within federal regulations.
Students must provide documentation of expenses.
Federal regulations define which students are considered “dependent” on the FAFSA. Dependent students are required to provide parent information and a parent signature on the FASFA, which contributes to determining financial aid eligibility.
SVCC will override the requirement to provide parent information on a case-by-case basis for students with unusual circumstances.
A student must provide a written statement detailing those circumstances and provide supporting documentation as needed.
None of the following conditions, singly or in combination, qualify as unusual circumstances meriting a dependency override:
Parents refuse to contribute to the student’s education.
Parents are unwilling to provide information on the FAFSA or for verification.
Parents do not claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes.
The student demonstrates total self-sufficiency.
Satisfactory Academic Progress
The SAP appeal is for financial aid reinstatement and requires a student to be on an academic plan.
Additional special or unusual circumstances can be considered on a case-by-case basis. To determine if a special or unusual circumstance may qualify, contact the Financial Aid Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-835-6339.
Students can apply for a Professional Judgment by completing the professional judgment worksheet on the SVCC website and submitting it to email@example.com or in person at the Financial Aid Office along with all supporting documentation.
The supporting documentation may vary based on the type of Professional Judgement and reason for the Professional Judgement. Additional documentation may also be requested regarding the Financial Aid review. Acceptable documentation:
- Separation of employment letter.
- Most recent pay stubs. Typically, the last 3 pay periods.
- Award letter from Unemployment Office.
- Signed written statement from the individual appealing their EFC.
- Court documentation.
- Divorce papers.
- Death certificate.
- Additional documents as determined.
- Signed written statement from student.
- Written statement from a third party, preferably from a professional familiar with the situation.
- Court documentation.
- Death certificate.
- Police reports.
- Other documentation as determined.
- Documentation associated with unusually high Costs of Attendance components.
All professional judgment worksheets and statements must be signed and dated by the applicant submitting the appeal. In addition, any third party providing supporting statements must also sign and date their statement for the document to be accepted.
Professional Judgment appeals will be submitted to the Director of Financial Aid for review. Students will be notified of a decision within 60 business days after submission. The Director of Financial Aid will submit the appropriate corrections if the appeal is approved. If the appeal is denied, the Director of Financial Aid will notify the student and provide the student with an opportunity to provide additional documentation.