When there are unusual situations or circumstances that impact your federal student aid eligibility, federal regulations give a financial aid administrator discretion or professional judgment on a case-by-case basis and with adequate documentation to make adjustments to the data elements on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or CA Dream Act (CADAA) forms that impact your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to gain a more accurate assessment of your family's ability to contribute to your cost of education.


Types of Professional Judgment:

  1. Change to Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
  2. Change to Cost of Attendance (COA)
  3. Special/Unusual Circumstances (Dependency Override)

Change to Expected Family Contribution:

  • Loss or change of employment
  • Child Support reduction or change
  • Divorce/Separation of parent/spouse
  • Death of spouse
  • Disability of student or spouse
  • One-time taxable income (IRA disbursement, pension distribution, etc)

Change to Cost of Attendance (COA):

  • Childcare expenses for a dependent child of the student
  • One-time purchase of a computer for education expenses
  • One-time costs of professional licensure required for student’s major
  • Costs associated with a student's disability

*A change to the EFC could, but is not guaranteed to, result in a change of eligibility for need based awards.

Special/Unusual Circumstances (Dependency Override):

Financial Aid Administrator's have the authority, through Section 480(d)(7) of the Higher Education Act, to change a student's status from dependent to independent in cases involving unusual circumstances in which student(s) are unable to contact parent(s) or where the contact with parent(s) poses a risk to the student. These can include the following:

  • An abusive family environment (e.g., sexual, physical, or mental abuse or other forms of domestic violence)
  • Abandonment by parents
  • Incarceration or institutionalization of both parents
  • Parents lacking the physical or mental capacity to raise the child
  • Parents whereabouts unknown or parents cannot be located
  • Parents hospitalized for an extended period
  • An unsuitable household (e.g., child removed from the household and placed in foster care)
  • Married student’s spouse dies or student gets divorced

The US Department of Education has given guidance regarding situations that do and do not qualify as unusual circumstances that merit a dependency override. In particular, the following circumstances do not merit a dependency override, either alone or in combination:

  • Parents refuse to contribute to the student's education
  • Parents are unwilling to provide information on the application or for verification
  • Parents do not claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes
  • Student demonstrates total self-sufficiency