I am in my third semester and have already received my financial
aid for this semester; however, our financial circumstances have
dramatically changed. My mother was laid off as of the first of August
and my father has been found to have cancer and will be off work well
into next year with treatments. Is there a way to amend the amount of
aid that has been awarded to me for next semester?
— Shawna L.
Call your college's financial aid office and ask them about their
procedures for a professional judgment review, often referred to as
"PJ". Some colleges call this a special circumstances review or a
financial aid appeal.
College financial aid administrators have the authority to make
adjustments to the data elements on the Free Application for Federal
Student Aid (FAFSA) on a case-by-case basis when justified by unusual
circumstances. Both job loss and high unreimbursed medical expenses
should qualify for an adjustment, as well as any significant change in
circumstances from last year to this year. Colleges are not required
to make an adjustment, but job loss is the most common circumstance in
which most colleges will make an adjustment. The adjustment will be
based on the financial impact of the unusual circumstance, such as the
change in income. Provide the college with photocopies (not originals)
of the layoff letter and other documentation, as the process is driven
You can ask for a professional judgment review at any time, not just
during the initial financial aid application process.
I recently found myself out of work. Figuring it would be
an ideal opportunity to return to school, I attempted to apply for
financial aid. I was dissappointed to find that applications for
financial aid are based on one's income for the previous year. Being
unemployed in today's job market does not qualify me for financial aid
because I made too much money last year?
— Ryan S.
The US Department of Education recently issued guidance
financial aid administrators in connection with the current economic
downturn. This guidance permits college financial aid administrators
to set the income earned from work on the FAFSA to zero for students
who have recently received unemployment. It also allows colleges to
treat unemployment benefits as zero income for independent students. A
copy of an unemployment benefits letter dated within the last 90 days
If the information submitted on the FAFSA does not adequately address
your financial situation, you should always ask the college financial aid
administrator for a professional judgment review.
I currently have a stepson in college and a daughter who is
currently applying for financial aid. My stepson does not live with
us but my husband is still paying child support. Since I have to
include my husband's income when filling out the FAFSA for my
daughter, is it appropriate for me to state that I have a child
currently enrolled in college? I do not want to affect any financial
aid my stepson is currently receiving.
— Sandi L.
If your husband provides more than half your stepson's support, you
should include your stepson in household size and number in college on
your daughter's FAFSA. But then you cannot report the amount of child
support paid on her FAFSA. Likewise, if your husband pays less than
half your stepson's support, you should report the amount of child
support paid on your daughter's FAFSA, but you cannot include your
stepson in household size and number in college on her FAFSA.
To the extent that the amount of child support is in a gray middle
area, there's a tradeoff between including the stepson in the number
in college and reporting the amount of child support paid. Either option will
reduce your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), but the amount of the
reduction will differ and will depend on your particular financial
circumstances. The parental contribution part of the expected family
contribution is divided by the number of children in college. Total
income is reduced by the amount of child support paid. To determine
which has a greater impact on the EFC, use a
financial aid calculator
to evaluate each scenario.
If it's clear whether your husband does or does not provide more than
half support to your stepson, don't try to fudge the answer. The
college may ask to see a copy of the divorce decree as part of the
verification process and may perform a detailed calculation to
determine whether or not your husband provides more than half support.
In most cases the information reported on your daughter's FAFSA will
not affect your stepson's FAFSA. Your stepson's mother is responsible
for completing his FAFSA because your stepson lives with her more than
he lives with you. If your stepson lived with both of you equally,
then it would depend on whichever of the two biological parents
provided more support. In that case the treatment of the child support
on the two FAFSAs would need to be consistent (i.e., you can't count
it as providing more than half support on one FAFSA and less than half
support on the other).