Monthly Features

Filing Your FAFSA: Have Things Changed Significantly Since 2015?

At the National Center for College Costs we heartily endorse the move to have the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) available October 1 and have the financial information come from a year when taxes already were filed (2015). Not all colleges will move up their release of financial aid awards, but many are doing so. Thus many families will know where they stand months earlier than in the past.

However, a lot may have changed in your family’s situation since 2015. Perhaps the student’s parents were married but now they are not. Sadly, a parent may now be deceased, thus the student’s household is supported financially by only one parent, not two. More commonly, a parent has lost a job with no prospect of a similar paying position becoming available. Also, some parents may have received an inheritance or taken a one-time pay-out from a retirement account to pay bills, thus increasing taxable income in the year upon which the FAFSA is based.

Under the federal financial aid regulations, the chief financial aid administrator at a college or university can make what is called a “professional judgment” (PJ) and take into consideration special circumstances. In light of this new information, a financial aid award can be adjusted if she or he feels the additional information provided warrants a change…and the college has money available to provide additional help.

Most colleges have a “Special Circumstance” form on their websites. If so, be sure to use that form, although you may also need to attach to it all of the supporting documentation. You should send all of this information to the chief financial aid administrator because only that person can make the decision on you PJ request. The request for a PJ can be based on 2016 income or circumstances or even projected 2017 circumstances.

When you will hear the college’s decision may vary with the special circumstances involved. For example, if there has been a death in the family or a divorce, the PJ decision may come back faster than if there is a job loss. The college may want to wait a few months to see if the parent or stepparent has found a new job, and if so, what kind of income that person will have going forward.  

In the end, the timing and final decision are completely at the discretion of the chief financial aid administrator. Good luck with your request!

Publication Date: March 2017