Professional Judgement

Do you have a unique situation that may impact your financial aid eligibility?

The FAFSA is a tool designed to estimate a family’s ability to pay for college. However, many students and/or families have circumstances that the FAFSA cannot capture.

The FAFSA Simplification Act (the Act) gives financial aid administrators (FAA) discretion to consider these unique situations to modify data used to calculate the expected family contribution (EFC), perform dependency overrides, resolve conflicting information and determining a student to be an unaccompanied homeless youth.

The FAFSA Simplification Act distinguishes between different categories of professional judgment:

  • Special Circumstances refer to the financial situations (loss of a job, etc.) that justify an aid administrator adjusting data elements in the COA or in the EFC calculation.
  • Unusual Circumstances refer to the conditions that justify an aid administrator making an adjustment to 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.

Situations that may qualify as a special circumstance for professional judgement (PJ)

  • Parental abuse, neglect, abandonment, incarceration or institutionalization
  • Job loss or change in employment
  • One-time income, such as a one-time withdrawal from a retirement account
  • Divorce or separation not reflected on the FAFSA
  • Death of a parent or spouse
  • Exceptional medical or dental expenses
  • Required elementary or secondary tuition costs
  • Change in student’s marital status after the completion of the FAFSA
  • Educational expenses not accounted for in the Cost of Attendance (CoA): i.e., exceptionally high rent, the purchase of a computer, medical insurance, supplies, travel for internship or coursework, etc.

Examples of what CANNOT be considered a special circumstance:

  • Dependent students who are self-sufficient and have an established, healthy relationship with parents
  • Dependent students whose parents do not claim the student on their tax return
  • Circumstances already accounted for on the FAFSA, such as living expenses
  • Consumer debt
  • Expenses already included in the Cost of Attendance (COA)
  • Non-educational expenses; i.e., expenses related to pets, vacations, or extracurricular activities
  • Sorority of fraternity dues

This is just a general list of some of the most commonly considered circumstances. If you do not see your circumstance listed, you should still make an appointment to talk with a counselor.

Speak with or email a Financial Aid Advisor!

You can email a Financial Aid Advisor at or call (252-618-5166) to see if you meet the requirement for a Professional Judgement.

Additionally, you can discuss other financial assistance such as grants, scholarship opportunities and remaining federal and private loan eligibility.

How to request a Professional Judgement

  1. Speak with your financial aid advisor to see if an appeal will benefit you
  2. Complete and submit the Professional Judgement (PJ) Form your financial aid counselor provides you
  3. Prepare your statement and gather all the necessary documentation. (The PJ Form will provide you with a list of the documents you will need.)
  4. A copy of our PJ Form can be found on our website
  5. Complete the form along with your statement, and required documents

Important notes

  • ECC’s FAA will review each unusual circumstance request on a case-by-case basis
  • If the FAA determines that an override is appropriate, students will be notified of any changes to financial aid eligibility and dependency status
  • If you were selected for verification you will need to complete the verification process
  • In rare cases, students may lose grant eligibility
  • Provide as much detailed, accurate information as possible
  • Not all request is approved
  • Denied request cannot be appealed. All decisions are final

Processing time

  • Request will not be reviewed until all documentation has been submitted
  • Appeal decisions can take upwards of 4-6 weeks, may be longer during peak times
  • The Financial Aid Director and/or Advisor may request additional information, so it is important to closely watch your my.edge email
  • A Financial Aid Advisor will be notifying you by email once a decision has been made