Special or Unusual Circumstances

Sometimes circumstances can impact your financial aid situation, including a change in family circumstances, traumatic events, or reductions in income. Federal regulations provide financial aid administrators with the authority to use their discretion on a case-by-case basis and with proper documentation to adjust a student’s Cost of Attendance (COA), the data elements used on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and/or a student’s dependency status.

There are different categories that financial aid administrators consider when reviewing a student’s circumstance:

Special Circumstances refer to the financial situations (loss of a job, death of the custodial parent, etc.) that justify an aid administrator adjusting data elements in the COA or in the data used to complete the FAFSA.

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 abandonment, incarceration), more commonly referred to as a dependency override.

In some cases, a student may have both a special circumstance and an unusual circumstance.

The U.S. Department of Education does not have the authority to override a school's decision. It is important to note that a review of a student’s special and/or unusual circumstance does not guarantee additional funding.

  • A financial aid administrator may use professional judgment on a case-by-case basis to adjust a student’s COA or the data used to complete the FAFSA.

    Some examples of special circumstances that may be considered:

    • Change in employment status, income, or assets
    • Change in housing status (e.g., homelessness)
    • Medical, dental, or nursing home expenses not covered by insurance
    • Child or dependent care expenses
    • Death of custodial parent

    Acceptable documentation for a special circumstance review includes, but is not limited to supplementary information, as necessary, about the financial status or personal circumstances of eligible applicants as it relates to the special circumstances.

    Alternatively, there are special/unusual circumstances that do not warrant a review. These circumstances include but are not limited to:

    • Parents refusing to contribute to student's education;
    • Parents unwilling to provide information on the application for verification or on the FAFSA;
    • Credit card debt;
    • Vacation expenses; or
    • Car payments or mortgage payments.

    Undergraduate students who already have a $0 Expected Family Contribution (EFC) do not qualify for a special circumstance review since they have already received the maximum amount of aid for which they are eligible.


  • A financial aid administrator may conduct dependency overrides on a case-by-case basis for students with unusual circumstances.

    Some examples of unusual circumstances include:

    • Human trafficking, as described in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (22 U.S.C. 7101 et seq.)
    • Legally granted refugee or asylum status
    • Parental abandonment or estrangement
    • Student or parental incarceration.

    Acceptable documentation for an unusual circumstance includes, but is not limited to:

    • Personal statement explaining your situation with specific details
    • A written statement on official letterhead from a third-party acting in their official capacity (e.g. attorney, clergy, police, doctor, etc.) that confirms the circumstances and the person’s relationship to the student
    • A written statement from a Homeless Shelter Director or homeless liaison agency
    • Court documents
    • CPS/Police Reports

    Examples that do not qualify as unusual circumstances:

    • Parents refusing to contribute to student’s education
    • Parents unwilling to provide information on the application for verification or on the FAFSA
    • Parents not claiming student as dependent for income tax purposes
    • Students who demonstrate total self-sufficiency


  • Please submit an email to [email protected] or call us at (718) 817-3800 to explain your special and/or unusual circumstance. Please be sure to include current contact information.