What is a Professional Judgment?

Rutgers University Office of Financial Aid recognizes that students and/or families can experience changes that may impact their ability to apply for aid or pay their out-of-pocket costs.

The U.S. Department of Education regulations allow for financial aid professionals to review special or unique circumstances on a case-by-case basis to determine if the situation warrants further analysis.

Note: All submitted Professional Judgment documents must be accompanied by supporting documentation and a submitted Professional Judgment does not guarantee an adjustment. All reviews of special or unique circumstances will remain in compliance with federal regulations.

Special Circumstances

Students and families that have faced severe financial changes or hardships from what was represented on the FAFSA may submit a Professional Judgment Request. Situations such as, but not limited to, a job loss, loss of income, medical expenses, death of a parent, or separation/divorce of parents may qualify for a review.

Cost of Attendance Re-evaluations

Students with a unique increase in educational costs outside the already designed academic year budget may submit a cost of attendance re-evaluation to increase their cost of attendance (COA). Cost of attendance re-evaluations will not result in additional gift aid but rather will only create room in the budget for an additional source of loan funds from a student and/or parent loan.

Unusual Circumstances

Rutgers University Office of Financial Aid acknowledges that unique circumstances may arise that may not allow students to provide parental data when required on the FAFSA. If you have experienced parental abandonment, abuse, or neglect, or have experienced other unique situations such as human trafficking, parental incarceration, or a refugee or asylee status, you may make a request for independent status due to an unusual circumstance. You will be asked to explain your extenuating circumstances in writing and provide 3rd party supporting documentation. Rutgers University Office of Financial Aid will review your situation and will determine whether you can be considered independent based on the unusual circumstance.

How to Complete a Professional Judgment

Students with a Special Circumstance should complete the Professional Judgment Request form. Students with increased costs should complete a cost of attendance re-evaluation form. Students with Unusual Circumstances should complete the Dependency Override.

When filling out a Professional Judgment, please make sure to fully explain the circumstances and provide the requested documentation of that circumstance. Please keep in mind that it takes 4 to 6 weeks for these requests to be processed when all requested documentation has been received.  Incomplete files will not be reviewed.  The application will be rejected if a file remains incomplete for 30 days.  If additional information is required to further a review, the student will be notified in writing at their RU account. Students are asked to submit any additional documentation within 30 days to ensure a timely response and the processing of financial aid awards.

Students who want to be considered for a professional judgment (Special or Unusual Circumstance) must complete the online Professional Judgment Request form. With the submission of requested documentation, this form will allow Rutgers University Office of Financial Aid to reassess and decide if a change in Federal Student Aid eligibility is warranted.   The information submitted in this form will be uploaded within 48 hours into the student’s financial aid portal, creating a “Professional Judgment-Reason.”   This judgment reason will also push the request for documentation that best supports the identified circumstance(s).   Students should be prepared. The form will ask for the following information:

  • Name
  • NETID (all lowercase)
  • Award Year

Select one of the circumstances that applies.

  • Unusual Circumstance – request for dependency override
  • Divorce
  • Separation
  • Loss of Parent/Spouse
  • Reduction in Wages
  • Unemployment
  • Loss of Unemployment
  • Loss of Income

Reaffirmation of Independence

Students approved for a dependency override are asked to re-document each year by completing a reaffirmation form. Any documentation a student must complete for the current year will be listed under the required documents in the Financial Aid Student Portal.

Under HEA Sec. 480(d)(9), the FAFSA Simplification Act

The FAFSA Simplification Act provides a clearer directive for FAAs to assist applicants with unusual circumstances to adjust their dependency status on the FAFSA form to reflect students’ situations more accurately (dependency overrides). Like other types of professional judgments, institutions must make students aware of their ability to request an adjustment for unusual circumstances by publicly posting the option on their website.

Additionally, the FAFSA Simplification Act introduced new requirements for processing and communicating with students who request an adjustment for unusual circumstances. Schools and financial aid administrators must:

  • Notify students the school’s process, requirements, and reasonable timeline to review adjustment requests after their FAFSA form is submitted;
  • Provide students with a final determination of their dependency status and financial aid offer as soon as practicable after reviewing all requested documentation;
  • Retain all documentation, including documented interviews, related to the adjustment for at least three years after the student’s last term of enrollment; and
  • Presume that any student who has obtained an adjustment for unusual circumstances and a final determination of independence to be independent for each subsequent award year at the same institution unless–

o The student informs the institution that their circumstances have changed; or

o The institution has conflicting information about the student’s independence.

Documentation is critical – schools must ensure that any supporting documentation they collect is adequate to substantiate the student’s circumstances. Documentation may include (but is not limited to) the following:

  • a documented interview between the student and the financial aid administrator;
  • submission of a court order or official federal or state documentation that the student or student’s parents or legal guardians are incarcerated;
  • a documented phone call or written statement, which confirms the unusual circumstances with:

o a state, county or tribal welfare agency;

o an independent living case worker who supports current and former foster youth with the transition to adulthood; or

o a public or private agency, facility, or program servicing the victims of abuse, neglect, assault, or violence.

  • a documented phone call or written statement from an attorney, guardian ad litem, a court-appointed special advocate (or similar), or a representative of a TRIO or GEAR UP program which confirms the circumstances and the person’s relationship to the student;
  • a documented determination of independence made by a financial aid administrator at another institution in the same or a prior award year; or
  • utility bills, health insurance, or other documents that demonstrate a separation from parents or legal guardians.

FAAs may use a dependency override made in a prior award year at the same institution. In fact, the Department encourages you to use the flexibility in the law to presume a student with a dependency override is independent in subsequent years unless the student tells you their situation has changed, or you have conflicting information. Though institutions can ask students if their unusual circumstances or homeless situation has changed each year, they should not maintain a practice that delays or hinders financial aid for such a student, nor may they require the student to answer prior to packaging or disbursing aid or require the student to submit additional documentation unless there is conflicting information that the institution needs to resolve.