Professional judgment

Professional judgment

The Higher Education Act of 1992 allows financial aid administrators to make professional judgment decisions for special or unusual family or student circumstances.  These circumstances must be documented and must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis.

Aid Administrators may treat a student with special circumstances differently than the strict application of the methodology would otherwise permit.  Adjustments can either increase or decrease a student's EFC or cost of attendance.  In the case of an adjustment to a student's EFC or cost of attendance, specified adjustments may be made to data elements.  The reason for the adjustment must relate to that student's special circumstances and must be documented in the student's file.


The Financial Aid Counselor can exercise professional judgment in different ways.  One example is when the student or student’s family (if dependent) has experienced a hardship where the expected year income will be significantly less than the prior year income.  In this situation, the aid administrator will request substantial verification of the circumstances and will request verification of the expected year income.

Dependency Override:

Another example where a financial aid counselor can use professional judgment is for granting a dependency override.   If a student does not meet the federal guidelines to be considered independent for financial aid purposes, the aid administrator can decide to override the federal regulation and make the student independent for financial aid purposes.

The special circumstances must be documented and a copy of the documentation must be maintained in the student's file. Instances where a student’s parents are unwilling to provide their information or a student is self-supporting are not justification for granting a dependency override.

Because professional judgment decisions are unique, specific required documentation cannot be listed.  It is left to the discretion of the Financial Aid Administrator to request appropriate documentation. The documentation should substantiate the student’s situation and be from a professional outside the family, not a family member.

In cases of a dependency override, documentation from more than one organization should be collected.  The decision for using professional judgment will be made by the Financial Aid Officer at each campus and financial aid professionals at the District processing center.  If a student wishes to appeal the decision, they are encouraged to submit a written appeal to the Executive Director of Financial Aid.