Skip to Main Content

Professional Judgment

Eligibility for financial aid is determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which uses financial information from two years prior. The Financial Aid Office recognizes that households can experience changes in income, other finances, or experience a special or unusual circumstance that are not adequately reflected on the student's FAFSA.

What is Professional Judgment?

Professional Judgment is the process of reviewing an individual student's unique circumstance(s) and exercising the option to change certain elements on the FAFSA to help determine a student's eligibility for financial aid.

When there are unusual situations or circumstances that impact your federal student aid eligibility, federal regulations give a financial aid administrator discretion (or professional judgment) to make adjustments to the data elements on the FAFSA that impact your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to gain a more accurate assessment of your family's ability to contribute to your cost of education. This is done on a case-by-case basis and with adequate documentation. The Department of Education does not have the authority to override a school's professional judgment decision.

Types of Professional Judgment

Federal regulations distinguish between different categories of Professional Judgment:

  1. Special Circumstances refer to the financial situations that justify an aid administrator adjusting data elements in the estimated Cost of Attendance (COA) or in the EFC calculation. Examples include, but are not limited to, loss of a job, divorce or separation, death, etc.
  2. 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, more commonly referred to as a dependency override. Examples include, but are not limited to, parental abandonment, human trafficking, refugee or asylee status, incarceration.

A student may have one or both a special circumstance and an unusual circumstance.

Professional Judgment FAQs

Q. I have a special circumstance and/or unusual circumstance. How do I apply for Professional Judgment?
A. Reach out to your financial aid counselor to discuss your situation. Your counselor will let you know what information and supporting documents are needed for Professional Judgment, and what your next steps are.

Q. What documents do I need to submit for Professional Judgment?
A. Your financial aid counselor will let you know what supporting documents are needed for your specific situation.

Q. How long do I have to submit requested documents for Professional Judgment?
A. All requested documents should be submitted as soon as possible, but must be received while you are actively enrolled.

Q. What if I do not have documents being requested for Professional Judgment?
A. Contact your financial aid counselor to discuss possible alternatives.

Q. How do I submit my requested documents for Professional Judgment?
A. You may email most documents to [email protected], fax to (949) 214-3500, drop off in-person, or mail to our office.

Q. How long before I know the outcome of my Professional Judgment?
A. Once all of the requested documents are submitted, it may take up to 6 weeks to receive a decision.

Q. Are Graduate students eligible to apply for Professional Judgment?
A. No, Graduate students are not eligible for Professional Judgment. This is because Graduate students are only eligible for Direct Unsubsidized Loans. You are not required to show financial need to receive a Direct Unsubsidized Loan so changes to the FAFSA that impact the EFC will not change the type or amount of aid offered.

Who's my financial aid counselor?

Visit our Staff page or email our office at [email protected] to schedule an appointment. You can also come in-person to discuss Professional Judgment with your counselor. The Financial Aid Office is located on the 2nd Floor of Grimm Hall, North (next to the School of Business) and is open Monday-Friday from 8 am to 4:30 pm.

Back to top