Professional Judgment Process and Appeals

The Higher Education Act establishes the Federal methodology (FM) formula used for determining eligibility for federal student financial aid programs. However, Federal regulations provide financial aid administrators with the authority to use their discretion or professional judgment to adjust, on a case-by-case basis and with adequate documentation, the data elements used on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that impact the estimated family contribution (EFC) to get a better picture of a student and their family’s ability to pay for college. With adequate documentation, a change could also be made to dependency status, or the cost of attendance.

Important to Note:

  • A Professional Judgement review does not guarantee additional funding.

Categories of Appeal

Family Contribution Appeal

(Most often utilized by undergraduate students when financial circumstances change, and those changes may affect you and/or your family’s ability to contribute to your education).

On a case-by-case basis and with proper documentation, Financial Aid Offices have the discretion to make adjustments, to the data elements on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that impacts a student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Such changes meant to provide a more accurate assessment of a student’s family’s ability to contribute to the cost of education.

Examples for a Family Contribution Appeal Include:

  • Loss of employment
  • Change in financial situation due to separation or divorce (changes can only be made if both parent/stepparent income was included on the FAFSA and a separation or divorce occurred after the FAFSA was submitted.)
  • Death of custodial parent (if the deceased parent’s income was included on the FAFSA.)
  • Death of Spouse for Independent student (if spouse’s income was included on the FAFSA.)
  • Loss of child support (changes can only be made if child support was included on the FAFSA.)
  • Unusual medical expenses (the FAFSA already allows for a certain percentage of income protection allowance related to medical expenses.)
  • Catastrophic loss, such as a natural disaster.
  • Deduction of one-time payment (e.g., retirement, payouts, severance pay)

Example Documentation required: (Not all inclusive)  

  • Copy of termination or lay-off notice,
  • Last paystub(s),
  • W-2 form,
  • Leave and Earnings Statement(s),
  • Unemployment benefit notice,
  • Birth or death certificate,
  • Divorce decree.

Dependency Appeal

(Documentation is critical and must support the reason for such an appeal. Documentation should in almost all cases originate from a third party with knowledge of the unusual circumstances of the student).

Financial Aid Administrators have the authority on a case-by-case basis to change a student’s status from dependent to independent involving unusual cases that result in the dissolution of the family unit.

The U.S. Department of Education has provided guidance regarding situations that that do not merit a dependency override.

Examples for a Dependency Appeal Include:

  • Abandonment by parents
  • An abusive family environment threatening a student’s health/safety
  • Not being able to locate parents
  • Incarceration or institutionalization of both parents
  • Parents lacking the physical or mental capacity to raise the child
  • Parents hospitalized for an extended period
  • An unsuitable household (e.g., child removed from the household and placed in foster care)
  • Married student’s spouse dies, or student gets divorced

Examples that Do Not Merit a Dependency Appeal Include:

  • Parents refuse to contribute to the student’s education
  • Parents are unwilling to compete the FAFSA and/or provide required documentation for verification
  • Parents do not claim the student for tax purposes
  • Student lives apart from parent
  • Student works and is financially self sufficient

Cost of Attendance Adjustment Appeal

(When additional education-related expenses beyond a student’s standard COA are incurred, they may request a COA adjustment by completing a Cost of Attendance Adjustment Request. COA adjustments are evaluated on a case-by-case basis and are subject to federal and University policies).

The cost of attendance, also known as the budget, includes tuition, fees, books, supplies, housing, food, travel and estimated personal expenses.  Federal regulations only permit increases to the budget for educational-related expenses incurred during the current academic year.

Examples for a COA Appeal Include:

  • Tuition and/or fees exceeding your standard COA (this generally relates to those in academic overload)
  • Course, lab, program, or fees exceeding your standard COA
  • One-time cost for the purchase of a computer and/or mandatory course software, purchased during the aid year
  • Childcare or dependent care costs not covered by a third party. Only expenses incurred while you are in class AND your spouse/significant other (when applicable) is unavailable to provide care will be considered
  • Student health insurance exceeding your standard COA, if required by your program/college and billed through your student account
  • Travel costs exceeding your standard COA.

Examples of what DOES NOT qualify as a special circumstance review:

  • Parents refuse to contribute to the student’s education.
  • Parents are unwilling to provide information on the FAFSA or for verification.
  • Parents do not claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes.
  • The student demonstrates total self-sufficiency.
  • Year to year fluctuations in income.
  • Credit card or other personal debts.
  • Standard living expenses.
  • Vacation expenses.
  • All other discretionary expenses
  • If the Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) calculated from the FAFSA is zero

To Request a Professional Judgment

  • You must have a completed FAFSA submitted before an appeal can be considered
  • The deadline for consideration is September 1 of each year. (Requesting an appeal does not guarantee that you will be granted one or that you will receive additional funds.)
  • To request an appeal, please contact the Financial Aid Office at verification@hsutx.edu explaining the qualifying reason you are requesting an appeal to be considered for review.
  • You will receive a response back from the Financial Aid Office within 2-3 business days letting you know if you will be able to do an appeal and what the next steps are.
  • Appeals are typically reviewed within 2-4 weeks after submission. During busy processing times (such as the summer), it may take longer for your appeal to be evaluated.
  • If selected for FAFSA verification, you much complete verification before your special circumstance appeal can be reviewed.

Notification Process:

The Financial Aid Office will contact you by your HSU email regarding the status of your request for an appeal. Please monitor your person HSU email account. If granted a Family Contribution Appeal, you will be required to complete FAFSA verification first. You will receive an email from the Financial Aid Office with instructions.

Professional Judgment decisions due to a special circumstance are final. A student cannot appeal to the university president or to the U.S. Department of Education. Congress delegated the authority to make professional judgment adjustments to the data elements on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to the college financial aid office and their assigned staff.