All federal, state, and institutional "need-based" financial aid programs are based on the primary assumption that families, to the extent that they are able, have the primary responsibility to help undergraduate students with the cost of post-secondary education. Federal, state, and institutional "need-based" programs exist to supplement, rather than replace, support from the student's family.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid ("FAFSA") serves as the application for all federal, state (in Louisiana), and institutional need-based aid programs
- Learn more about how your "expected family contribution" is calculated
- Allowable adjustments to the "cost of attendance"
Families with Special Circumstances
The need analysis formulas already make adjustments for families facing a number of special circumstances.
- Dislocated Worker
- Displaced Homemaker
- Dependents of Deceased Military Veterans
- Youth with Special Family Circumstances
- Youth at Risk for Homelessness
What is "Professional Judgment"
Section 479A of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, authorizes financial aid administrators to use "professional judgment", on a case-by-case basis for students with “non-discretionary special circumstances” that affect a family’s ability to pay for a college education that are not reflected in the information provided on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The Department of Education has released a series of "Dear Colleague" letters which provide guidance that aid administrators should follow anytime they choose to exercise professional judgement in adjusting federal formulas used to determine a student's eligiblity for federal financial aid funds. During the past year, the Department has focused on the impact that the current economic situation may have on families' ability to finance post-secondary education.
- Dear Colleague Letter GEN-09-04 - issued April 2, 2009 encourages Financial Aid Administrators to consider special circumstances during these challenging economic times. Special circumstances are mainly limited to adjustments in a family's "ability to pay" due to the loss of employment of a major wage earner
- Dear Colleague Letter GEN-09-05 - issued May 8, 2009 provides additional guidance to Financial Aid Administrators concerning the use of professional judgement.
The Department of Education expects that financial aid administrators will exert this authority on a case by case basis only after receiving sufficient documentation from a student to justify an exception to normal federal financial aid program guidelines. Professional judgment cannot be exercised for the following:
- to circumvent the law or regulations
- to waive general student eligibility requirements
- to change a student’s status from independent to dependent
- to directly adjust the federally expected family contribution for a family who indicates that it is "too high" .
Adjustments cannot be made for items such as:
- Vacation expenses
- Tithing expenses
- Standard living expenses such as utilities, cable bills, credit card payments, children’s allowances
- Standard maintenance items such as lawn care and home repair
- Private School Tuition
- Conditions that do NOT qualify as “unusual circumstances” individually or in combination
- Parents refuse to contribute to the student
- Parents are unwilling to complete the FAFSA
- Parents do not claim the student as an income tax dependent
- Student demonstrates totally self-sufficiency
Aid Administrators are required to document professional judgment decisions. This documentation must be maintained in the student's file. Because professional judgment situations are unique, specific required documentation is not listed for each case. Families who wish to apply for a professional judgement should contact their financial aid counselor to discuss possible documentation requirements appropriate for their unique situation.
We are annually audited as a condition of our participation in federal financial aid programs. The documentation that you submit must be sufficient to convince an auditor that our decision to grant an exception or make an additional allowance was warranted AND conformed to the guidance that we have received from the Department of Education.
- Medical Expenses Not Covered By Insurance
- One-time income that must be reported on the FAFSA
- We also need to verify your "base year" income (2012 for the 2013-2014 academic year) BEFORE we can consider a request to use your estimated 2013 income instead.
Please note that in many cases professional judgment adjustments made to the FAFSA do not result in significant changes to the federal expected family contribution and, therefore, do not change a student’s financial aid package. In addition, funding limitations with all need-based programs may also impact the availability of additional funds that we can offer to families.
We will attempt to respond to all professional judgement requests within 10 working days of our receipt of all appropriate documentation.
Updated February 8, 2013