Professional Judgement - Special/Unusual Circumstances

Professional Judgment refers to the school's authority to adjust, on a case-by-case basis, to information reported on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to recalculate the original Department of Education's Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

Types of Professional Judgement/Special or Unusual Circumstances Definitions for Dependency Override (DO), Expected Family Contribution (EFC), and Cost of Attendance (COA)
1. Dependency Override (DO)

The DO is an Unusual Circumstance referring to conditions of a student's unique situation such as human trafficking, refugee or asylee status, parental abuse, parental abandonment, or incarceration.

2. Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

The EFC is the number the school uses to determine if a student is eligible for need-based financial aid and is considered a Special Circumstance referring to a financial situation such as loss of income.

3. Cost of Attendance (COA)

COA is a Special Circumstance referring to a financial situation such as loss of income. 

*If a student receives a Federal Pell Grant or a California College Promise Grant, it may result in a reduced or loss of funds.

Special circumstances are used to personalize current financial circumstances based on unusual situations.

Acceptable and Non-Acceptable Circumstances:

Reasons to Submit a Professional Judgement Request:

  • Unusually high childcare or dependent care expenses.
  • Changes to dependency status
  • Unusually high medical or dental expenses.
  • Parent(s) enrolled in college at least half-time in a degree-seeking program.
  • Changes in a family's reported income.
  • Death or disability of a wage earner.
  • Separation/divorce of the student's parents
  • One-time taxable income.

Situations not considered Special Circumstances

  • Vacation expenses
  • Tithing expenses
  • Standard living expenses (e.g., utilities, credit card expenses, children's allowances, etc.)
  • Mortgage payments
  • Car payments
  • Lawn care
  • Credit card or other personal debt problems
  • All other discretionary expenses

Professional Judgement For Unusual Circumstance - DO

Under HEA Sec. 480(d)(9), the FAFSA Simplification Act incorporated unusual circumstances to consider when a student is unable to contact a parent or where contact with parents poses a risk to the student.

In such cases, an override might be warranted based on the student's individual circumstances. These conditions would also not disqualify a student from being a homeless unaccompanied youth or self-supporting and at risk of homelessness.

However, none of the conditions listed below, singly or in combination, qualify as unusual circumstances meriting a dependency override.

Unusual Circumstances Include:

  • Human trafficking, as described in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (22 U.S.C. 7101 et seq.)
  • Legally granted refugee or asylum status.
  • Parental abandonment or estrangement.
  • Student or parental incarceration.

Unusual Circumstances Do Not Include:

  • Parents refuse to contribute to the student's education.
  • Parents will not provide information for the FAFSA or verification.
  • Parents do not claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes.
  • A student demonstrates total self-sufficiency.

Dependent Student Without Parental Support

Dependent students whose parents refuse to support them are not eligible for a dependency override, but they may be able to receive a dependent-level Direct Unsubsidized Loan only. For a student to be eligible for this provision the following must be documented:

  1. The student's parents refuse to complete the FAFSA.
  2. The student's parents do not and will not provide any financial support to him or her (include the date support ended).

If the parents refuse to sign and date a statement to this effect, documentation from a third party is needed (the student is not sufficient), such as a teacher, counselor, cleric, or court.

Unaccompanied Homeless Youth

A student is independent if, at any time on or after July 1, 2022, the student is determined to be an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or is self-supporting and at risk of being homeless. In determining independence due to homelessness, we shall consider documentation from the following entities—provided through a documented phone call, written statement, or verifiable electronic data match—to be adequate:

  • A local educational agency homeless liaison (or designee), as designated by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 11432(g)(1)(J)(ii)).
  • The director (or designee) of an emergency or transitional shelter, street outreach program, homeless youth drop-in center, or other program serving individuals who are experiencing homelessness.
  • The director (or designee) of a Federal TRIO program or a Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate program (GEAR UP) grant.
  • A financial aid administrator at another institution documented the student's circumstance in the same or a prior award year.


  • A written statement from or a documented interview with the student(s) confirming they are unaccompanied homeless youth.
  • An unaccompanied youth at risk of homelessness, and self-supporting.

Any student who is not yet 24 may qualify for a homeless youth determination and the financial aid staff will make determinations on a case-by-case basis.

Homeless Youth Determinations

A student is considered homeless if they lack fixed, regular, and adequate housing.

Determining Homeless Youth

  • Youth sharing housing with other people temporarily because they had nowhere else to go.
  • Youth living in emergency or transitional shelters. For example, trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after disasters.
  • Youth living in motels, campgrounds, cars, parks, abandoned buildings, bus or train stations, substandard housing, or any public or private place not designed for humans to live in.
  • Youth living in the school dormitory if they would otherwise be homeless.
  • Youth who are migrants and who qualify as experiencing homelessness because they are living in the circumstances described above.

Homeless Youth Definitions

  • At risk of being homeless - when a student's housing may cease to be fixed, regular, and adequate. For example, a student who is being evicted and has been unable to find fixed, regular, and adequate housing.
  • Homeless - lacking fixed, regular, and adequate housing.
  • Self-supporting - when a student pays for their own living expenses, including fixed, regular, and adequate housing.
  • Unaccompanied - when a student is not living in the physical custody of a parent or guardian.
  • Housing:
    • Fixed - stationary, permanent, and not subject to change
    • Regular - used on a predictable, routine, or consistent basis.
    • Adequate - sufficient for meeting both the physical and psychological needs typically met in the home.

The documentation must demonstrate the definition of this category of an independent student. The determination may be based upon a written statement from, or a documented interview with the student confirming they are an unaccompanied homeless youth, or unaccompanied, at risk of homelessness, and self-supporting.


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Bakersfield College
Office of Financial Aid
1801 Panorama Dr.
Bakersfield, CA 93305