Special Circumstances, Unusual Circumstances, and Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Determinations

This page will explain the Office of Student Financial Aid’s policies and procedures for unique situations such as special circumstances, unusual circumstances, and homeless youth determinations. Students may pursue adjustments based on these types of circumstances by contacting their financial aid counselor.

What are Special Circumstances?

“Special circumstances”
refers to financial situations that may lead to a financial aid adjustment. This type of adjustment is called a Request for Professional Judgment.
Special circumstances could include one or more of the following: 

  • Loss or reduction of employment earnings 
  • Reduction or loss of untaxed income or benefits
  • Loss of a one-time income distribution
  • Death of a parent (dependent student) or spouse (independent student)

The Financial Aid Office may use professional judgment on a case by case basis to adjust a student’s cost of attendance (Cost of Attendance Professional Judgment) or the data used to calculate the students’ Expected Family Contribution (EFC Professional Judgement). The reason for the adjustment must be adequately documented and must be related to special circumstances that differentiate the student.

What are Unusual Circumstances?

“Unusual circumstances” refers to conditions that may lead to an adjustment to a student’s dependency status based on a unique situation. This type of adjustment is called a Dependency Override. 
Unusual circumstances could include one or more of the following: 

  • Abusive family environment that threatens the student’s health or safety 
  • Parental abandonment 
  • Parental incarceration 
  • Death of parent after filing the FAFSA when surviving parent meets one of the conditions above 
  • Human trafficking 
  • Refugee or asylee status 

The Financial Aid Office will review a student’s supporting documentation. Supporting documentation must be adequate to substantiate a student’s circumstances. Documentation may include, but is not limited to: submission of a court order or official Federal or State documentation that the student or student’s parents or legal guardians are incarcerated; a documented phone call or written statement, which confirms the unusual circumstances with: a state, county or Tribal welfare agency; an independent living case worker who supports current and former foster youth with the transition to adulthood; a public or private agency, facility, or program servicing the victims of abuse, neglect, assault, or violence; or a documented phone call or written statement from an attorney, guardian ad litem, a court-appointed special advocate (or similar), or a representative of a TRIO or GEAR UP program which confirms the circumstances and the person’s relationship to the student; a documented determination of independence made by a financial aid administrator at another institution in the same or a prior award year.

For the 2023-2024 aid year, if your FAFSA is submitted without parental information and you are requesting an adjustment for unusual circumstances, you will be asked to submit a “Dependent Students without Parental Information” form to your financial aid counselor. You will be notified via e-mail that the form is available on your MyFAU Self Service within 15 business days of our receipt of your FAFSA. You will be provided a final determination of your dependency status and financial aid award as soon as practicable after we’ve reviewed all of the requested documentation.

What is an Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Determination?

An “unaccompanied homeless youth determination” is a category of independent students. It is the determination that a student lacks fixed, regular, and adequate housing. This is broader than just living “on the street.” It includes but is not limited to:  

  • 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; and
  • Youth who are migrants and who qualify as experiencing homeless because they are living in circumstances described above.

The Financial Aid Office will review an eligible authority’s documented determination or make its own determination that the student was an unaccompanied homeless youth, or at risk of being homeless, at any time on or after July 1st of the FAFSA base year (e.g., July 1, 2022, for the 2023-2024 FAFSA form). A student who is not yet 24 may qualify for a homeless youth determination. Homeless youth determinations are made on a case-by-case basis and without regard to the reasons that the student is unaccompanied and/or homeless. If you are an unaccompanied homeless youth and would like to request a determination, contact your financial aid counselor and request an “Unaccompanied homeless youth” form.

Procedures for Students Experiencing These Circumstances

The Office of Student Financial Aid will make these adjustments only when appropriate to each student’s situation with appropriate documentation. If you are experiencing special or unusual circumstances, or if you are an unaccompanied homeless youth, contact your financial aid counselor to discuss your situation. If we determine that you may be eligible for an adjustment, we will advise you which of the below forms and types of documentation to submit.

Special Circumstances: Cost of Attendance Request for Professional Judgment
This form may be used to request an adjustment to your cost of attendance for expenses such as childcare, disability related costs, or other allowable categories. Contact your financial aid counselor to request this form.
Special Circumstances: Expected Family Contribution Request for Professional Judgment
This form may be used for students who experience job loss, divorce, or other similar financial hardships. Contact your financial aid counselor to request this form.
Special Circumstances: Dependent Students Without Parental Support
You may be asked to submit this form if you submit your FAFSA without parental information. This will help us determine the next steps for you.
Unusual Circumstances: Dependency Override
This form may be used by students who have unusual circumstances such as parent abandonment, an abusive family environment that threatens your health or safety, human trafficking, refugee or asylee status, or parental incarceration. Contact your financial aid counselor to request this form.
Unusual Circumstances: Unaccompanied Homeless Youth
Contact your financial aid counselor to request this form if you are an unaccompanied homeless youth.

Please be aware of the following important information:

  • Not every student who experiences special or unusual circumstances will be eligible for or benefit from a financial aid adjustment.  
  • If your FAFSA was selected for verification, this process must be completed before we can consider any special circumstances requests.  
  • A school is not permitted to make a professional judgment for a student after that student has ceased to be eligible, including when the student is no longer enrolled. 
  • The Office of Student’s Financial Aid’s decisions regarding these requests are final and cannot be appealed to the Department of Education.  
  • Florida Atlantic University has many resources to support you, including Counseling and Psychological Services and the Dean of Student’s Office. If you are feeling distressed, contact CAPS Crisis Line at 561-297-CAPS. If immediate safety for yourself or another is a concern, call 911.

Check your FAU e-mail address regularly, as we will notify you via e-mail if we need any additional information. All requests for determination of independence, including dependency overrides and unaccompanied homeless youth determinations, will be reviewed as soon as practicable once all documentation is received (no later than 15 business days). You will be notified via your FAU email address of the result of your request

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. My parents don’t support me financially. Am I eligible for a dependency override?
    Generally, no. None of the conditions listed below, singly or in combination, qualify as unusual circumstances meriting a dependency override:
    • 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.
    • Student demonstrates total self-sufficiency.
  2. If the above conditions exist, you will be asked to add parental information to your FAFSA. If you cannot add parental information to your FAFSA because your parents refuse to provide it to you, you may be eligible for an unsubsidized loan only since the above conditions alone are not “unusual circumstances” per federal regulations. However, if you are experiencing the conditions above but also experiencing parent abandonment, abuse, human trafficking, refugee or asylee status, or parental incarceration, you may be eligible for a dependency override and should contact your financial aid counselor.
  3. What are some examples of circumstances that do not warrant a professional judgment request?
    Vacation expenses, tithing expenses, expenses for home remodeling and renovation, and standard living expenses (e.g. utilities, credit card expenses, children’s allowances, etc.) Normal income fluctuations also do not generally warrant a professional judgment request. The reduction in income must have been related to special circumstances. The Office of Student Financial Aid must make reasonable decisions that support the intent of the provision. Also, we will not consider for such requests any expenses that are already covered by the Income Protection Allowance which is included in the EFC to account for living expenses.
  4. I experienced a reduction in income. Am I eligible for a financial aid adjustment?
    It depends. Not every student who experiences a reduction in income is eligible for or will benefit from a financial aid adjustment. For example, if your FAFSA already reflects the maximum financial need, the adjustment process may not provide any benefit. Also, keep in mind that the reduction in income also needs to be caused by special circumstances. Many households experience normal income fluctuations which do not constitute special circumstances. Your financial aid counselor will review your case to determine if a financial aid adjustment is appropriate. 
  5. What types of documentation will I be asked to submit?
    It depends. The documentation should be adequate to substantiate a student’s circumstances and show that the circumstances are special and not normal household circumstances. Examples of acceptable documentation are listed on the request form. Your financial aid counselor may suggest or require additional documentation based on your specific circumstances.