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Federal regulations provide financial aid administrators with the authority to use their discretion or professional judgment to adjust, on a case-by-case basis, the cost of attendance, change to dependency status or the data elements used on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). A professional judgment review does not guarantee additional funding.


Special circumstances refer to the financial situations that justify an aid administrator adjusting data elements in the cost of attendance (COA) or in the expected family contribution (EFC). EFC will be replaced with a Student Aid Index (SAI) starting with the 2024-2025 FAFSA.

For EFC adjustments, examples of this may be (but are not limited to):

  • Loss or change of employment
  • Child Support change
  • Death of parent or spouse
  • Excessive medical expenses (must exceed 11% of adjusted gross income)

If you think the information contained or captured on the FAFSA at the time of submitting does not accurately reflect your current income, submit the Special Circumstance Appeal Form.  

Note that the school's decision is final and cannot be appealed to the U.S. Department of Education.


An unusual circumstance is when a student has a situation that prevents them from obtaining parental information and could not answer “YES” to any of the Dependency questions or Unaccompanied Homeless Youth questions on the FAFSA.  

Some situations (but not all) that would warrant an Unusual Circumstance:

  • Refugee or asylee status
  • Human trafficking
  • Abandonment by parents
  • An abusive family environment that threatens the student’s health or safety
  • The student's inability to locate his/her/their parent

If you have any of the situations listed above, then you may qualify for an Unusual Circumstance. Follow the steps listed below:

  1. Complete or Update FAFSA and answer “YES” to the question that asks, “Do unusual circumstances prevent the student from contacting their parents, or would contacting their parents pose a risk to the student?”
  2. Complete required verification and submit requested documentation.

A Financial Aid Administrator will review all Unusual Circumstances on a case-by-case basis.

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.
  • Student demonstrates total self-sufficiency.

If you don’t qualify for an Unusual Circumstance but feel that you have a situation or circumstance that still may warrant a Dependency Override, please contact the Financial Aid Office here:    and your case will be reviewed.


Contact the Financial Aid Office 101 Old Main, 1871 Old Main Drive, Shippensburg, PA 17257 Phone: 717-477-1131 Fax: (717) 477-4028
Fall & Spring Terms: Monday - Friday 8:00 AM - 4:30 PM / Summer & Winter Terms: Monday - Friday 8:00 AM - 4:00 PM