Professional Judgment (PJ) / Special Circumstances

Professional Judgment (PJ)/Financial Aid Appeal Process 


The Financial Aid Office recognizes that households can experience changes in income and/or finances or other unusual circumstances that are not accurately reflected from two years prior. As a result, the Financial Aid Office has the ability to review you and your family’s unusual circumstance(s) on a case-by-case basis.

DCC Financial Aid Office must have your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on file prior to reviewing your appeal. There are two different appeal processes for unusual circumstances: Professional Judgment and Dependency Override.


Eligibility for financial aid is determined by the FAFSA, which currently uses financial information from two years prior to estimate a household’s current circumstances.

When such unusual situations occur, it is possible to re-evaluate a student’s aid eligibility based on their current circumstances through the Professional Judgment (PJ) process.

All Professional Judgment applications are required to have a detailed letter of explanation and supporting documentation. The Financial Aid Office may request additional documentation, beyond what is requested on the appeal form, to support your unusual circumstance. A Professional Judgment cannot be processed for changes until verification is complete. Please check your aid status on your DCC Student Self-Service Myinfo Portal.

There must be a significant change to the household finances to be considered for a Professional Judgment.

  • Circumstances NOT considered:
  • Standard living expenses (utilities, car payments, etc.)
  • Mortgage payments
  • Credit card/other personal debts
  • Filing for bankruptcy
  • Vacation expenses
  • Elective surgeries
  • All other discretionary expenses
  • Different university offering more aid
  • Reduction in 401K/investment values
  • Parent’s inability or unwillingness to borrow Parent PLUS loans
  • Student already has an Student Aid Index (SAI) of 0

Types of Professional Judgment

1. Change to Student Aid Index (SAI): If an adjustment to the student’s SAI is approved, that adjustment will be made to the student’s FAFSA. When the student’s corrected FAFSA returns, the student’s Pell grant and/or federal Stafford loans may be reallocated based on these results. Supporting documentation will be placed and maintained in the student’s financial aid file and notated. 

Examples of various circumstances that may be considered for an SAI adjustment :

  • Loss or change of employment
    • Note: A change in student’s aid eligibility will likely not occur if:
  • The person who lost employment has currently been rehired and is earning a similar or higher salary than two years prior
  • The loss or change to income was not significant
  • Child Support reduction or change
  • Divorce/Separation of parents/spouse
  • Change of marital status for dependent students
  • Death of parent(s) or spouse
  • Excessive out of pocket medical and/or dental expenses that exceed 11% of household’s Adjusted Gross Income
  • One-time taxable income (IRA disbursement, pension distribution, etc.)

A change to the SAI could, but is not guaranteed to, result in a change of eligibility for need based awards.

2. Change to Cost of Attendance (COA): If an increase to a student’s cost of attendance budget is approved, the student’s budget will be adjusted accordingly. Supporting documentation will be placed and maintained in the student’s financial aid file and notated. **Note: Students who are submitting for a Cost of Attendance adjustment after the posted deadline will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Examples of out-of-pocket costs that may be used to adjust a student's COA:

  • Costs associated with a student’s disability
  • Childcare expenses for a dependent child of the student
  • One-time costs of professional licensure required for student’s major
  • A change to the COA does not result in a change for eligibility for need-based awards, only increases the room in a student’s budget for aid including PLUS and private loans.
  • For more information on PJ deadlines and how to apply, refer to our Professional Judgment Form.

The chart below lists the type of supporting documentation required for various categories of Professional Judgment. Failure to submit all applicable required documentation listed will result in a delay and possible denial of your Professional Judgment application.

Reason for professional judgment request                                                                 Documents required

Loss or Change of Employment and/or Income                                 Statement on letterhead indicating the last date of employment

                                                                                                            Proof of unemployment benefits, if applicable

                                                                                                            Copy of the last paycheck including any vacation pay, severance, bonuses, or tips received

                                                                                                            Copy of applicable tax return transcripts/signed tax returns

                                                                                                            Copy of W-2's


Change in Student Martial Status                                                        Student’s marriage certificate

                                                                                                             Student’s and spouse’s most recent tax returns

                                                                                                             Copy of applicable tax return transcripts/signed tax returns

                                                                                                             Copy of W-2's

Death of a Parent or Spouse                                                              Death certificate of the deceased individual

                                                                                                            Copy of final paycheck

                                                                                                            Documentation of any death benefits received

Disability                                                                                             Copy of applicable tax return transcripts/signed tax returns

                                                                                                           Copy of W-2's,  Documentation of disability diagnosis
                                                                                                           Documentation of costs related to the student’s disability ex. Personal assistance,                                                                                                                                                                               transportation, equipment, or supplies (These costs cannot be provided by other agencies to                                                                                                                                                               be considered for a Professional Judgment.)

Reduction in Child Support                                                                Documentation of the total amount of child support expected for each child

Unusual Medical/Dental Expenses                                                    Documentation of paid out- of- pocket medical expenses
                                                                                                           Copy of Schedule A (tax form)

Elementary/Secondary Tuition Expenses                                           Proof of tuition expenses paid for the current academic year on school letterhead

Professional Licensure                                                                      Proof of costs associated with professional licensure or proof of payment (This is a one-time                                                                                                                adjustment. Preparatory coursework cannot be included

 Note: An approved Professional Judgment Appeal may not result in a change to the student’s financial aid award package.                              

Dependency Override

Financial aid administrators have the authority to change a student’s status from dependent to independent in cases involving unusual circumstances. For financial aid purposes, a student is considered dependent and should provide parental information on the FAFSA unless the student is:

  • 24 years old
  • married
  • serving on active duty in the US Armed Forces
  • a veteran
  • a parent with dependents
  • an emancipated minor
  • homeless
  • assigned a legal guardian before the age of 18

The U.S. Department of Education has also given guidance regarding situations that do and do not qualify as unusual circumstances that merit a dependency override. In particular, the following circumstances do not merit a dependency override, either alone or in combination:

  • Parents refuse to contribute to the student’s education
  • Parents are unwilling to provide information on the application or verification process
  • Parents do not claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes
  • Student demonstrates total self-sufficiency

Note that all of these circumstances are largely discretionary in nature.

Sometimes there are additional circumstances that occur in conjunction with the circumstances listed above that do merit a dependency override. These can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • an abusive family environment (e.g., sexual, physical, or mental abuse or other forms of domestic violence)
  • abandonment by parents
  • incarceration or institutionalization of both parents
  • parents lacking the physical or mental capacity to provide support
  • parents whereabouts unknown or parents cannot be located
  • parents hospitalized for an extended period
  • an unsuitable household (e.g., child removed from the household and placed in foster care, tutorship, etc.)
  • married student’s spouse dies or student gets divorced

If you have an unusual circumstance and need to begin the appeal process, complete the Dependency Override Appeal.

Contact Us

For additional questions regarding the Professional Judgement process please contact our office.

Office of Financial Aid
Office Hours: M-F from 8am - 5pm MST
Phone: 406.377.9444