Remember in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” when Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) was expecting a big Christmas bonus but instead without any warning his boss eliminated Christmas bonuses and gave everyone a membership to a jelly of the month club? This was an unusual circumstance. Clark had been receiving that bonus from work for years. He had no reason not to count on it. When I think of professional judgment, I think of Clark Griswold. I won’t spoil the ending of the movie. However, in this situation, Clark could have asked the office of financial aid for a professional judgment. Or maybe it isn’t a bonus at work that is your unusual circumstance. Maybe a family member lost a job, someone in your family has high medical costs, or your family lost assets from a natural disaster. These are just a few examples of unusual circumstances which could warrant a professional judgment.
How Does My Unusual Circumstance Affect My Financial Aid?
Now with the change to reporting prior year tax information on the FAFSA, professional judgments are even more necessary. When filing the FAFSA you aren’t using the most current tax information, you are using the year before. A lot can happen in a year. All professional judgments are at the discretion of the school’s financial aid office. When performing a professional judgment, the office of financial aid at the college you are attending or wish to attend makes an adjustment to the cost of attendance or information that is used to calculate your EFC.
The cost of attendance is a budget set by a college that includes tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and miscellaneous or personal expenses. Cost of attendance is the institution’s calculation as to what they estimate it would cost to attend their college for one year. Some institutions include different budget categories but for most what is mentioned here are the most common budget categories you will see in a cost of attendance calculation.
An EFC or, estimated family contribution, is a calculation based on a number of items that you report on your FAFSA. Some of the items used to calculate the EFC are income, assets, number in household, and number in college. Your estimated family contribution is an estimation of how much your family is expected to contribute to your education for the year.
The cost of attendance and estimated family contribution is what schools use to calculate your financial need. This is the gap between the institutions cost of attendance and what your family is expected to contribute to the cost of your education (COA-EFC = Financial Need). Once the office of financial aid has determined your financial need, they can begin to award need based aid such as grants and some loans.
Examples of Unusual Circumstances
There are many unusual circumstances that we can talk about but one that comes to mind is when we were working with a client’s family who had multiple children in private school, we helped gather the necessary documentation for a professional judgment. The office of financial aid where our client was accepted to attend adjusted their cost of attendance. The end result was more financial aid for our client. Another example we have experienced is when a financial aid administrator made a professional judgment for a student who was paying a large amount of money for childcare. In order for the office of financial aid to make these kinds of adjustments to your cost of attendance, you will need to provide proof of these expenses. When using these examples, proof would be a billing statement from the private school your children are attending. The same goes for childcare cost. Your family would need to provide a bill from the childcare facility as to the amount being charged.
An example of a professional judgment that would result in an adjustment to an EFC could be a change in income or a loss of assets. A change in income could be the result of job loss, a pay cut, a job change, or like Clark Griswold, no Christmas bonus. When thinking of loss of assets what always comes to mind is some type of disaster. So often we hear about people losing their homes in hurricanes, tornadoes, mudslide, and fires. In the event that any examples like these have occurred, with proper documentation, the office of financial aid can adjust the income or asset amount that calculates your estimated family contribution.
Examples of unusual or special circumstances that could warrant a professional judgment are:
- Private School Tuition
- Medical Expenses exceeding insurance coverage
- High child care costs
- Recent Unemployment of a family member
- Other changes in the family’s income or assets
In the event of one of these unusual circumstances, contact the office of financial aid at the college you attend or wish to attend, they will be able to help you gather the necessary paper work needed for the change to your cost of attendance or EFC calculation to occur. Again a professional judgment is at the discretion of the office of financial aid. Keep in mind depending on your unusual circumstance and the information previously provided on your FASFA, there may be no change in the amount of financial aid you are eligible to receive.
Related Post: Everything You Should Know About Private Student Loans
If you think you might have an unusual circumstance feel free to contact us, we can help!