What is an Unusual Circumstances Appeal?

In extenuating circumstances, a student may appeal to the Financial Aid Office to exercise professional judgment by considering the student to be independent even if they do not meet the standard dependency criteria found on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). An institution’s decision to override a student’s initial dependency status must be made on a case-by-case basis, justified by an individual student’s unusual circumstances, and must be documented in the student’s file.

Request for a Dependency Override or an Unusual Circumstances Appeal

Eligibility for both federal and institutional financial aid is based in part on the philosophy that students and their parent(s) are primarily responsible for meeting a student's educational expenses.  As such, the U.S. Department of Education generally considers as dependent any unmarried undergraduate student under the age of 24. For dependent students, aid eligibility is determined by reporting both student and parent income and assets on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you are currently required to provide parent information on the FAFSA but have an unusual circumstance that prevents you from doing so, you may submit to the Financial Aid Office an Unusual Circumstances Appeal, commonly referred to as a request for a "dependency override."

Who is Considered Independent for the Purposes of Federal Student Aid?

The U.S. Department of Education requires that a student must meet at least one of the following criteria to be automatically considered independent:

  • At least 24 years of age;
  • Married;
  • Pursuing a graduate or professional degree;
  • A veteran or active-duty member of the armed forces;
  • An orphan, ward or dependent of the court, or in foster care after reaching age 13;
  • Supporting at least one legal dependent other than a spouse;
  • An emancipated minor or under legal guardianship of someone other than a parent prior to reaching age 18;
  • Homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

What Circumstances May Warrant a Dependency Override?

The following are some examples that may warrant a dependency override if the student is able to provide the required documentation. This list is not exhaustive, and the presence of one or more of these situations does not necessarily guarantee approval of a dependency override.

  • Abandonment – parents voluntarily left the student or were absent in the student’s life for an extended period;
  • Unsafe living environment because of physical, emotional, sexual, or substance abuse by a parent;
  • Parental incarceration;
  • Parental mental incapacity/institutionalization;
  • Death of custodial parent and no contact with other biological/legal parent;
  • Parents do not reside in the U.S. and cannot be contacted because of political policy, war or civil unrest;
  • Parents disowned student or ended contact/support because of conflicting beliefs or practices, etc.

A student's dependency status is not based on the student’s ability to demonstrate self-sufficiency, nor is it based solely on their parents' inability or unwillingness to assist with college expenses. By federal law, the following circumstances, either individually or in combination, DO NOT in and of themselves warrant a dependency override:

  • Parent(s) do not claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes;
  • Parent(s) file late or do not file federal income taxes even though they are legally required to; 
  • Parent(s) are financially unable or unwilling to contribute to the student’s education;
  • Parent(s) refuse to provide their information on the FAFSA or, if needed, to complete the federal verification process;
  • The student is unwilling to ask parent(s) to complete the FAFSA;
  • The student is completely self-sufficient (has a job, does not live with parents, pays own bills, etc.).

How do I Submit an Unusual Circumstances Appeal?

If you believe you may be eligible for a dependency override, you may submit an Unusual Circumstances Appeal, which you can find on our Financial Aid Forms page. The form allows you to provide a personal statement about your situation while also uploading documents that support your request to be considered independent. Completing this appeal form and providing documentation does not guarantee that a dependency override will be granted. Appeals may be denied, approved for federal aid eligibility only, or approved for both federal and institutional aid eligibility. If your parents will not provide financial and non-cash support for you, and if they refuse to complete the FAFSA, your completing this form may at least allow us to process additional federal direct unsubsidized loans for you. 

Appeal Deadlines

  • Students enrolled for fall semester only: appeals must be submitted at least two weeks before the final week of classes in the fall term.
  • Students enrolled for spring semester only, or for the full academic year: appeals must be submitted at least two weeks before the final week of classes in the spring term.

If you plan to submit an unusual circumstances appeal, we strongly recommend that you do so when submitting the application for financial aid, as an earlier submission will result in an earlier decision, which may have an impact on your enrollment and/or financing choices.