Professional Judgment

The University of Northern Iowa Office of Financial Aid & Scholarships understands that families can experience hardship or changes that are not reflected within the FAFSA. This can affect the family or student’s ability to contribute to educational expenses.

The U.S. Department of Education regulations permit financial aid offices to determine different types of circumstances that may warrant review. To ensure accuracy and compliance with federal financial aid regulations, all circumstances will be considered on a case by case basis.

Special Circumstance Appeal

Situations Considered for Review

  • Parent loss or reduction of income
  • Student loss of income
  • Loss of benefits (unemployment, child support, etc.)
  • High medical expenses paid out-of-pocket
  • Natural disasters
  • Parent divorce or separation: Please contact our office via email ( or phone (319-273-2700) and we will request documentation for you to complete so we can update your FAFSA.
  • Death of a parent: Please contact our office via email ( or phone (319-273-2700) and we will request documentation for you to complete so we can update your FAFSA.
  • Student gets married AFTER filing the FAFSA.

Situations Not Considered for Review​

  • Expenses related to personal living (payments on consumer debts, personal loan payments, or other miscellaneous expenses)
  • Bankruptcy, foreclosures, or collection costs
  • One time increases on income (gambling winnings, inheritance, insurance or divorce settlements)
  • Tuition for elementary/secondary education
  • Please note: this list is not exclusive and other situations may be reviewed on a case-by-case basis

Things to Know

  • The FAFSA must already be on file in order to inquire about a special circumstance.
  • You will also be required to complete verification before an appeal is processed.
  • Documentation will be requested and required to support any special circumstance appeal. Further documentation may be required based on new information found in the appeal.
  • In some cases, we may find that an appeal would not cause a change in the financial aid offer, in which case the appeal would be canceled.

To start the process, please contact our office to evaluate your situation.

Budget Adjustment

The maximum amount of financial aid you can receive is limited to your total Cost of Attendance. If you have accepted financial aid up to the total Cost of Attendance but still need additional funding, contact our office to inquire about a budget adjustment.
If a budget adjustment is approved, we would increase your Cost of Attendance, which may allow you to receive more financial aid. Keep in mind, additional funding would most likely be in the form of a federal or private education loan.
Below is a list of circumstances for which a budget adjustment may be considered. This is not an exhaustive list and other situations may be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Unusual Circumstances - Dependency Override

If there are unusual circumstances where a student cannot provide parent information on the FAFSA, such as: abuse, neglect, or abandonment, the UNI Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships may be able to utilize professional judgment to perform a dependency override. This would allow the student to be considered independent for financial aid purposes and not have to provide parent information or parent signature.

A student may be experiencing unusual circumstances if they:

  • Left home due to an abusive or threatening environment;
  • Are abandoned by or estranged from their parents;
  • Have refugee or asylee status and are separated from their parents, or their parents are displaced in a foreign country;
  • Are a victim of human trafficking;
  • Are incarcerated, or their parents are incarcerated, and contact with the parents would pose a risk to the student; or
  • Are otherwise unable to contact or locate their parents.

We cannot override dependency in cases where:

  • Parents refuse to contribute financially to your education
  • Unwillingness of parents to provide information
  • Students being financially independent
  • Parents not claiming a student as a dependent on their income taxes

Requesting a Dependency Override Due to Unusual Circumstances

To be considered for an Unusual Circumstance-Dependency Override a student would follow these steps:

  • Complete the FAFSA for the appropriate year.
  • For 2023-24, the FAFSA would be flagged as not having parent information and a request for a Dependency Override Appeal would be added to the student’s “To Do” list on their Student Center.  
    • NOTE: Beginning with the 24-25 FAFSA, a “provisional” Student Aid Index (SAI) would be calculated upon completion of the FAFSA. Students with a provisional SAI would need to complete the appeal (as noted below) to have an official dependency determination made by our office. 
  • The appeal would require a personal statement, as well as two letters of support from professionals who are familiar with your situation (e.g., therapists, school counselors, members of the clergy, etc.).
  • Once all documents have been completed and submitted, we will review the documents and determine your dependency status.  Students will then receive an email, as well as an initial (or revised) financial aid offer.