Students with Special or Unusual Circumstances

Special Circumstances - Reduction of Income

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) requires students to provide household income and tax data. For independent students, this includes spouse information. For dependent students, this includes information for parents. The U. S. Department of Education uses reported income and tax data to calculate the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is used in the formula to determine financial aid packages.

Sometimes there may be a special circumstance that reduces a student’s ability to pay for college which cannot be reflected on the FAFSA. This is because the form requires reporting of prior-prior year income and tax data. The Office of Financial Aid has a “second look” process that allows the FAFSA applicant to document a special circumstance and, if approved, allows us to recalculate an EFC and re-evaluate a financial aid package.

Please note that if a student already has a 0 EFC, there is no need to request a “second look” of FAFSA data. This is because a 0 EFC student is already receiving the maximum amount of financial aid available. Additionally, there is no need based financial aid currently available for graduate students.  Graduate students at Charter Oak are only eligible for unsubsidized federal Direct Loans.  Therefore, a “second look” will not benefit a graduate student by providing need-based grant funding. 

Students are reminded that a review of special circumstances does not automatically guarantee an EFC adjustment and increase in financial aid funding. If a student has incorrectly reported data on their FAFSA, a “second look” review could negatively impact the EFC calculation and result in reductions of current financial aid. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the student to complete their FAFSA correctly.

Situations that may qualify as special circumstance for FAFSA adjustments include:

  • Loss of income from unemployment, furlough, disability, or retirement
  • Unreimbursed medical and dental expenses for an exceptional medical emergency or incident.  Note: Unreimbursed means health care expenses not covered by insurance or third party
  • Legal separation or divorce
  • Death of a family member whose income was reported on the FAFSA
  • Termination of child support, alimony, or worker’s compensation

As part of the “second look” process, FAFSA data will be verified prior to the special circumstances review. Students must clearly demonstrate a change in finances during the tax year used to complete their FAFSA (or during later tax years not associated with the current FAFSA). At a minimum, a student will be required to submit the following information to the Office of Financial Aid if requested:

  1. Signed copies of federal income tax return for the requested tax year(s).
    1. Tax returns are required even if the IRS DRT was used. This is because the IRS DRT does not give the Office of Financial Aid all of the data elements needed to reassess tax values as a result of adjusting income.
  2. All tax schedules and attachments associated with the requested tax return(s).
  3. W-2’s for the appropriate tax year(s).
  4. Verification Worksheet (will be provided to student by the Office of Financial Aid)
  5. Documentation of untaxed income (if applicable).
  6. Third party documentation to validate the request for a “second look” of FAFSA data. Examples of documentation include unemployment claim payment history, layoff notice, severance letter, legal separation papers or divorce decree, death certificate, explanation of benefits for unreimbursed exceptional medical/dental expenses not covered by insurance.

Students are encouraged to contact the Office of Financial Aid to discuss their special circumstances and the possibility of a “second look” review of FAFSA data. Once all supporting documentation is received, the Office of Financial Aid will begin its “second look” review to determine if an adjustment of income is warranted.

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Unusual Circumstances - Dependency Override Requests

Financial aid regulations assume that the family has primary responsibility for meeting educational costs. If a student is considered dependent, according to the financial aid definition, aid eligibility is determined by using student and parent income and asset information. Dependent students are required by law to provide parental information and signatures to be eligible for financial aid.

With this said, financial aid administrators have the authority to change a student’s status from dependent to independent in cases involving unusual circumstances. Due to federal regulations, none of the conditions below qualify as an unusual circumstance resulting in a dependency override:

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

It is very important to note that when it comes to dependency overrides, there is a distinction between parents who are unable to provide information and parents who are unwilling to complete a child’s FAFSA. Unfortunately, many parents will refuse to complete their section of the FAFSA which prevents the student from receiving financial aid. Students can remind their parents that submitting their information on the FAFSA does not obligate them to pay for college. However, refusal to provide parental data on the FAFSA form will prevent the student from receiving financial aid. Sometimes a parent is concerned about the privacy of their tax data. Students can remind their parents that all financial aid information is confidential and protected under the Family Education and Privacy Act (FERPA).

The phrase “unusual circumstances” means a situation that make it inappropriate to expect a parental contribution for the student. The following unusual circumstances may warrant a dependency override and include:

  • Parents are deceased
  • Parents are incarcerated or institutionalized
  • The student comes from an abusive family
  • Parents cannot be located
  • The student has been abandoned

The Office of Financial Aid understands that many students have unique family dynamics. Students are asked to contact the Office of Financial Aid to explain their special circumstances and to request a Petition to Apply for Financial Aid as a Dependent Student. This form must be completed by the student and submitted to the Office of Financial Aid with all required supporting documentation. All information and documentation provided by the student is considered confidential. Please note that submission of a petition does not guarantee that a dependency override will be approved. Additionally, a dependency override performed at another school during the school year is not transferable to Charter Oak.

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Housing Insecurity - Homeless/Unaccompanied Youth

A student is considered homeless if the student lacks fixed, regular, and adequate housing. This includes students who are living in shelters, motels, cars, or parks, or who are temporarily living with other people because they have nowhere else to go. Additionally, students are considered homeless if fleeing an abusive parent who would otherwise provide the student with financial support and a place to live.

Read more about homeless youth financial aid circumstances (opens a pdf file).

If a student answers yes to the general homelessness question on the FAFSA, they will be asked if they received a “homeless youth determination.” If the answer is yes, the student will be asked to provide a homeless youth determination from:

  • High school or school district liaison
  • The director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • The director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program

Sometimes a student will not have a homeless youth determination from the entities listed above. In these cases, students are asked to contact the Office of Financial Aid to assist us in making the determination of homeless youth status. Students may submit documentation from any of the following to assist with determination:

  • Local school district personnel
  • State homeless education coordinators
  • The National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE)
  • Third parties such as a private or publicly funded homeless shelters and service providers
  • Financial aid administrators from colleges that the student previously attended
  • Staff from college access programs such as TRIO or GEAR UP.
  • College or high school counselors
  • Mental health providers, social workers, mentors, doctors, or clergy

If a student cannot provide documentation from any of these sources listed above, the Office of Financial Aid will still review the homeless designation request. Students are encouraged to contact the Office of Financial Aid after they have completed the FAFSA and answered the questions related to their homelessness status.

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