Special Circumstances Appeal

Special Circumstances for Federal Financial Aid Programs

Information previously reported on the FAFSA may not properly reflect the student’s current situation. Federal law allows financial aid administrators the authority to exercise professional judgment to adjust the information on the FAFSA on a case-by-case basis for students with special circumstances. This regulation allows financial aid administrators the ability to use their discretionary authority to adjust certain FAFSA data elements to more accurately reflect changes in income or dependency status.  The Office of Financial Aid at Guttman Community College recognizes the need for students and their families to appeal for consideration of applicable special circumstances. However, submission of an appeal does not guarantee approval.

If you have questions about whether or not you may be considered for a special circumstance appeal, schedule an appointment with your financial aid advisor.

Appeal Process

“Special Circumstances” under this provision are defined based on specific categories. There are different appeal scenarios within those categories and they all require adequate supporting documentation. In order to be considered for an appeal at Guttman for any of the categories listed below, you must meet the criteria outlined for that specific type of appeal, provide supporting documentation as indicated, and meet with a financial aid advisor for appeal review and counseling. Once you have submitted all the required documentation to the Office of Financial Aid, a final determination will be made within 2-4 weeks. If additional information is required to proceed with your appeal, your financial aid advisor will communicate that information to you via email. We ask that you allow 2-4 weeks after all document submission to view the changes to your financial aid application on CUNYfirst. Detailed information of acceptable documentation is listed on the corresponding appeal form located in the Forms section of the website.

Special Circumstances Categories

The Dependency Status Override appeal is applicable to students who are considered dependent students as per federal guidelines but are unable to provide parental information. Such students may be experiencing a severe family situation that prevents them from obtaining the required parental information.

Examples of applicable circumstances warranting consideration for this appeal include:

  • Severe estrangement, abandonment
  • Physical or emotional abuse
  • Parental substance abuse
  • Or another such situation beyond the student’s control

For a Dependency Status Override appeal, the student must be able to document a complete breakdown of the relationship with both parents.

Examples of circumstances that are not applicable to this appeal:

  • Student does not live with the parent(s) but is considered dependent for federal aid purposes
  • Student demonstrates total self-sufficiency
  • Parents are unwilling to provide their information on the FAFSA, documents required for Verification purpose, or parents refuse to contribute to the student’s education (we recommend that students in this situation contact a financial aid advisor to go over their options on how to proceed with applying for federal aid)
  • Parents do not claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes

An Income Adjustment appeal is considered when the income information reported on the FAFSA no longer accurately reflects the student’s and/or family’s ability to contribute toward the student’s education because there are significant changes in income for the student and/or parents (if dependent). This appeal process involves the review of supporting documentation that addresses the change in income, assets, and other relevant documentation.  The Office of Financial Aid will review the documentation to determine how to adjust the data elements on the FAFSA to more accurately reflect the student and family’s current financial circumstances.

Students and families who experience income loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, may qualify for additional federal student aid.  When completing the FAFSA, a student reports income information from two years prior (also called prior-prior).  Students who were not previously qualified for a Federal Pell Grant or did not receive the maximum Pell Grant based on prior-prior income reported on the FAFSA may be eligible for additional funds based on an approved income adjustment appeal.

Possible circumstances for this appeal include but are not limited to:

  • Reduction in income due to changing employment or reduced wages/working hours from current employment
  • A significant loss of income has occurred due to a period of unemployment
  • Death of a wage-earner (parent, if dependent; spouse, if independent) after filing the FAFSA
  • Student (if independent) or parent (if dependent) marital status has changed to divorced or separated after the FAFSA was filed
  • Loss of untaxed income or benefit (from a public or private agency, or from a person because of a court order – i.e. child support)
  • Loss of income due to disability or a natural disaster
  • Dependent Students Only – Student was considered dependent when the FAFSA was filed; after filing the FAFSA, student’s marital status changed from single to married.

Adjustments to FAFSA data elements or adjustments to a student’s Cost of Attendance (COA) may be made to reflect unusual expenses that directly affect the student’s education.

The COA is the estimated cost, calculated by CUNY, that is expected to be incurred while a student attends school. The COA includes costs such as tuition and fees, housing, transportation, books and supplies, and personal expenses. A complete breakdown of expenses in the COA can be viewed on CUNYfirst Student Center by using the following navigation:

STEP# 1: Log in to CUNYfirst at https://home.cunyfirst.cuny.edu.

STEP# 2: Select the Student Center link from the left menu.

STEP# 3: Select View Financial Aid

STEP# 4: Select to corresponding Aid Year and Guttman

STEP# 5: Select Full-Yr Financial Aid Summary

STEP# 6: Click on the link for Estimated Financial Aid Budget.

There are occasions where certain expenses may have been incurred that were not accounted for in the student’s COA; the amount of such expenses that exceed the allowance in the COA can be considered for an appeal based on certain requirements and if properly documented.

Examples of Allowable Expenses for this Appeal:

  • The purchase of a computer for school use or reasonable transportation expenses in excess of the amount estimated in the COA
  • Tuition expenses for a member of the household at an elementary or secondary school
  • Unusual medical, dental, or nursing home expenses, not covered by insurance, for a member of the household
  • Dependent Students Only – One or both of a dependent student’s parent(s) will be enrolled in a degree or certificate program at a post-secondary institution on at least a half-time basis during the current award year and the course of study is required by their employer or by law/regulation to retain their salary or job
  • Incurring additional costs related to a study abroad program
  • Other expenses may affect the amount of income available to be used toward a student’s education. For expenses of this variety, adjustments may be made to the income elements on the FAFSA to more accurately reflect the student’s and/or family’s ability to finance the student’s education

Examples of expenses that are not eligible for consideration for this appeal process include the following:

  • Standard living expenses such as those for utilities
  • Credit card payments
  • Vacation expenses
  • Mortgage payments
  • Income taxes and other taxes, and tithing/charitable donations

If you have questions about whether or not you may be considered for a special circumstance appeal, schedule an appointment with your financial aid advisor.