Professional Judgment for Unusual/Special Circumstances

Do you have an unusual or special circumstance which requires your 2024-2025 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be adjusted? The Financial Aid and Scholarship Office may be able to make adjustments to your financial aid eligibility based on your situation.

Professional Judgment

Professional Judgment Overview

Professional Judgment refers to the school's authority to adjust, on a case-by-case basis, information reported on the FAFSA so the Department of Education can recalculate the Student Aid Index (SAI). The SAI is the number the school uses to determine if a student is eligible for need-based financial aid.

Please note: The school does not have the authority to make direct adjustments to the SAI or the formula used to calculate the SAI, just data elements on the FAFSA which may change the SAI. Students who also do not meet the Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) policy at Northern Illinois University are not eligible to receive Title IV funding via an appeal for Professional Judgment.

Professional Judgment Process

The professional judgment process requires a thorough review by the Financial Aid and Scholarship Office to determine what changes, if any, may be appropriate based on your FAFSA application. If you believe you have a circumstance, you can contact our office by coming in person, calling, emailing, or making a virtual appointment.

This process is time-intensive and includes the following steps:

  1. Initial Contact
    The student must meet with a Financial Aid Advisor to discuss their circumstances. Based on the situation, the Advisor will determine the best path forward.
  2. Submit Documentation
    If the Financial Aid Advisor recommends an appeal, they will give the student any NIU forms needed and inform them of required supporting documentation.
  3. Processing
    The student’s file is then reviewed to determine if all required documentation has been submitted. If additional documentation is needed, the student will be notified via their NIU email account. Processing times vary but are generally around 2-3 weeks once all documentation has been received.
  4. Decision
    The Financial Aid and Scholarship Office will determine if a student's Professional Judgment request meets the criteria to make data element changes to their FAFSA.

If the request for Professional Judgment is approved, appropriate changes will be made to the student's FAFSA and submitted to the Department of Education. The Department of Education will then recalculate the Student Aid Index (SAI) and the student's eligibility for need-based aid. The student will be notified via their NIU email account once any additional aid has been awarded.

If denied, the student will be notified via their NIU email account.

In some cases, an adjustment does not increase the student's eligibility for grants or the total amount of aid awarded.

It is the student’s responsibility to turn in any requested documentation in a timely manner. It is recommended that students monitor their NIU email and MyNIU To Do List on a weekly basis.

The Financial Aid and Scholarship Office cannot guarantee we will be able to process an appeal if it is submitted at or near the end of a term.

The Financial Aid and Scholarship Office reserves the right to deny any appeals which would not increase a student's eligibility for aid. The decision of the Financial Aid and Scholarship Office is final and cannot be appealed to the Department of Education

Unusual Circumstances


Section 480(d)(8) of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA), provides that an applicant for Title IV federal student aid is an independent student (an applicant who does not need to provide parental information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form)if the applicant is an unaccompanied homeless youth or unaccompanied and self-supporting youth at risk of homelessness. To be considered an unaccompanied homeless youth on the FAFSA® form, an individual must be a youth who is (1) unaccompanied and homeless or (2) unaccompanied, self-supporting, and at risk of being homeless.

  • Unaccompanied—when a student is not living in the physical custody of a parent or guardian
  • Homeless—lacking fixed, regular, and adequate housing
  • At risk of being homeless—when a student’s housing may cease to be fixed, regular, and adequate, for example, a student who is being evicted or has been asked to leave their current residence and has been unable to find fixed, regular, and adequate housing
  • Self-supporting—when a student pays for his or her own living expenses, which includes paying for fixed, regular, and adequate housing
  • Other Circumstances—you may also be considered homeless if you had to flee an abusive or threatening home environment, or had other unusual circumstances, that resulted in you not having a safe, stable place to live. Even if your parent(s) in such a situation would otherwise provide housing.


  • If you graduated/will graduate from high school within the past year, a letter from your high school or school district homeless liaison verifying that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless at any time on or after July 1, 2023;
  • A letter from the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) verifying that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless at any time on or after July 1, 2023;
  • A letter from the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program verifying that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless at any time on or after July 1, 2023.
  • If you do not have any of the above forms of documentation, then you still may be eligible to submit an appeal to receive aid. (see below)
Independent Appeal

Students are classified as dependent or independent because federal student aid programs are based on the premise that students and their parent(s) have the primary responsibility of paying for the student’s post-secondary education. Federal regulations permit the college to exercise professional judgment in determining if unusual or extenuating circumstances can be documented to consider a student independent for federal and state financial aid purposes.

NIU cannot consider appeals for independent status based on the following circumstances:

  • Your parent(s) feel they do not have the financial resources to assist with college costs (the FAFSA measures their ability to contribute).
  • Your parent(s) stop claiming you as a tax exemption.
  • Your parent(s) refuse to provide their information or give you support for your college education.
  • Your parent(s) reside outside of the United States of America.

NIU will consider appeals for independent status based on, but not limited to, the following circumstances:

  • An abusive family environment;
  • An unsuitable household, such as a student removed from household and placed in foster care;
  • Abandonment by parents;
  • Parents cannot be located;
  • Parent(s) hospitalized for an extended period;
  • Incarceration or institutionalization of both parents.


  1. Student’s Personal Statement
    • Clearly explain your unusual or extenuating special family circumstances. (Minimum two paragraphs, four sentences each.)
    • Your statement should be detailed and in chronological order.
    • Be sure to address your relationship with both your mother and father (biological or adoptive).
  2. Third Party Supporting Statements
    • You will need three individuals to provide a supporting statement. (Statements should be legible and signed. Minimum two paragraphs, four sentences each.)
    • All supporting statements should preferably be from a professional or other third party (such as a high school teacher or counselor, therapist, clergy, social worker, or lawyer) which corroborates the unusual or extenuating family circumstances included in your personal statement.
    • Letters from family members, roommates, or friends will be considered but may not be sufficient documentation.
  3. Supporting Documentation
    • Documentation, such as copies of police reports, should be attached if applicable.
Unsubsidized Loan Only

Are the student’s parents unwilling to provide their information, but the student doesn’t have an unusual circumstance preventing them from contacting or obtaining their parents’ information?

Dependent students whose parents refuse to support them are not eligible for a dependency override, but they may be able to receive a dependent level Direct Unsubsidized Loan only.

Please note, that NIU does not usually recommend the Unsub only option as the student would only be eligible for $5,500 of loan for a year as a freshman and the tuition and fee costs for a full-time student for one year is roughly $12,000.

Special Circumstances


The financial aid offer for the 2024‐2025 academic year is based on 2022 income information. If your circumstances have changed since the filing of your 2024‐2025 financial aid application or your 2022 taxes, you may petition our office for a special review. The Financial Aid and Scholarship Office will determine your financial aid need based on your Special Circumstances and the required documentation.

Special Circumstances include but are not limited to:

  • Student or Parent decrease in Income for 2023 or 2024
  • Loss of one-time Income
  • Change in Marital Status after the FAFSA or taxes were completed


Additional documentation will be required based on your circumstance. This could include but is not limited to Household size confirmation, Tax Returns, W2s, 1099s, paystubs, unemployment benefits. A member of the Appeals Committee will contact the student regarding the documentation we need.
Budget Increase

Cost of Attendance (COA), also referred to as a student budget, is an estimate of the average educationally-related costs a student may incur during their period of enrollment (semester or year). See detailed information on the COA

If you have additional educationally related expenses outside of the normal COA considerations, you may be able to request an increase.

Please note, changes in your cost of attendance do not change your eligibility for state of federal grants. Generally, a change in cost of attendance will only change loan eligibility if you haven’t exhausted yearly and/or lifetime limits.

NIU School Code

Use NIU's School Code when completing the FAFSA.


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