Professional Judgment

When some unusual situations or circumstances impact your federal student aid eligibility, federal regulations give a financial aid administrator discretion or professional judgment on a case-by-case basis and with adequate documentation to make adjustments to the data elements on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form that impact your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to gain a more accurate assessment of your family's ability to contribute to your cost of education. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) does not provide families with a place to explain special circumstances affecting their ability to pay for the student's education. The Federal Need Analysis Methodology (FM) is likewise a rigid formula, with no provisions for exceptions. To remedy this, Congress has delegated to the school's financial aid administrator the authority to compensate for special circumstances on a case-by-case basis with adequate documentation. As the man or woman in the field, the financial aid administrator is best able to evaluate the family's situation and make appropriate adjustments.Professional Judgment refers to the authority of a school's financial aid administrator to make adjustments to the data elements on the FAFSA and to override a student's dependency status. The school does not have the authority to change the need analysis formula itself or to make direct adjustments to the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Instead, the school may make adjustments to the inputs to the formula. The changes to the inputs are dictated by the impact of the special circumstances on the family's income and assets. The standard formula is then applied to the new data elements, yielding a new EFC figure.The decision of the financial aid administrator is final. There is no appeal. By law, neither the school's president nor the US Department of Education can override the financial aid administrator's decision.

Related Information

Porterville College  will use professional judgment in the following cases:

  1. Income Adjustments
  2. Dependency Overrides
  3. SAP

Income Adjustments

The income information provided on the FAFSA is for a previous calendar year (e.g., 2020 income for the 2022-23 FAFSA).  What if your family’s income changes because of a loss of employment, an accident or an illness?  Or, there may be a loss of benefits such as child support, a divorce or a disability that changes the family’s ability to pay for college.


View a helpful video from Financial Aid TV about this topic.

Dependency Override

Federal Guidelines on Schools Overriding Dependency:

Federal guidelines allow schools to exercise “professional judgment” in overriding a student’s dependency status. The student would need to verify “unusual’ family circumstances before a school can change a dependent student’s status to that of independent. 

All professional judgment cases will be reviewed by the financial aid appeal committee and will be submitted by the student on the appropriate form by the published deadline date.

Satisfactory Academic Progress

Financial Aid Specialists will be granted the use of “professional judgment” when participating on the Financial Aid Appeal Committee.  Thus, for financial aid appeals purposes, Financial Aid Specialists on Appeal Committees have the ability to “override” the SAP status and make an SAP ineligible student—eligible for financial aid.

Legislative Authority

The authority to conduct professional judgment reviews is granted by sections 479A and 480(d)(7) of the Higher Education Act of 1965. Section 479A is concerned with the authority to adjust data elements of the FAFSA application and the authority to refuse to certify a student loan. Section 480(d)(7) is concerned with the authority to override a student's dependency status. It is worth noting that the term unusual circumstances is used only in connection with dependency overrides. In the section dealing with adjustments to data elements, the term special circumstances is used instead, with the word unusual only being used in connection with "unusually high childcare costs". The word unusual means uncommon or rare. Although the word special is sometimes used as a synonym for unusual, it also includes qualities that readily distinguish an item from among others of the same category. An item need not be rare to be special. (Note also the use of the word other in Section 480(d)(7) of the Higher Education Act, as in "other unusual circumstances", is an indication that the six automatic methods of achieving independent student status are exemplars of unusual circumstances. This means that even with dependency overrides, the word unusual does not require extreme extenuating circumstances.) Congress's choice of language appears to have been quite deliberate, to allow for conditions that distinguish a student from among a class of students but which are not necessarily rare.

For additional information, please contact the Office of Financial Aid:

Porterville College

100 East College Ave

Porterville, CA 93257