FAFSA Special Circumstances - Coastal Carolina University
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Special and Unusual Circumstances

The FAFSA requests demographic and income information that sometimes does not give students the opportunity to explain a circumstance that may impact his or her ability to pay for college. Some examples include students who are unable to provide parental information due to unusual circumstances and/or when the FAFSA is not an accurate depiction of the household financial status based on special circumstances. Students may submit a Professional Judgment Appeal to request that CCU’s Financial Aid Administrators take some special or unsusual circumstances into account to do a reassessment of the FAFSA. The Department of Education does allow CCU the ability to consider adjustments to a student’s FAFSA when special or unusual circumstances exist, but in limited scenarios. These changes may make a difference in a student’s Dependency Status or Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Please note that Financial Aid and Scholarships is not required by law to process a Professional Judgment Appeal. If you feel you have a special or unusual circumstance, please explore the information below for further assistance or specifics that might apply to your circumstance. You may also contact a financial aid counselor to discuss if a Professional Judgment Appeal might benefit you.

What qualifies as a Special Circumstance?

When determining financial aid eligibility, the following may qualify as special circumstances:

  • Loss or reduction of employment, wages, or unemployment compensation
  • Exceptional medical and/or dental expenses
  • Expenses for a computer purchase (one-time allowance)
  • Exceptional housing costs above and beyond the school’s Cost of Attendance
  • Divorce or separation that occurred after the FAFSA was filed
  • Death of a parent or spouse that occurred after the FAFSA was filed

What qualifies as an Unusual Circumstance?

When determining financial aid eligibility, the following may qualify as special circumstances:

  • An abusive family environment
  • Abandonment and/or estrangement by parents
  • Parents cannot be located
  • Cannot provide parental information for the FAFSA

What does not qualify as a Special Circumstance?

The following circumstances would not be considered special circumstances:

  • Parents refuse to financially support the student
  • Parents are unwilling to provide verification information
  • Parents do not claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes
  • High debt
  • High routine household expenses
  • Voluntary Income Loss
  • One-time income from 401K withdrawals, gambling winnings, etc.

If you have experienced one of the special or unusual circumstances above, Financial Aid and Scholarships may be able to reassess your Financial Aid Application. See the applicable section below for instructions on submitting a request.

Loss/Change in Income

FAFSA uses income information from two year’s prior. Many families can have income changes in two years.  We also know that most families were impacted financially by COVID-19. According to a study by Discover, 47% of respondents reported that their income decreased during the pandemic. If your current income is significantly less than what is reported on the FAFSA, you may consider submitting a request for an appeal review.

To help you determine if submitting an appeal may increase your financial aid offer, please consider the following:

  • Coastal Carolina University only awards institutional funds through merit awards and need-based awards. Typically, institutional awards are not eligible for an increase based on this type of review.
  • Most students who submit a review are seeking to see if they qualify for the Pell Grant, based on a change in income. The amount of Pell received is dependent on the Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) from the FAFSA. If your EFC is already $0, an appeal will not benefit you as your current FAFSA reflects maximum eligibility. Typically, a $0 EFC will make a student eligible for the maximum Pell Grant award.
  • Institutional policy typically requires a 4-month waiting period from the time of the loss of income to complete any reviews.
  • There is no exact income cutoff for the Federal Pell Grant, but in general, eligibility begins to decrease at a family income around $40,000 and is usually eliminated at approximately $70,000.
  • Therefore, if your income was significantly impacted by COVID-19 or other circumstances, but remained above $70,000, an adjustment to the amount of financial aid offered is unlikely.
  • In comparing your current income to the FAFSA, consider gross year-to-date pay, severance pay, state unemployment, federal supplemental unemployment, and projected future employment.

If you feel that you may qualify for an adjustment, please complete and submit our Change in Income - Preliminary Review form, explain your special circumstances and submit any supporting documentation for review. Please do not submit tax information (tax returns, W2's, tax return transcripts) unless specifically requested by our office! Students who submit tax documents and/or an appeal for loss of income are consenting to being institutionally selected for verification (if not selected when filling out the FAFSA) and are required to complete the process to receive aid, regardless of the appeal outcome.

Once submitted, a staff member will review your appeal within 14 business days and perform an estimated calculation to determine if a Professional Judgment Appeal is appropriate. If determined that a Professional Judgment Appeal will be beneficial, additional forms and information will be required. Please note that all correspondence will go to the student’s CCU email. Appeal decisions are typically not final until after the start of school in the fall, as summer processing is devoted to finalizing initial aid packages for all students. Students should continue with their current payment plans with the Office of Student Accounts until decisions are final. Students/Parents submitting this request after September 30th, may also be asked to file their current year taxes before finalizing a professional judgment review decision. 

Dependency Override Appeal

Most students entering a postsecondary school straight from high school are considered financially dependent on their parents unless they meet one of the following criteria to be considered independent:

  • 24 years of age or older by January 1st of the school year for which the student is applying for aid.
  • Married or separated but not divorced.
  • Working towards a master’s or doctorate degree.
  • Have children or dependents who live with them and receive more than half their support.
  • Currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces for purposes other than training.
  • A veteran of the U.S. armed forces.

Students who do not meet one of the criteria above are typically considered dependent for financial aid purposes. This means their parents must provide their financial information on the FAFSA. If you have unusual circumstances which prevent you from providing your parents information on the FAFSA and do not meet one of the criteria above, please submit a letter explaining the level of contact (or lack thereof) with each of your biological or adoptive parents. You must also include a signed letter of support from someone who is aware of your situation and supporting documentation. Submit all documents to finaid@coastal.edu, or secure upload to www.coastal.edu/aidupload. If you would like to discuss your circumstances with a financial aid counselor, contact us at (843) 349-2313 or finaid@coastal.edu.

Other Unusual Circumstances

The following criteria also determine students to be considered independent:

  • An orphan, in foster care, or a ward of the court at any time since age 13.
  • An emancipated minor or in legal guardianship as determined by a court.
  • An unaccompanied youth who is homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless.

Students who belive they meet one of the criteria above should email finaid@coastal.edu with additional information regarding your situation. Documentation may be required depending on your circumstances. You may also call (843) 349-2313 to speak with a counselor and discuss next steps.