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Special Circumstances/Unusual Circumstances

Special Circumstances/Unusual Circumstances

Federal financial aid is based on a formula created by the U.S. Department of Education to determine a student’s Expected Family Contribution, or EFC. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) uses prior-prior year income information to determine your EFC and eligibility for federal financial aid (grants, loans, work-study).

What are Special Circumstances?

After filing the FAFSA, some families realize that their EFC may not adequately reflect the family’s current financial situation due to extenuating circumstances. The federal government allows schools to review a family’s unique circumstances, beyond the student’s/family’s control, to determine if the situation warrants special consideration.

What Changes Qualify As A Special Circumstance?

At Montclair State University, a committee determines whether your special circumstances merit changes in the data elements that determine your Expected Family Contribution or your Cost of Attendance. Montclair State University uses standards recommended by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

These changes in your household can be from:

  • Unemployment benefits have ended.
  • Unemployment due to retirement, company closure or resignation.
  • Loss of untaxed benefit (ie: worker’s compensation, child support, social security benefits).
  • Separation/divorce.
  • Death of wage earner.
  • Medical expenses itemized on your Federal tax return or paid expenses for which receipts can be provided.

You can complete a Request for Review form to have your financial aid re-evaluated after June 1, 2024

Please Note:

  • You must wait until you receive an initial aid notification to submit the Request for Review.
  • If you are an incoming new student, you must be accepted to the University, have paid your deposit and filed a FAFSA prior to submitting this paperwork.


What Is Not Acceptable for a Request for Review?

We will not process requests due to bankruptcy, foreclosure, increases in personal expenses (ie: mortgage payments, tuition increases for siblings, car payments), private school tuition expenses, medical insurance premiums, etc. Fluctuations in business income must be outside typical annual changes and must be significant.

What Documents Are Required to Complete the Request for Review Process?

Generally, students will submit the following based on who’s income is involved:

  • Student Income: Student’s (and spouses, if married) Federal Income Tax Return 1040 for the two most recent tax years or, if no tax return was filed, copies of all W-2 wage statements.
  • Parent Income: Parent’s Federal Income Tax Return 1040 for the two most recent tax year sor, if the parent(s) did not have to file taxes, copies of all W-2 wage statements and any other sources of income.

In addition, you must submit documentation supporting your unusual circumstance(s) as indicated on page 3 of the Request for Review form.

How Long Does the Request for Review Process Take?

The Request for Review process does not start until May for the coming year once the new forms are posted to the website. Once your file has been evaluated based on the allowable criteria, your information will be updated with the FAFSA and the State of New Jersey, if appropriate.
The actual processing time depends on how long it takes the family to submit the necessary documents. Once all documents are submitted, the final processing time takes about 2 weeks for results.

Students must monitor their NEST to view any changes to their requirements and financial aid amounts. Students will be notified via email if the Review does not meet the necessary criteria or if the changes do not result in any increased grant eligibility.

Should We Wait Until This Process Has Been Completed Before We Figure Out Our Payment?

No. Submission of a Request for Review form does not mean you will receive additional aid. In some cases, students will not see a change to the original aid amounts.  Sometimes, we are able to obtain subsidized loan funds (no interest while in school) that were not previously offered. You should make arrangements to pay your bill with the aid you are currently being offered.
If you are looking at your current aid amount and realize you need additional funding, you may consider a Parent PLUS loan and/or private loan options. If you do become eligible for additional aid, you can reduce or cancel your loans later. You can also utilize the Payment Plan offered through the Office of Student Accounts.

What are Unusual Circumstances?

The federal student aid programs are based on the concept that it is primarily your and your family’s responsibility to pay for your education. However, some student situations will require extra discretion in determining the student’s ability to provide parental information on the FAFSA. You have the opportunity to appeal your FAFSA Dependency Status by submitting documentation of your situation.

What qualifies as an Unusual Circumstance?

You must clearly demonstrate an adverse family situation in order to be considered independent for financial aid purposes. Adverse family situations may include:

  • Abusive home environment (physical or emotional abuse).
  • Severe estrangement of the family.
  • Abandonment.
  • Parental drug or alcohol abuse.
  • Mental incapacity or other circumstances.
  • Student is homeless or at risk of homelessness.
  • Student is an unaccompanied youth.


How Do I File an Unusual Circumstance Appeal?

You Can Begin the Process By:

  • Filing the FAFSA. If your circumstances qualify for consideration of independent status, you will be guided in the FAFSA instructions on how to complete that form.
    • Once the FAFSA is processed, the school will receive information to initiate confirmation of independent status.
  • Initiate an appeal on
    • Click on ‘Manage Requests’
    • Select ‘Professional Judgement: Unusual Circumstances Appeal’

All forms and statements needed to complete this process will be requested and uploaded to

What Documents Are Required to Complete an Unusual Circumstance Appeal?
  • You must complete an appeal form on, explaining what circumstance(s) you are currently experiencing.
  • Submit two supporting statements from community members (not family or friends) who have knowledge of the student circumstances.
    • Community members can include, but are not limited to, guidance counselors, academic advisors, mentors, religious community members, mental health providers or similar.
How Long Does the Appeal Process Take?

In most cases, appeals are completed within two weeks of the date all required documents are submitted. Incomplete appeals or appeals that are submitted with documents which require clarification will delay the process.

How Will I Be Notified of the Appeal Results?

The results of the appeal and requests for further information to complete an appeal are communicated via NEST.

Situations That Are Not Considered Special/Unusual Circumstances:

  • Parents refuse to contribute to the student’s education
  • Parents are unwilling to provide information on the FAFSA or for verification
  • Parents do not claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes
  • Student demonstrates total self-sufficiency
  • Student and parents “don’t get along”
  • Student is a single parent or pregnant
  • Standard living expenses (e.g. utilities, credit card expenses, children’s allowances, etc.)
  • Lifestyle choices – vacation or wedding expenses
  • Discretionary expenses like mortgage payments, car payments, credit card or other personal debt problems, etc.


Graduate Students

Because graduate students are only eligible for unsubsidized loans, there is no benefit to filing a Request for Review or an Unusual Circumstances appeal. Any changes to the FAFSA information will not change the amount of funding the student can receive.

Please Note: consideration of a special/unusual circumstance appeal does not guarantee approval. In addition, even if approved, a recalculation of FAFSA data does not always result in increased eligibility for the student.