A Special Circumstance Appeal is available to qualifying students at all types of institutions (Graduate, 4-year, 2-year and trade) offering federal financial aid.
You should submit a Special Circumstance Appeal if there is a significant change in your financial situation, or if your FAFSA does not capture a financial difficulty that you are currently facing. The government does not specify the situations that could qualify as a special circumstance.
At some schools, special circumstances may include medical or dental or nursing home expenses not covered by insurance, past experience living in foster care, being homeless or a dislocated worker, recent unemployment of a family member, incarceration of a family member, elementary or secondary school tuition, or other changes in the family's income or assets. Other life-changing events that could qualify as a special circumstance include disability, medical crisis, domestic violence, pregnancy, loss of childcare, divorce, separation, death or a natural disaster.
A Special Circumstance Appeal may also be used to share ongoing circumstances not included on the FAFSA. For example, a family member with a chronic illness and high unreimbursed medical expenses would be a part of your financial situation that the FAFSA would not capture.
You should know that not all of these examples are considered "special circumstances" by all schools. That said, even if the change in your financial situation is not listed here, you should consider submitting a Special Circumstance Appeal. Each school sets its own policies about this kind of appeal, and you will learn more once you start the conversation with your financial aid office.
It may take the financial aid office some time to evaluate your request, so you should ask the financial aid office about this option as soon as possible. While deadlines vary by school, it is best to share your situation promptly to make sure you don't miss out on support or information about the process.
Your best next step is to visit your school's financial aid website or to contact your financial aid office. Some schools have online forms, some schools have walk-in hours and others have appointment only options.
If your school does not offer a form online and you cannot reach out to the financial aid office during business hours, you can start the conversation with your financial aid office by submitting the SwiftStudent Special Circumstance Appeal.
Be sure to use the free SwiftStudent worksheet to help you keep track of your interactions with your financial aid office.
You should include documents that show costs associated with change in your financial situation. Supporting documents can include bills; signed letters from caregivers, medical or service providers; court documents; termination letter; unemployment benefits; final pay stub or out-of-pocket repair costs after a natural disaster. It's up to your financial aid office to determine what documents are required. The goal of these documents is to confirm the change in your financial situation.
Do not submit original documents to your financial aid office. The financial aid office needs to retain documentation for their records, so they can't return them to you. You should submit copies of your documents only.
Be sure to keep a written record of your communications with the financial aid office, including copies of letters and conversation notes. You can download a free SwiftStudent worksheet to help you keep track of names, dates, and conversations.
Your financial aid office may need additional documents or information to make a decision.
Make sure to check your official school email address every day so that you don't miss a response from your financial aid office. You can also reach out to your financial aid office to check on the status of your request.
If your request is approved, the financial aid office will share how much more aid you can expect to receive, if any. If you are offered a loan, it's important to consider the type of loan and how the amount will help you reach educational goals.
If your request is denied, it doesn't mean you're out of options. Ask your financial aid office why the request was denied and what other community or institutional resources are available.