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Professional Judgments in Financial Aid

May 5, 2021

Though you’ve done all your financial planning to help you afford school and secured the assistance you need to manage your tuition, sometimes your situation can change in a way that impacts your ability to afford university costs. Perhaps you lost your job or your living situation or employment has been affected by COVID-19. And as a result, you’re now struggling to pay for school.

These circumstances can be challenging to deal with, but it doesn’t mean you have to stop your educational pursuits. Here, we offer some insights into how you may get further assistance to help you support the cost of your education.

Note: Beginning with the 2024-25 Aid Year the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will be known as the Student Aid Index (SAI)

What is a Professional Judgment (PJ)?

Federal regulations allow limited exceptions or adjustments to information reported on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). These exceptions or adjustments are known as “Special Circumstances” or “Professional Judgment” and are considered case-by-case based on the supporting documentation you provide.  

What types of Professional Judgments are available for me to apply for at WGU?

The professional judgments available to you include EFC Appeals, COA Appeals, Dependency Overrides, and SAP appeals. 

What is an EFC Appeal? 

An Expected Family Contribution Professional Judgment Appeal—also known as an EFC Appeal—is for undergraduate students that have had a change in their circumstances since the “base tax year’s” income was reported, which you included on the FAFSA. (Please note that WGU won’t modify either the formula or tables used in the EFC calculation, but we may adjust a data element used in the EFC calculation.)

If I’m a graduate student, can I submit an EFC Appeal?

Graduate students don’t receive any needs-based financial aid, so an EFC wouldn’t benefit you. A COA appeal may be your best option to receive additional student loans.

What documents will I need to submit for an EFC appeal? 

All PJ appeals require a letter explaining the circumstances that have changed since filing the FAFSA. You’ll need to include dates of when the changes or special circumstances occurred. You’ll also need third-party documents that substantiate your change in circumstances, income documentation for the most recent previous tax year, and recent income and pay statements.

If I’m self-employed, can I file an EFC appeal?

Yes, but depending on the time of year and type of self-employment income you receive, you may need specific forms of income documentation as support material for your appeal. Make sure you email to determine what kind of documentation you’ll need for your particular circumstances.  

Why is verification required for an EFC to be processed?

Before an EFC can be processed, the current FAFSA information must be verified to set a baseline for any potential updates or changes to the FAFSA. If the financial aid administrator reviews your initial documents and determines that there’s no benefit to proceed with the processing of your EFC, it may be denied or closed before verification is requested.

When will I find out if my EFC is approved?

Once all of the requested documents have been received, it could take between two to three weeks. You’ll receive an email that lets you know the outcome of the appeal.

Can I file an EFC for excessive medical expenses?

An EFC can be filed for excessive medical expenses in consideration of special circumstances, but the medical expenses must be out-of-pocket costs that exceed 11% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Medical expenses paid by insurance or others can’t be considered as special circumstances. Generally, the out-of-pocket expenses need to be incurred within the term you’re appealing or at minimum within the most recent six months.

How do I file for an EFC that is due to excessive medical expenses?

If your medical expenses are paid out of pocket and exceed 11% of your AGI, you can email to start the process. A financial aid counselor will contact you to review your special circumstances and determine what third-party documents you’ll need for the appeal.

Can my household debt be considered for an EFC?

Credit card debt, car payments, mortgage payments, existing student (or parent) loan debt, or other forms of consumer debt will not be considered as special circumstances for an EFC.

If I’m unemployed, will I automatically be eligible for a Pell Grant?

If you’re currently unemployed and receiving unemployment benefits, you must include this information in your income calculations. In some cases, the amount of income earned in the year under review may be too high to be considered Pell eligible. It’s important to remember that unemployment doesn’t guarantee Pell eligibility. The prior year’s taxes may be used to determine income for the adjustments to the FAFSA’s data elements. 

What is a Dependency Override?

A Dependency Override is used when a student has experienced unusual circumstances that would warrant an override of the requirement for parental information to be provided on the current FAFSA. Parent information is required even if a student is self-supporting and no longer resides with their parent(s). Some reasons that don’t merit a Dependency Override include if your parents refuse to contribute to your education, if they’re unwilling to provide information on the application or for verification, or if you demonstrate total self-sufficiency. Check with the U.S. Department of Education for more information on ineligible reasons.

When will I find out if my Dependency Override is approved?

Before your Dependency Override requirements can be added to your student portal, you must have an interview with a financial aid counselor to discuss your special circumstances, determine if you should proceed with a professional judgment, and learn what documents may be requested based on your circumstances. 

If the financial aid counselor advises you to continue with the PJ, the requirements will be added to your student portal. Once all requested documents have been received, a financial aid administrator will review your documents and send an email to your WGU email address with the decision of the PJ. Once all of the requested documents have been received, it could take between two to three weeks before you’ll receive email notification regarding the judgment.

What is a COA Appeal?

A Cost of Attendance Appeal is an appeal for increased Cost of Attendance. If you've experienced unforeseen expenses during the academic year that aren't accounted for in your program's COA, you may appeal for an increase to your COA. If the COA Appeal is approved, the COA increase may result in additional loan funding.

If I’ve already borrowed the maximum amount for my grade level limit, would I benefit from a Cost of Attendance Appeal?

In most cases, it wouldn’t be of any benefit to you to file a COA Appeal if you’ve already reached your maximum amount for grade level limits or your aggregate loan limits. The exception would be if you’re receiving a scholarship, work study funding, or third-party funds that would exceed what remains in your (current) COA budget for the aid year.

When will I find out if my COA Appeal is approved?

After you’ve submitted the requested information for the appeal, a financial aid administrator will contact you via email to your WGU email address once a decision has been made. If your student loan amount will be increased based on an approved COA Appeal, you may be asked to confirm you understand the approval means you will be borrowing more loans.  

What is a SAP Appeal?

A SAP appeal is for students that don’t meet WGU’s SAP policy requirements and lose their financial aid eligibility. The SAP appeal is for financial aid reinstatement and requires a student to be on an academic plan. Learn more about WGU’s SAP policy and SAP appeal instructions here.

When will I find out if my SAP Appeal is approved?

Once you’ve submitted all of the requested documents, a financial aid administrator will review your appeal and email the decision to your WGU email address within five to seven business days.

Do I have to show my previous year’s taxes just to get a Professional Judgment?

We may require a copy of your taxes that you indicated on the FAFSA, along with your current taxes, to complete a review for a Professional Judgment. Depending on the situation, we may need to do a comparison or verify the information you provided. 

What will be the result of my Professional Judgment?

The result of your Professional Judgment will greatly depend on the type you’re requesting. Each type of Professional Judgment has a different purpose and will have a different result if approved.  


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