Special Circumstances and Unusual Circumstances

We hope in reviewing your financial aid offer, you feel that a Bellarmine education is affordable and within your family’s means. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) uses federal methodology, set by Congress, to determine the family’s ability to contribute to their student’s college education. However, we understand that the FAFSA does not provide families with a place to explain special circumstances affecting their ability to pay for their student’s education.

To remedy this, Congress has delegated our financial aid administrators the authority to compensate for special circumstances on a case-by-case basis with adequate documentation. If your FAFSA no longer accurately reflects your or your family’s financial situation please tell us a little more about your situation by completing the Special Circumstance Request Form.

Upon receipt of this form, a financial aid administrator can evaluate your family’s situation and determine the need for appropriate adjustments. These changes may - or may not - impact your financial aid. Requests will be reviewed and processed within 2-3 weeks of the date the Financial Aid Office receives the necessary documentation needed. 

The following conditions may be considered:

  • Loss or reduction of income including but not limited to loss of employment, reduction of pay, death of a parent or spouse, and reduction/loss of child support
  • Divorce or separation
  • Non-recurring income
  • High medical and/or dental expenses paid out of pocket
  • Tuition paid by parent for student’s sibling(s) in an Elementary/Secondary Private school
  • Adjustment to Cost of Attendance (COA)

The following conditions generally may not be considered:

  • Information on the FAFSA resulting in a Student Aid Index (SAI) of -1,500 to 0 (zero)
  • Bankruptcy, foreclosures or collection costs associated with outstanding debts
  • Consumer debt (credit cards, car payments, loans, etc.)
  • Payments on back taxes owed to the IRS
  • Lottery or gambling winnings or losses
  • One-time income used for non-life essential items (e.g. family vacation)

Next Steps:

  1. Complete and submit Special Circumstance Request Form
  2. A financial aid administrator will review your request and will be in contact regarding your status and/or next steps.
  3. If your request is approved, the financial aid administrator will send you a Student/Parent Special Circumstance Form to complete and return along with supporting documentation. For suggested documentation, please see below:

Suggested Documentation for the Special Circumstance Request

With any professional judgment the individual appealing must submit sufficient third-party documentation to support the reason(s) for the request as well as to strengthen their appeal. If sufficient documentation is not initially submitted, it may be requested after the appeal is received (delaying the review process). Please see below for examples of documentation based on the reason for the appeal.

Loss of Employment or Reduction of Pay

  • Last paystub with year-to-date income
  • Letter of separation from employer (for loss of employment)
  • Letter of offer of employment from new employer (for reduction of income)
  • Copy of most recent Tax Return 
  • Most recent W-2s

Death of a Parent or Spouse

  • Copy of death certificate or obituary of parent or spouse
  • Copy of most recent pay stub or W-2 of surviving parent
  • Copy of most recent pay stub or W-2 for student if independent

Reduction or Loss of Child Support

Court documentation supporting reduction or loss of child support or documentation of benefits that you may be able to obtain online from your state showing:

  • Benefit amount of the child support
  • Start and stop dates
  • If you are owed any past child support payments
  • Total past due amount owed to you.

Divorce or Separation

  • Legal separation papers, copy of divorce decree, letter from your attorney, or separate lease/rental agreements
  • Copy of most recent pay stub or W-2 for the student or parent granted custody

Non-recurring Income

  • 1099 tax forms or documentation of one-time income
  • Documentation to confirm what the income was used for

High Medical and/or Dental Expenses Paid Out of Pocket

  • Schedule A if you completed Schedule A with your 1040 tax return
  • Receipts that show payments you made out-of-pocket for healthcare expenses if you did not complete Schedule A
  • Submit the same documents listed above in relation to loss or reduction of income

Possible Outcomes of a Special Circumstance Request

  • No change: The change in circumstances did not impact your Student Aid Index (SAI) or financial aid.
  • Reduced SAI but no change in financial aid offer: The change in circumstances reduced the SAI but did not change it enough to impact your financial aid eligibility.
  • Reduced SAI and adjustments made to federal loans: The change in circumstances reduced the SAI and qualified you for some subsidized loan funding to replace the equivalent unsubsidized loan funding.
  • Reduced SAI and adjustments made to state and/or federal grants: The change in circumstances reduced the SAI and qualified you for additional state and/or federal grants. 

Cost of Attendance (COA) Adjustment

Financial Aid Administrators can include additional out of pocket costs in your COA. Out of pocket costs for the following:

  • Childcare expenses for a dependent child of the student
  • Costs associated with a student’s disability
  • Costs associated with Study Abroad

An adjustment to the COA does not necessarily result in a change in financial aid eligibility; however, the intent is to potentially allow for additional eligibility in a student’s educational budget or to increase a student’s need-based and/or non-need-based aid eligibility.

Unusual Circumstances (Dependency Override)

A Financial Aid Office may conduct dependency overrides (dependent to independent) for students with unusual circumstances. These are determined on a case-by-case basis and require supporting documentation by the student.

Unusual Circumstances could include:

  • Parental abandonment or estrangement and have not been adopted
  • An abusive family environment that threatens the student’s health or safety
  • Student being unable to locate his or her parents.
  • Parental incarceration
  • Human trafficking, as described in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000
  • Legally granted refugee or asylum status

Unusual Circumstances do not include (singly or in combination):

  • Parents refuse to contribute to a student’s education.
  • Parents will not provide information for the FAFSA or verification process.
  • Parents do not claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes.
  • Student demonstrates total self-sufficiency.


  1. Student must submit three letters for review. Letters must be signed and on letterhead (if applicable). Letters will include:
    • A personal letter from the student detailing the unusual circumstance, and
    • Two additional letters from third parties detailing their knowledge of the unusual circumstance. Third parties can include, but are not limited to, a guidance counselor, a clergy member, a social worker, a therapist, etc. 
    • Any supporting documentation such as legal documents, court records, police reports maybe also be included.
    • Letters should be detailed and include dates and any pertinent information to support your unusual circumstance.
  2. A financial aid administrator will review your request and will be in contact regarding your status and/or next steps.
  3. If your request is approved, the Financial Aid Office will make the necessary adjustments to your FAFSA.
  4. Once an updated FAFSA has been received from the federal processors, we will revise your award letter appropriately and you will be sent an email that notifies you of a revised package. 

Dependency Overrides for unusual circumstances are renewed each year, unless the student’s circumstances have changed or there is conflicting information about the student’s independence.

Dependent Students without Parental Support

Students whose parents refuse to provide parental information on the FAFSA or for verification or who are no longer providing parental support are not eligible for dependency override. However, in some cases, the student may be able to receive Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan funds as a dependent undergraduate student for his or her grade level. Please contact the Office of Financial Aid to speak with a counselor to determine if you would qualify for this exception.