Disputing a Low Financial Aid Package: The Special Circumstances Form

Written by: Matt Kuncaitis
Updated: 9/02/21

The special circumstances form available in college financial aid offices is one of the least known but most important documents for improving financial aid packages by hundreds to thousands of dollars, money you could be reducing on student loans.

Why is the special circumstances form so important? Because you can report financial circumstances not included on the FAFSA form. The extra information could be as simple as showing unexpected medical expenses or a drop in income since the tax year reported on FAFSA. 

Here’s what you need to know about this award to boost your financial aid package:

Where you find the special circumstances form

The form is located on the websites of college financial aid offices. Read the form and instructions carefully as each school may have different rules for reconsidering financial aid offers.

For instance, one school may specifically list that a drop in income that makes actual income much different than what was reported on the FAFSA as not being a reason to re-evaluate financial aid offers. Another may allow an income drop.

I was able to get more university grant funding when I went back to school because of a drop in income when I returned to college. The reason why it happened was I changed from working full time to part time to accommodate the hours I would need to study.

Why your income could be different than what’s reported on the FAFSA

The FAFSA application collects income information based on tax returns that are two years old. Since then, income may have dropped or it may not reflect what you or your family will make this year.

Types of medical expenses that affect financial aid

Your family may have incurred a medical expense for a family member that makes paying for college difficult. You can report and possibly get financial aid re-evaluated based on reporting medical expenses on the special circumstances form.

Medical expenses that may boost financial aid offered may include caring for an aging grandparent that lives with your family, medical expenses for a sibling with a disability, a one-time medical expense, or expenses related to a serious illness of a family member.

Future medical expenses may also be considered for a recently diagnosed or ongoing illness.

You may need supporting documents

Supporting documents such as recent paystubs or receipts for medical expenses can boost the chances of approval. 

For future medical expenses, ask doctors for a note explaining course of treatment and total expected cost.

You should file the special circumstances form quickly

Some financial aid is first-come, first-serve. For instance, there may be a set amount of state or university grants that may be distributed for a certain income range. 

Once the funds are distributed, there just isn’t any more money to give. The earlier your financial aid package is reevaluated, the more likely you are to get an increase in financial aid awarded.

Some special circumstances forms are simpler to fill out than others

Depending on the school, you may be able to just check a box with the reason you are asking for re-evaluation of your financial aid package. You may still need to provide documentation or answer additional questions.

Note: You can also negotiate financial aid packages based on merit. Thus, be ready to explain if you can negotiate because of merit circumstances such as another school offered you a better financial aid package. You may even get a better offer. 

5 Takeaways

  • Filling out the special circumstances form can increase your financial aid award by giving the school information that proves that you have more financial need than if it were based on FAFSA information alone.
  • The form is available on college financial aid department websites.
  • Some schools offer simpler forms with check boxes for reasons for re-evaluating financial aid packages.
  • Additional documentation may be needed to prove your financial situation.
  • You can also negotiate financial aid packages based on merit.

Guest post by Reyna Gobel.