Applying for Aid

Special or Unusual Circumstances

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

What Are Special Circumstances?

After filing the FAFSA, some families realize that their SAI 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.


    Winthrop University determines whether your special circumstances merit changes in the data elements that determine your SAI or your Cost of Attendance. We use standards recommended by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

    These Changes in Your Household Can Be from:

    • Unemployment due to retirement, company closure or resignation
    • Loss of untaxed benefit (ie: worker’s compensation, child support, social security benefits)
    • Unemployment benefits have ended
    • Separation/divorce
    • Death of wage earner
    • Medical expenses itemized on your Federal tax return or paid expenses for which receipts can be provided that exceed 11% of your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI).

    You can complete a Special Circumstances Request Form to have your financial aid re-evaluated.

    Please Note:You must wait until you receive an initial aid notification to submit the Special Circumstances Request Form.

    We will not process requests due to increases in personal expenses (ie: mortgage payments, tuition increases, car payments), or standard living expenses (ie: utilities, credit card expenses, etc.) medical insurance premiums, etc. Fluctuations in business income must be outside typical annual changes and must be significant.

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

    Generally, students will submit the following based on whose income is involved:

    • A letter describing the circumstance that led you to make this request
    • Student Income: Student’s (and spouses, if married) Federal Income Tax Return 1040 or, if no tax return was filed, copies of all W-2 wage statements
    • Parent Income: Parent’s Federal Income Tax Return 1040 or, 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 the Special Circumstances Request Form.

    The Special Circumstances process does not start for the coming year until the new forms are posted to the website. Once your file has been evaluated based on the allowable criteria, your FAFSA information will be updated by our office.

    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 four (4) weeks for results. Students should monitor their email for any additional items that might be requested of you.

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

    No. Submission of a Special Circumstances Request 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 Student Financial Services Office.


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.

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
  • Abandonment
  • Parental drug or alcohol abuse
  • Mental incapacity or other circumstances
  • Student is homeless or at risk of homelessness
  • Student is an unaccompanied youth.

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
  • Parents are unwilling to provide information 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.”


    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 by e-mailing
    • You must complete an appeal form explaining what circumstance(s) you are currently experiencing.
    • Submit at least 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; etc.
    • Submit a third supporting statement (can be from a family member) who has knowledge of the circumstances.

    In most cases, appeals are completed within two (2) 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.

    The results of the appeal and requests for further information to complete an appeal are communicated via Winthrop e-mail.