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Financial Aid | Professional Judgement


What Is Professional Judgment?

Professional judgment refers to the discretion that federal regulations give to financial aid administrators to make adjustment, on a case-by-case basis, to certain elements of a student's FAFSA information to account for special circumstances. These adjustments are intended to provide a more accurate assessment of the amount of federal aid a student is eligible for.

Professional judgment allows Southern University at New Orleans Office of Financial Aid to adjust a student's expected family contribution for educational expenses, standard cost of attendance (COA) budget, and/or financial aid dependency status, as determined by federal guidelines. Adjustments submitted for consideration must be documented and reasonable as it pertains to the cost of attendance and are on a case-by-case basis.

Southern University at New Orleans Office of Financial Aid has the ability to conduct reviews of student’s federal aid eligibility in a process called professional judgment to determine if they qualify for an increase in their Cost of Attendance and additional aid due to certain circumstances. Students must first complete a FAFSA and receive a financial aid offer prior to submitting a Professional Judgment review request. 


Types of Professional Judgment

  • Change to Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
  • Change of Cost of Attendance (COA)

What qualifies as a special circumstance for professional judgement?

Professional Judgment that might qualify as a special circumstance include:

  • Job loss or change in employment
  • One-time income, such as a one-time withdrawal from a retirement account
  • Divorce or separation not reflected on the FAFSA
  • Death of a parent or spouse
  • Exceptional medical or dental expenses
  • Change in student’s marital status after the completion of the FAFSA
  • Child Support reduction or change
  • Costs associated with a student’s disability
  • Childcare expenses for a dependent child of the student
  • One-time purchase of a computer for education expenses
  • Travel Expense (study abroad programs and travel related to academic studies

Examples of what CANNOT be considered a professional judgement:

  • Dependent students who are self-sufficient and have an established, healthy relationship with parents
  • Dependent students whose parents do not claim the student on their tax return
  • Circumstances already accounted for on the FAFSA, such as living expenses
  • Expenses already included in the Cost of Attendance (COA)
  • Noneducational expenses; i.e., expenses related to pets, vacations, or extracurricular activities
  • Standard living expenses (Utility, telephone bills, car payments, and household expenses)
  • Auto loans, credit card payments, student loans payments or personal debt
  • Financial support of a spouse or dependents
  • Additional food purchases beyond budget
  • Private school enrollment for dependent children or family, afterschool care, summer camps for dependents
  • Filing for bankruptcy
  • Vacation expenses
  • All other discretionary expenses  


Guidelines for Professional Judgment Review

Southern University at New Orleans Office of Financial Aid, in accordance with federal regulations, establishes a standard student budget for all aid recipients based on expected tuition and other campus fees, average housing costs, average book and supply expenses, and average transportation costs for commuting students within the tri-state area. However, adjustments may be made for the following documented circumstances below:

Loss or Change of Employment and/or Income


  • Statement on letterhead indicating the last date of employment
  • Copy of the last paycheck including any vacation pay, severance, bonuses, or tips received
  • Documentation of the gross income of the person whose employment status changed
  • Members of the military must submit a copy of the DD214 and a LES showing taxable and untaxed income
  • Documentation of any type of income being received including workman’s compensation, payments from 401(k) or 403(b) plans, the financial contribution made by individuals outside of the household



Change in student marital status


  • Student’s marriage certificate
  • Student’s and spouse’s most recent tax returns


Death of a Parent or Spouse


  • Death certificate of the deceased individual
  • Copy of final paycheck
  • Documentation of any death benefits received


Reduction in Child Support


  • Documentation of the total amount of child support expected for each child


Child care for dependent children

  • Costs that may be considered include child or day care expenses for children younger than school-aged or requiring special needs as documented by a medical provider.
  • Increases are not permitted for the costs of food and shelter for dependents.
  • The maximum allowance is $5,000 of child-care expenses paid in a year for one qualifying individual. Students who have an employed partner contributing to the household income will be eligible to receive the maximum allowance of $2,500 per dependent child.
  • Through federal student loan programs, we cannot consider the cost of childcare for a married student whose spouse is an at-home parent. In-home care by a nanny or service is not eligible.


  • For each dependent receiving child care: Name, age, and relationship. (You will be asked to enter this information into the online request form.)
  • For each child-care service provider: Name, address, weekly cost, dates of the time period when service is/will be used, and total actual or estimated cost for the academic year. (You will be asked to enter this information into the online request form.)
  • A billing statement or invoice for each provider. (You will be asked to upload 1 PDF file containing the statements for all the providers you list.)

Travel expenses

  • Travel expenses may be considered for approved study-abroad programs and travel related to academic studies.
  • Allowances may be made based on documented expenses or mileage. Expenses may include airfare, lodging, meal and other transportation (upon arrival to destination).
  • Only the individual student’s travel expenses may be considered. Travel adjustments will not be considered for student family or dependents.
  • Our office has the right to request to see boarding passes if the adjustment is approved. If travel did not occur, or the student is not able to produce boarding passes, the travel adjustment to the student's COA will be removed, and the student’s federal funds will be returned in the amount of the requested travel.



  • A summary outlining proposed research, destination, and dates
  • Documentation showing travel expenses (e.g., flight information).

Documented special needs or disability expenses


Documented special needs or disability expenses that may be considered include special services, personal assistance, transportation, equipment, and supplies that are reasonably incurred and not provided by other agencies.



  • For each person receiving care: Name, age, and relation (You will be asked to enter this information into the online request form.)
  • Proof of specific disability from agency or provider, and documentation of expenses, such as receipts or statement of services (You will be asked to upload 1 PDF file containing all these documents.)

Computer purchase

  • The maximum allowance for purchase of a computer is $3,000 for students. This means that one student may be eligible for an adjustment of up to $3,000 in computer-related expenses for the duration of their academic careers.
  • Eligible expenses may also include printers, maintenance contracts, and upgrades.
  • Purchases of software, printer supplies, online service fees, etc. will be assumed to be covered in the existing COA allowance for books and supplies.
  • We cannot approve adjustment for purchases made by others on your behalf.


  • The amount you are requesting (maximum of $3,000)
  • Receipts (if you already made the purchase) or a document showing the intended purchase and its price (e.g., a PDF of the product webpage) (You will be asked to upload 1 PDF containing all these documents)

Medical or dental expenses not covered by insurance


Documentation of significant out-of-pocket medical or dental expenses not covered by insurance during the current year and paid by the student may be submitted for consideration.


  • Short description of each medical expense, the amount requested, name and relation of the person receiving the care, and whether insurance has been filed (You will be asked to enter this information into the online request form.)
  • 1 PDF of documentation for all the expenses listed, to be uploaded into the online request form. For each procedure/treatment, you should include:
    • Letter from health-care provider that documents the procedure/treatment
    • Documentation that the treatment is medically necessary
    • Date of the procedure/treatment
    • Original expense with the patient's name, date of service, and the medical/dental provider contact information
    • Amount paid (or to be paid) by insurance and any other amount to be subtracted from the balance due
    • Estimated or actual cost to the student (the amount not covered by insurance). The documentation must clearly delineate the payments (amount and date) made by the student from payments made by insurance.
    • Estimate from provider for services to be performed within the academic year (e.g., planned medical procedures)

The following category can only be considered through the use of private student loan programs and not the federal loan programs:

Important Notes

  • Other institutional or external support must also be reported in this application in order to determine federal aid eligibility.
  • Upon submission of the application and all documentation, students should receive an email from the Office of Financial Aid in 10 days with our office’s decision on the professional judgment request.
  • All requests for the 2023/2024 financial aid year must be received by the Office of Financial Aid, if you are requesting financial aid for the Fall term.