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Unusual Circumstance - Dependency Appeal

When a student completes the FAFSA/CADAA, they are asked a series of questions to determine their dependency status.  Your answers to these questions will determine if you are considered a “dependent student” or an “independent student” for financial aid purposes and whether or not you will need to include parental or spousal (if applicable) information on your application. 

For the 2023-2024, academic year, students are considered dependent for financial aid purposes must include parental information and parent signature on the application if all the following criteria does not apply.

  1. You were born before January 1, 2000
  2. You were married on or before the date you completed the FAFSA/CADAA
  3. You will be working on a master’s or doctorate program (such as an MA, MBA, MD, JD, or Ph.D., etc.) at the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year
  4. You are currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training
  5. You are a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces
  6. You have or will have children who will receive more than half of their support from you between July 1, 2023 and June 30, 2024
  7. You have dependents (other than your children and spouse) who live with you and who will receive more than half of their support from you, between July 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023
  8. At any time since you turned 13, both your parents were deceased, you were in foster care or were a dependent/ward of the court
  9. You are/were an emancipated minor as determined by a court in your legal state of residence
  10. You are/were in legal guardianship as determined by a court when you reached the age of majority in your legal state of residence
  11. On or after July 1, 2022, your high school or school district homeless liaison determined that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless.  Unaccompanied youth who are/were homeless are defined as:
    1. 21 years of age or younger or still enrolled in high school as of the day you sign the FAFSA application
    2. not living in the physical custody of a parent or guardian, or
    3. lacking fixed, regular and adequate housing
  12.  On or after July 1, 2022, the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determined that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless

Please note: Self-supporting, not living with parents or not being claimed by parents on tax forms is not considered a determining factor for dependency status for financial aid purposes. If you answered “Yes” to at least one of the criteria listed above, you are considered an independent student and will be evaluated for financial aid based on your own circumstances.  Your parental information and signature are not required. 

What if my parents are separated/divorced? 

If your parents are divorced or separated and you are a dependent student, you only need to apply with your custodial parent’s information.  If your custodial parent has remarried, you will also need to include your custodial parent’s spouse’s income information as well. 

Be sure to use your birth or adoptive parents’ information.  Do not use information from the following: 

  • Grandparents 
  • Legal guardian 
  • Foster parents 
  • Relatives 

If you are unable to provide parental information due to extenuating circumstances, you may request an appeal from the financial aid office.  Please refer to the Professional Judgment:  Unusual Circumstance Appeal section below for additional information. 

Professional Judgement:  Unusual Circumstance Appeal Request 

 Most students entering a postsecondary school straight from high school are considered financial dependent on their parents.  This means their parent(s) (biological or adoptive) must provide information on the FAFSA/CADAA. 

A student cannot be determined to be independent based on: 

  1. Parents refusing to contribute to the student’s education, as they do not feel it is their responsibility; 
  2. Parents are unwilling to provide information on the FAFSA or CADAA or for verification due to privacy concerns; 
  3. Parents do not claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes; 
  4. Student demonstrates total self-sufficiency and/or no longer live with parents. 


The Higher Education Act allows a Financial Aid Administrator to exercise professional judgment to give an otherwise dependent student independent status if unusual circumstances can be documented. This determination is made on a case-by-case basis and must be supported by documentation provided by the student.  

In some cases, the financial aid office may be able to use professional judgement to override your dependency status if you can prove that unusual circumstances exist in the family such as: 

  • Abandonment by parents
  • An abusive family environment that threatens the student’s well-being and have left home
  • The student being unable to locate their parents 

If you have unusual circumstances and are unable to complete the parent(s) section on the FAFSA/CADAA application, follow these steps: 

  • On the 2023-2024 FAFSA/CADAA, answer No to all the questions on the Dependency section and mark the section of the application that says “I am unable to provide parental information” and submit the application. 
  • Log into your Student Forms account, select the red "Request" button at the top right of the page.  A "Requests" window will open where you can add a "Professional Judgment: Unusual Circumstance Appeal for the 2023-2024 academic year.  
    • A detailed statement from the student explaining the extraordinary circumstance(s) detailing
      • The relationship with both biological or adoptive parents to include why you are unable to provide parental information
      • Last time you lived with parent(s)
      • Last time you had contact with parent(s)
      • Last time you were supported by parent(s)
      • How you support yourself 
    • Two (2) signed letters of support from independent sources who can attest first-hand to the extenuating circumstances (at least 1 letter must be from a neutral 3rd party in a professional capacity)  
      • The signed statement should be submitted on letterhead from the person’s place of employment and include their full address and phone number  
      • You may submit police reports and/or court documents in place of one of the letters, if applicable 

The information stated in the Professional Judgment: Unusual Circumstance Appeal must be verified by a disinterested, professional third party who is aware of the student’s home situation and can verify the information the student has provided.  Examples of such a person include, but are not limited to: employer, clergy, social worker, attorney, court official, teacher, counselor, psychiatrist, psychologist, medical professional, law enforcement agent, etc. 

Third party documentation must be a SEPARATE statement on official letterhead. Please include any information of which you have first-hand knowledge and that you feel best describes the student’s situation.  The following is a list of information to include in the letter:

  • How long you have known the student
  • Your relationship to the student
  • The last time the student lived with and/or received financial support from their parents
  • State your direct knowledge of when the student last had contact of any type with their parents (please include information regarding both parents)
  • Any knowledge of the student's current relationship with their parents
  • The steps that the student has taken to establish independence from their parents
  • Please include your professional title, name and type of business, business address, telephone number, and where to contact you should any additional information be required

Students must complete the Unusual Circumstance Appeal each academic year they apply for financial aid and are required to provide parent(s) information on their FAFSA/CADAA applicationDependency appeals approved by other institutions will be accepted at Mt. San Jacinto College. 


Please ALLOW 2-3 WEEKS for the review of this appeal and receipt of the decision notification to your student email. If your appeal is approved, the decision notification will outline the conditions of your appeal.  You will need to re-appeal and submit the same documentation each year until you are the age of 24 or older, if the situation has not changed.