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Special Circumstances and Petition for Independent Status

Special and Unusual Circumstances

The Financial Aid & Scholarships Office may consider special and unusual circumstance(s) that impact a student or the family's ability to pay for a college education that are not reflected in the information provided on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or California Dream Act Application (CADAA).

Financial Aid administrators can adjust a student’s dependency status, income and assets, wages earned or other financial changes to adequately represent the student or family’s ability to pay. These adjustments are only made after receiving sufficient documentation from a student to justify an exception to normal federal financial aid program guidelines.

Special Circumstance

Significant changes in your family's income may merit recalculating your financial aid eligibility. Please review the information below to determine if you have an eligible reason for a Change of Circumstance Request.

Eligible Reasons for a Change of Circumstance Request

  • Change in employment status, income, or assets;
  • Change in housing status (e.g., homelessness);
  • Tuition expenses at an elementary or secondary school;
  • Medical, dental, or nursing home expenses not covered by insurance;
  • Child or dependent care expenses;
  • Severe disability of the student or other member of the student’s household;
  • Other changes or adjustments that impact the student’s costs or ability to pay for college.

Documenting a Special Circumstance

Unemployment documents should be less than 90 days old.  If there is a reason a new unemployment document is not obtainable, please include that in your statement.

Examples of documents we may request:

  • W2s;
  • Mortgage Statements;
  • Tax returns;
  • Letters from attorneys;
  • Unemployment statements;
  • Letters of separation;

We may ask for additional information to assess your record. We encourage you to monitor your emails and texts and reply as soon as reasonable.

Unusual Circumstance

The U.S. Department of Education determines if your parents are required to provide information on the FAFSA based a series of questions when you completed the FAFSA. In certain situations, students may submit an appeal to CSUSM requesting to remove parent information and income. This is called Unusual Circumstances and request can only be approved in certain limited and exceptional circumstances where the parents are unable to be contacted or contact poses a risk to the student. These are examples of unusual circumstances where parent information can be removed or excluded from the FAFSA:

  • Human Trafficking;
  • Being legally granted refugee or asylum status;
  • Parent abandonment or estrangement; or
  • Student or parental incarceration.

Unusual circumstances do not include:

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

Documenting an Unusual Circumstance

A signed and dated statement that includes a complete history of your relationship with your biological and/or legally adoptive parents, and the specific dates of events that caused your separation from your parents.

Additional information regarding your self-support may be requested such as utility bills, health insurance, or other documents that demonstrate a separation from parents or legal guardians.

Two signed and dated letters from professionals (on their letterhead) documenting their first-hand knowledge of your exceptional circumstance. The Financial Aid & Scholarships Office may contact these references for additional information or clarification of your situation.

  • submission of a court order or official Federal or State documentation that the student or student’s parents or legal guardians are incarcerated;
  • written statement, which confirms the unusual circumstances from a state, county or Tribal welfare agency;
  • an independent living case worker who supports current and former foster youth with the transition to adulthood;
  • a public or private agency, facility, or program servicing the victims of abuse, neglect, assault, or violence;
  • a representative of a TRIO or GEAR UP program which confirms the circumstances and the person’s relationship to the student;
  • a documented determination of independence made by a financial aid administrator at another institution in the same or a prior award year;
  • a letter or email from the CougarCare Network documenting the unusual circumstance.

CSUSM will apply the full flexibility in the law and presume a student with an unusual circumstance is independent in subsequent years unless the student tells us their situation has changed, or we have conflicting information.

Cost of Attendance Appeals

The CSUSM Cost of Attendance is constructed annually. We include the following elements in our Cost of Attendance:

  • Tuition and Fees
  • Living Expenses (Food and Housing)
  • Transportation
  • Books and Supplies
  • Personal Expenses
  • Direct Loan origination fees (are only included for those that borrow)

Except for tuition and fees (and on-campus food and housing), all other components of our Cost of Attendance are based on the data from the Student Expenses and Resources Survey administered by the California Student Aid Commission. The survey is conducted every three years (the last survey was conducted in 2021) and results are updated annually based on inflation for non-surveyed years. The last survey was conducted in 2021, and 239 CSUSM students responded to the survey. The results are updated annually based on inflation for non-surveyed years.

If a student or parent has expenses that are not included or exceed our published costs, we can accept receipts/proof of payment to consider the unusual costs.   

Processing times and Deadlines

CSUSM Financial Aid and Scholarships staff will always do our best to meet you where you need us to be but there will be times when appeal requests will take longer than we’d like because staff switch to supporting phones and emails.  These are predictable periods of time, from mid-August to mid-September and mid-January to mid-February.  During these high student contact periods, there will be delays in reviewing appeals.  We recommend submitting your requests early and if additional documents are requested that you provide them as soon as possible.

Students will either be notified the outcome of their appeal or if additional information is needed within 30 days from the date the appeal was submitted.

To ensure your request is reviewed and the determination is complete while you are still enrolled, we’ve implemented semester deadlines.  Special Circumstances Appeals received after these dates may not result in a change: 

  • Fall - October 1st
  • Spring – March 1st
  • Summer – June 30th

To begin the process, please log into and follow these steps. 

Step 1: Log in to and click on “Manage Requests” in the “Needs Action” section.

Step 1 - Manage Requests Upper right

Step 2: Select the appeal request you would like to open. Review which appeal best applies 

Select appeal

Step 3: Provide a detailed written explanation for your request. This will help us better understand your situation and avoid delays in processing your request. Once completed, click submit. 

Step 4: Once your request is submitted, your appeal will be initiated, and you may begin uploading your statement and supporting documentation.