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Special Circumstances

Updated March 2023

Please Note: The information listed on this webpage covers Special Circumstance requests for the 2023-2024 academic year that begins August 29, 2023.

All Special Circumstance reviews will begin on May 30, 2023.

Newly Admitted Students: The following Special Circumstance (SC) conditions must be met before the review can begin:

  • The student has received their estimated awards for Fall 2023
  • All required SC documents have been submitted to the OSFA
  • The enrollment deposit has been paid.

Returning TCNJ students: The following Special Circumstance conditions must be met before the review can begin:

  • Your 2023-2024 FAFSA has been received by the OSFA
  • All required SC documents have been submitted to the OSFA

TCNJ Special Circumstances Guidelines

Section 479A of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, authorizes the Director of Student Financial Assistance to use professional judgment, on a case-by-case basis, for students with “special circumstances” that affect a family’s ability to pay for a college education that is not reflected in the information provided on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The FAFSA for the 2023-2024 academic year will use 2021 IRS reported income or Prior-Prior Year (PPY) income. Families MAY NOT deviate from this requirement and elect to use 2022 income data instead. Additionally, any income changes between 2021 and 2023 that do not meet the acceptable special circumstances conditions that are outlined below cannot be used to replace the 2021 income information on the FAFSA.

The FAFSA is designed to determine a family’s ability to pay for higher education by calculating the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) amount. The EFC is a measure of how much the student and his or her family can be expected to contribute to the cost of the student’s education for the year. The information provided on the FAFSA is used to calculate the EFC.

A special circumstance is used to take into consideration factors which have not been reflected on the FAFSA. The special circumstance may either increase or decrease data elements used to calculate a student’s EFC.

The Director of Student Financial Assistance or his designee is expected and required to make reasonable decisions that support the intent of the provision. The school is held accountable for all special circumstance decisions made and for fully documenting each decision. All decisions are final; there is no appeal process to the U.S. Department of Education.

Please note: Special Circumstance Policies differ from school to school

The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) follows State of New Jersey guidelines, specifically the guidelines established by the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA), in its treatment of special circumstances. This adherence to State guidelines assures that TCNJ is in full compliance with not only federal guidelines but also State guidelines.

Expectations: Meeting a Special Circumstance condition does not guarantee eligibility for grant aid.

Meeting an acceptable special circumstance condition allows the Office of Student Financial Assistance to collect and review all pertinent data needed for the special circumstance. But, please be aware that in order to qualify for grants, income eligibility guidelines established by the USDE and the State of NJ must still be met. TCNJ has no control over these income guidelines and therefore you may find that even after meeting the special circumstance, collecting the data and recalculating the income reported on the FAFSA you may still not be eligible for grant aid. Traditionally, students whose total family income is $60,000 a year or less qualify, but most Pell grant money goes to students with a total family income below $20,000.

The Pell Grant program generally provides aid to low-income families who would otherwise not be able to afford the cost of higher education.

Here is a general breakdown of Pell Grant funding:

  • If your family has an adjusted gross income of $27,000 or less, you may qualify for the maximum amount in Pell Grant funding.
  • If your family makes less than $30,000 a year, you likely will qualify for a good amount of Pell Grant funding.
  • If your family makes between $30,000 and $60,000 per year, you may qualify for some funding, but likely not the full amount.
  • If your family makes $60,000 a year or more, you will probably not qualify for Pell Grant funding.

Students and parents can always visit the federal aid estimator at: OR the State aid estimator at: to see if the change in income may make them potentially eligible for grant aid.

TCNJ Acceptable Special Circumstance Conditions and Tax Year Information Used for Re-evaluation:

The special circumstance that a family falls under will determine which income year is used in the re-evaluation. Please note that a family must be currently experiencing one of these circumstances and it must have occurred on or after 2021 for us to proceed.

To initiate a Special Circumstances request, please review the acceptable conditions, below. Follow the link under the acceptable condition that applies to you. Each form has detailed instructions as to the documents needed to evaluate your special circumstance and where to submit the paperwork.

  • Unemployed – 2023 projected income information
  • Disability-Permanent or Long Term (6 months or greater) – 2023 projected income information
  • Retirement – 2023 projected income information
  • Death – 2023 projected income information
  • Separation/Divorce (after FAFSA is filed) – 2023 projected income information
  • Loss of untaxed income or unemployment benefits – 2023 projected income information
  • Termination of full-time employment for an INDEPENDENT student (full-time employment is defined as having worked 35 hours per week for 30 weeks) – 2023 projected income information
  • Loss of child support/alimony – 2023 projected income information
  • Medical (not covered by insurance) – 2021 completed income information
  • Retirement account withdrawal* (Federal Aid Only) – 2021/2022 completed income information
  • Significant reduction in income* – 2023 completed income information

TCNJ Unacceptable Special Circumstance Conditions:

  • Parent changes from one full-time job to another and makes less money (Reduction in income)
  • Loss or change in amount of overtime or bonus
  • Loss of second full-time job or a part-time job
  • Parent or Dependent Student work status changed from full-time to part-time
  • Furlough
  • Removal of gambling winnings/losses, cancelled debt (such as from a credit card) or a one-time occurrence of TAXED income
  • Private school tuition payments
  • Credit card or other personal debt problems
  • Foreclosure
  • Bankruptcy
  • All other discretionary expenses

New Admits – the Admissions Deposit is required before the Special Circumstances review can begin:

Once your request is received, an evaluation process will take place. You will be contacted with the results of our final review, generally within 4 to 6 weeks of submitting all required documentation, via e-mail. Parents can be copied on all e-mail communications provided they are Authorized Users.*

*In order to help facilitate the special circumstances process, we strongly recommend that students give Authorized User Access to the parent(s) listed on the FAFSA.

Please note: Special Circumstance Review requests are handled on a first come, first served basis. If after an initial review of your special circumstance it is determined that additional documents are needed, a formal request will be sent via email. This may result in delays in processing.

You are still responsible for any outstanding charges or late fines while under special circumstances review.