Campus Bulletin: Current Students, Parents

Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund—Financial Aid Professional Judgment

October 5, 2021 12:00 PM

Communications Staff

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021 was signed by President Biden on March 11, 2021 to provide emergency assistance to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. This represents the third stream of funding appropriated, with approximately $39.6 billion for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). As part of this third stream of funding (HEERF III), provisions were made requiring Financial Aid officials to conduct direct outreach to financial aid applicants to inform them of the opportunity for a “Professional Judgment Adjustment” appeal.

A Professional Judgment Appeal considers a financial aid adjustment due to the recent unemployment of a dependent student’s direct family member (legal guardian who has student as a dependent), the recent unemployment of an independent student, or other circumstances related to COVID-19. This change in financial status refers to a material change in current 2021 income or in 2020 income compared to a student’s required 2019 tax data reported on the student’s 2021/2022 FAFSA.

Other circumstances besides unemployment that could be considered are:

  • Involuntary loss of significant income due to reduced hours or shutdowns as the result of COVID-19 during 2020 or 2021;
  • Loss of significant income effective 2020 or 2021 due to disability; orSignificant medical expenses not covered by insurance during 2020 or 2021 as a result of COVID-19.

If you feel you qualify for Professional Judgment consideration, please email the Financial Aid Office at to request a review. Please describe in your email the circumstances you feel qualify you for the review. If the Financial Aid Office determines you may qualify for a review, you will then be required to formally submit a Request for Review form along with supporting documentation for processing. 

The Financial Aid Office understands that many circumstances impact a family’s ability to contribute to a student’s education. Our office will assist you to understand your options and determine if any additional aid may be available based on your circumstances. Please note that not all circumstances will be eligible for consideration and not all appeals will result in additional financial assistance. Please watch your Oberlin email for additional information and/or your determination.

Determining Current-Year Income

In the interest of providing the most-accurate information possible to the Department of Education, it is best practice to use actual tax information as opposed to estimating rather than estimate current-year income information; however, there are certain, limited circumstances which allow the Office to use estimated income information. The Financial Aid Office will only accept estimated income for the current tax year when ALL of the following apply:

1.    Three or more months of actual income data are available AND

2.    In the case of lost employment, it has been at least 60 days since the loss of employment occurred ANDUsing the prior year’s ACTUAL tax information will not provide an accurate picture of the family’s ability to pay educational expenses (for example, loss of employment took place in the current year).

In the limited case that family income is estimated, please note that no additional adjustments will be made when income was over- or under-estimated. For future FAFSA years, ACTUAL tax data will be used, which could yield a difference in the amount of financial aid received from year to year.

Initial Review Process

Once the Request for Review form and all required documentation have been received, the Office will do a preliminary review to determine whether a family’s change in circumstances has the potential to yield a significant increase to the student’s need-based financial aid. If the preliminary review does not indicate a reduction in Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to below $10,000, the Office reserves the right to deny the request for processing a Professional Judgment change.

Please note: EFC can never be reduced below zero (0), so cases where a student already has a zero EFC will result in the request have their request being denied.

The initial review process could will take approximately two weeks once all materials have been received and will conclude with an approval or denial notification to the student via the student’s Oberlin email account.