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Professional Judgments: Help Students Help Themselves

By Amy Glynn

Amy GlynnLet’s take a moment and have an honest conversation about Professional Judgments (PJs), also known as a ‘request for special circumstance review’ on your campus. Schools were provided authority over the PJ process because there are times when unusual circumstances arise and need to be taken into consideration when awarding financial aid. And it’s a big responsibility. As with everything else we’ve discussed thus far in terms of FinAid Office life, we seem to fall into two camps: those who have embraced PJs and are always up for the challenge (would love to hear from you in terms of your best practices), and those who avoid them at all cost (would love to hear what resources could help you better succeed in the PJ world).

PJs: An emotional time for students

Filing a PJ can be a very emotional time for a student or parent. The very nature of a Professional Judgment is to address an unusual circumstance relating to financial or familial support. These discussions are often emotional and difficult for students to discuss, requiring tactful and conscientious probing on the part of aid administrators. It is only reasonable that discussions about unemployment, parental abandonment or incarceration, or exceptionally high medical expenses could be difficult and highly emotional for students.  These emotionally charged conversations can cause the process surrounding appeals to be even more difficult because oftentimes emotion can cloud logical process and thought. That is where aid administrators can step in to ensure that students are well-educated about process and guide students through the necessary steps.

Change is never easy

Basically, something in their personal life has changed between when they filed their FAFSA and the current day, and that has resulted in a change to his or her aid package. As we spoke about earlier, change is never easy. And change to a financial situation can be terrifying for a student. We can’t stop the changes from happening, but we can take steps to help students better-understand earlier in the process the ‘whys’ of the change.

PPY and the potential for increased PJs

With the advent of Prior-prior Year (PPY), and with our students’ best interests in mind, it is important for FinAid offices to lean more toward embracing PJ’s—because you may be seeing more of them. Why might PJs rise? With base year data now being two years old, there is an increased likelihood that things will change financially for a student and his or her family. In a time when 9.9% of Americans are considered underemployed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is only reasonable to assume that families may see shifts in their financial situations over a two-year period.

We know you’re concerned about PJs, too

In a recent survey, we asked FinAid folks to rank their level of concern regarding potential issues related to implementing PPY. More than 75% of respondents are “Somewhat” or “Very” concerned about a possible increase in professional judgments. (You can still take the survey here!)

Help students help themselves

An important step toward embracing PJs is ensuring that your students have relevant, easy-to-understand tools and information available to them to help them evaluate if they may qualify. Are you sharing information with them regarding base year information and common scenarios that may occur to alter base year info, such as loss of job, change in job, or non-recurring income in a base year?

Think back to our previous blog post, “Put yourself in your students’ shoes,” but this time ask yourself: If I were my own student, would I know enough about a PJ to navigate the system properly? If your answer is yes, great! If your answer is no, what resources can/should you create to help students get ahead of the PJ curve?

Free resource for your FinAid office

With this in mind, we’ve taken some of the most common scenarios leading to professional judgments and provided basic information that may be helpful for your students. Feel free to download this PPT file and add your school’s logo to it for use as you see fit.

Download the Base Year Info For Students Powerpoint Template >