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Appeals and Changes in Circumstances

You may submit an appeal to review your financial aid eligibility if you believe that your financial aid offer did not fully consider your individual circumstances. The  financial aid appeal deadline is March 31 of each applicable academic year or three weeks prior to the end of your academic year, whichever is earlier. Appeals typically will not be accepted after this date.

There are two general types of appeals: 

  • Special Circumstances, including:
    • Budget/Cost of Attendance Appeals
    • Family Contribution Appeals
  • Unusual Circumstances, including
    • Undergraduate dependency status appeals
    • Undergraduate students without parental support
    • Unaccompanied Homeless Youth

A student may have both a special circumstance and an unusual circumstance. Students are encouraged to request an appointment with an advisor to speak confidentially about their circumstances and determine required documentation.

Additionally, there are times when you must report any changes in circumstance, as that may impact your financial aid eligibility.

Budget Appeals

Adjustments are sometimes made when your cost of attendance exceeds what is expected of the average student and the situation relates directly to your ability to remain enrolled in your degree program. These budget increases are made on an individualized, case-by-case basis.

Examples of typical situations in which your educational budget can be increased above the standard level include:

Rent/Mortgage, utility or food expenses that exceed the standard allowance

Students may appeal for an increase in rent, food and utility allowance if their costs exceed the amount allotted in the standard cost of attendance and are within a reasonable amount. Students should be able to document special circumstances that require higher costs (ADA-compliant building, special food restrictions for religious or dietary requirements, etc). Appeals must be within the terms of the signed lease and students must appeal each academic year they are requesting an increase. In general, the costs should not exceed 150% of the rent allowance provided for in the standard COA although higher increases can be approved on a case-by-case basis and in years when inflation impacts the rental market in the Chicagoland area.

Rent will be split evenly between all parties listed on the lease.

                Documentation may include:

  • A copy of the student’s current and active lease or mortgage statement, including all pages and addendums
  • One month worth of all utility expenses paid
  • Any other relevant documentation as determined by the aid office (i.e. ACA requirements, etc)
  • One month worth of detailed grocery receipts

Medical costs not covered by insurance

Students may appeal for additional aid to cover medical expenses not covered by insurance that are charged for procedures or treatment that takes place within the academic year.

                Documentation may include:

  • A copy of the bill from the medical provider (not an insurance explanation of benefits or claim report from insurance) showing the portion of costs remaining after insurance.
  • A copy of a pharmacy receipt or statement showing cost after insurance and RX number (Prescription name may be blacked out)
  • A letter from the student’s physician outlining clinic costs or expenses and frequency for ongoing care.

Note: Students are not required to provide a diagnosis or information regarding their specific medical treatment as long as copies of bills or letters from a Physician can verify that a general medical condition does exist or has been treated.

Dependent Care Costs

Additional assistance is available to students who have dependents for whom they (and their spouse if applicable) provide 50% or more of the financial support as reported on the FAFSA. Students may request additional assistance for childcare expenses or for additional maintenance expenses in certain circumstances.

Students should contact the Chicago Office of Financial Aid to discuss dependent care appeal options.

Documentation may include:

  • Childcare billing statement

Computer/Technology purchases

You may be eligible to obtain supplemental loan assistance to purchase computer hardware and software one time during the duration of your program unless extenuating circumstances exist (i.e. theft as documented on a police report, documented damage, etc).

The maximum amount of supplemental loan assistance is equal to the actual cost of the required hardware (excluding a printer) and software, or $1,500, whichever is less. Up to an additional $500 can be available for the purchase of a printer. Supplemental loan assistance cannot exceed $2,000.

Documentation includes:

  • Receipt from purchase of computer
  • Students who do not have resources available to pay for the computer up front may submit documentation of their intended purchase (print out of online shopping cart) and our office will work with you to discuss your options.

Transportation

Students who live more than 2.00 miles away from campus (considering the shortest distance route) may be considered for vehicle maintenance and mileage if reasonable public transportation options are not available. Students may not receive additional aid to cover the the purchase or lease of a personal vehicle (car payment). 

Students in programs that require clinical rotations or clerkships may appeal for additional transportation expenses if their costs exceed the standard COA if:

  • Their site is located in an area that is not serviced by Chicago-area public transportation OR
  • Their transportation hours make it unsafe to use Chicago-area public transportation OR
  • Their clinical location requires the purchase of an airline ticket to and from the clinical site at the beginning and/or end of the rotation
  • Other extenuating circumstances as documented

Documentation may include

  • Rental vehicle- a copy of the rental agreement
  • Metra expenses- a statement including method of travel and average daily transportation costs including number of traveling days per week.
  • Airfare- copy of your roundtrip airline receipt or quote for 1 flight to/from your clinical location
  • Other relevant documentation as determined by the Office of Financial Aid

Books and Supplies

If students can appeal for additional aid to cover the actual costs (versus the average costs included in the COA) they paid for required books/supplies with receipts.

Documentation may include:

  • A copy of the student’s syllabi for registered coursework
  • The book list provided by the University Bookstore website (abbotthall.bncollege.com).
  • Specific uniform requirements (scrubs, clinic-specific clothing requirements) issued by clinical/clerkship site
  • Receipts confirming purchase

Expenses not eligible for appeal

The cost of attendance includes an allowance for personal expenses to cover discretionary, miscellaneous expenses. Students generally use those funds to cover the cost of self-care maintenance (haircuts, clothing, entertainment, pet costs, gym or other memberships, etc). Personal expenses and certain other expenses may not be appealed. Ineligible expenses include, but are not limited to:

  • Living expenses for periods of non-enrollment in coursework required for your degree
  • Moving expenses
  • Consumer loans/credit cards/credit lines/payment plans
  • Car payments
  • Test Prep courses
  • Travel not associated with required coursework/academic studies
  • Support of spouse, parent(s), grandparents or other relatives who are not dependent children who require childcare while you are in class
  • Religious tithing/charity/contributions/gifts
  • Entertainment/dining out
  • Streaming services and subscriptions
  • Weddings
  • Gym memberships
  • Graduation regalia
  • Laundry/dry cleaning
  • Hair/makeup/skin care not provided through medical prescription

Family Contribution Appeals

Eligibility: You have the right to appeal the expected family contribution/student aid index (EFC/SAI) determined by the FAFSA if there has been a significant involuntary change in circumstances in your (and/or your family's) financial situation since you filed your application documents.

*Please note that with the exception of incoming MD and JD students and undergraduate School of Professional Studies, a family contribution appeal will not impact your overall eligibility for federal financial aid.

You should contact our office to speak with or schedule a meeting with a financial aid advisor if you have specific questions regarding your family contribution.

Loss of Wages

Students or parents of dependent students may appeal if their family experienced an involuntary loss of wages due to job loss. Documentation required will vary on a case by case basis, but may include:

  • Year-end tax statements (W2s, 1040s)
  • Severance contracts, agreements or letters
  • Termination letter of letter verifying reduction in salary
  • Letters from former employers confirming the last date of employment
  • Monthly expense worksheet
  • Last paycheck showing year-to-date earnings

Students who wish to appeal based on a family loss of wages should meet with a financial aid counselor to determine the exact documentation required.

One-time income events reported in FAFSA tax year (non-recurring bonus, IRA Rollover, Settlement or one-time payout)

Students or parents of dependent students whose tax information reported in the application for financial aid is higher than usual due to a one-time income event may appeal to have that one-time income removed from consideration. Documentation required will vary on a case by case basis, but may include: 

  • Year-end tax statements (W2s, 1040s, 1099 forms)
  • Court documents
  • Statements from employers or attorneys

Federal Dependency (for SPS Undergraduate Students only)

Undergraduate students (including Professional Health Certificate Students) who are considered federally dependent must have their parents submit their information and signature on the FAFSA. Students who are unable to obtain parent data have several options to proceed with the aid process, including:

Dependency Override

The Office of Financial Aid may conduct a dependency override on a case-by-case basis for students with unusual circumstances who can provide appropriate documentation.

However, none of the conditions listed below, singly or in combination, qualify as unusual circumstances meriting a dependency override:

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

Unusual circumstances include human trafficking, refugee or asylee status, parental abandonment, incarceration, an abusive family environment that threatens the student's health or safety, or the student being unable to locate his/her/their parent(s).

Documentation is critical- it must support, and include the reason for, the request and the following documentation is required:

  • A signed statement from the student outlining the unusual circumstances, including specific time-frames and circumstances.
  • A signed statement from a third party- e.g., a teacher/professor, medical authority, member of the clergy, prison administrator, government agency, or court- that outlines the unusual circumstances. Evidence can be a signed statement or an official document such as a court order or police report.
Additional documentation may be requested.

Unaccompanied Homeless Youth

Students who have documentation of homelessness may be considered independent for the purposes of federal aid eligibility. Documentation is required and must include a statement from one of the following entities:
  • A local educational agency homeless liaison, as designated by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 11432(g)(1)(J)(ii)), or a designee of the liaison
  • The director of an emergency or transitional shelter, street outreach program, homeless youth drop-in center, or other program serving individuals who are experiencing homelessness, or a designee of the director;
  •  The director of a Federal TRIO program or a Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate program (GEAR UP) grant, or a designee of the director; or
  • A financial aid administrator at another institution who documented the student’s circumstance in the same or a prior award year.

Foster Care Youth

Students who were in foster care may be considered independent for the purposes of federal aid eligibility. Documentation is required and must include a statement from one of the following entities:

  • Submission of a court order or official State documentation that the student received Federal or State support in foster care;
  • A documented phone call or a written statement from an attorney, guardian ad litem, or Court Appointed Special Advocate;
  • Verification of the student’s eligibility for an education and training voucher under the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program under section 477 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 677); or
  • A documented phone call or written statement from a financial aid administrator who documented the student’s circumstance in the same or a prior award year.
  • A documented phone call, written statement, or verifiable electronic data match from one of the following sources:
    • A State, county, or Tribal agency administering a program under part B or E of title IV of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 621 et seq. and 670 et seq.);
    • A State Medicaid agency; or
    • A public or private foster care placing agency or foster care facility or placement.

Dependent Student without parental support

Students who do not qualify for a dependency override as outlined above but are still unable to obtain parental information on the FAFSA may submit a signed statement from their parent(s) indicating that they: 

  1. Refuse to fill out the FAFSA on the student's behalf;
  2. Do not provide any financial support to the student, indicating the date the support ended; and
  3. Will not provide any financial support to the student in the future.

Students in this category can be considered for unsubsidized Stafford loans only, up the dependent level maximums set for their academic level (Freshman/1st year, Sophomore/Second Year, etc)

Changes in Circumstances

Notify our office immediately if your financial circumstance changes from what you report on your application materials. Failure to notify our office of such changes may jeopardize your eligibility for assistance in the current and/or subsequent academic period.

Submit notification of any changes in circumstance in writing or via an email from your Northwestern email account. Contact a financial aid advisor if you have any questions.

Changes in circumstance could include, but are not limited to:

An enrollment change or withdrawal

Students who drop or withdraw from coursework are encouraged to reach out to the Office of Financial Aid to discuss the impact on their financial aid. Students may find more information on the implications of an enrollment change or a withdrawal here.

Receipt of an outside scholarship or monetary gift

Students should alert the Office of Financial Aid as soon as they are notified that they are a recipient of an outside scholarship by emailing our office and notifying us of the name of the scholarship and the amount of the award.

If a student has received financial aid equal to the full cost of attendance, the Office of Financial Aid may be required to replace an equal portion of their loan or other financial assistance with the scholarship aid to make room in the cost of attendance for the outside scholarship. If a student has remaining eligibility for aid that is equal to or greater than the scholarship, their other aid will not be impacted.

Outside scholarship checks should be dropped off or mailed to our office. We are located on the 6th floor of Abbott Hall, and our address is:

Chicago Office of Financial Aid
Northwestern University
710 N. Lake Shore Drive, Suite 629
Chicago, IL 60611

If the check is made out to you (or to you as well as Northwestern), you must sign the check before our office can disburse it to your student account.