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Special & Unusual Circumstances

Navigating Special Circumstances & Unusual Circumstances in Financial Aid

At the University of Houston, we understand that life is filled with unexpected twists and turns. That’s why we are committed to supporting you every step of your educational journey.

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)® is the starting point when applying for financial aid. This information is used to (1) determine your ability to pay for your education and (2) to determine your eligibility for the different types of financial aid funding. Once UH receives your FAFSA®, along with any required additional documentation, we create your financial aid offer that consists of the types of financial aid (grants, work-study and student loans) and the dollar amounts you are eligible to receive. This information is located on your myUH portal once available.

If you experienced technical difficulties while completing the new FAFSA and missed out on priority funding, click here to let us know. Our Financial Aid Evaluation Committee will conduct a review of your aid offers.

While your initial financial aid offer is based on the information you provide on your FAFSA®, we also know that there are times when that original information may no longer reflect your current situation. The U.S. Department of Education allows you the opportunity to request updates to your information to better reflect reality in certain situations. There are two application categories for such types of situations and students may qualify under one or both categories:

Special Circumstances refer to unexpected events or changes in your or your family’s financial situation and may also include other financial obligations not already reflected in your FAFSA®. Adjustments may be made to your cost of attendance (COA) and/or may include adjustments to data on your FAFSA®. These circumstances may include but are not limited to:
  • Reduction in your or your family’s income (loss of employment, reduction in earnings, etc.)
  • Medical or dental expenses not covered by insurance (incurred during the current enrollment period)
  • Separation or divorce
  • Change in household size
  • Tuition expenses at a primary or secondary school
  • Child or dependent care expenses
  • Etc. 

Unusual Circumstances refer to certain situations where a student may have their dependency status changed on the FAFSA® from dependent to independent (see the Frequently Asked Questions section below for a detailed explanation of the differences).

Your dependency status ( dependent versus independent) is important. In general,

  • If you are a dependent student, you are expected to provide both your and your parent’s personal and financial information on your FAFSA®. The FAFSA® then assumes that you have the combination of both your and your parent(s) financial resources to fund your education. You therefore may have less need for financial aid, and it may lower your financial aid eligibility overall.
  • If you are an independent student, you are expected to provide only your (and your spouse’s, if married) personal and financial information on your FAFSA®. Since the FAFSA® is determining your need for financial aid based on your information alone, that may in certain circumstances increase your financial aid eligibility.

Unusual Circumstances may include but are not limited to:

  • Being unaccompanied* and homeless or unaccompanied and not having permanent adequate housing
  • Being in the U.S. on a qualified refugee or asylee visa status
  • Being the victim of human trafficking
  • Parental abandonment
  • Parental incarceration
  • Etc.

*Unaccompanied means you are not living with a parent or legal guardian.

Unusual Circumstances do NOT include:

  • Parent(s) refusal to contribute to your education
  • Parent(s) will not provide information on the FAFSA or Verification (see the Frequently Asked Questions section below)
  • Parent(s) do not claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes
  • You demonstrate total self-sufficiency

You may find that you meet one or both categories and, while not always guaranteed, completing a Special Circumstances appeal and/or an Unusual Circumstances appeal (a.k.a. dependency status evaluation) may increase the amount of financial aid funding available to you.

How to Apply

We are committed to ensuring that your education remains accessible and that you have the support you need to succeed. If you believe you are experiencing a Special Circumstance or Unusual Circumstance, our team is here to listen, understand and work with you. Together, we can find solutions that allow you to focus on your academic journey.

The following are the application steps to guide you through the process:

STEP 1: Visit our Welcome Center or contact a member of our financial aid advising team to schedule an advising appointment to discuss your unique situation.

STEP 2: If directed by your financial aid advisor, complete the application form(s) and include required supporting documentation.

STEP 3: Upload your application and supporting document through your myUH portal for review by a member of our financial aid advising team. Please do not email documentation.

General Processing Timeframe

We strive to complete the review of appeals and notify you of the outcome by the following general timeframes from the point at which you submit a complete application, with required supporting documentation:

Type of Appeal Timeframe
Special Circumstances Within at least 90 days
Unusual Circumstances Within 60 days

We use the email address you provide on your myUH profile for all communications, including your application's outcome, so please review and confirm your preferred email contact information.

Your success is our priority.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • If you have already completed your FAFSA®, your application will indicate your status. This determination was based on your answers to a series of questions on the application and you may review that information through your account on
  • You may also review the dependency status page on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.
  • You may also watch the following explanatory video provided by FATV.

Without your parent(s) information, you may still be eligible to receive up to $2,750 to $3,750 in Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans per semester (actual dollar amount is based on your grade level: freshman, sophomore, etc.). You will not be eligible, however, for other federal, state or university need-based financial aid.

In this type of situation, your parent(s) must certify in writing their refusal to (1) provide you with financial support and (2) provide the information requested on the FAFSA®.

To begin this process, please submit a FAFSA® with only your information, and then reach out to a member of our  financial aid advising team to discuss next steps.