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Professional Judgment Review

The Graduate School's Office of Financial Aid can conduct additional reviews of graduate students' federal aid eligibility in a process called professional judgment to determine if they qualify for additional aid due to special circumstances. 

What Is Professional Judgment?

Professional judgment refers to the discretion that federal regulations give to financial aid administrators to make adjustments, on a case-by-case basis, to certain elements of a student's FAFSA information to account for special circumstances. These adjustments are intended to provide a more accurate assessment of the amount of federal aid eligibility.

Professional judgment allows the Office of Financial Aid to adjust a student's expected family contribution for educational expenses, standard cost of attendance (COA) budget, and/or financial aid dependency status, as determined by federal guidelines. Adjustments submitted for consideration must be documented and reasonable as it pertains to the cost of attendance and are on a case-by-case basis.

Requesting a Professional Judgment Review

Duke Graduate School students may request that the school's Office of Financial Aid review their federal aid eligibility in light of certain special circumstances (described in the guidelines below). 

To submit a request, students must complete the online Request for Professional Judgment Review form (the link is at the bottom of this page), which includes uploading the required documentation. 

Please review the guidelines carefully and collect all necessary information and documentation before starting the online request form.

    Guidelines for Professional Judgment Review

    The Duke Graduate School Office of Financial Aid, in accordance with federal regulations, establishes a standard student budget for all aid recipients based on expected tuition and other campus fees, average housing costs, average book and supply expenses, and average transportation costs for commuting students within the tri-county area (Durham, Wake, and Orange). However, adjustments may be made for the following documented circumstances (click each header to expand that section):

    Child care for dependent children
    • Costs that may be considered include child or day care expenses for children younger than school-aged or requiring special needs as documented by a medical provider.
    • Increases are not permitted for the costs of food and shelter for dependents.
    • The maximum allowance is $5,000 of child-care expenses paid in a year for one qualifying individual. Students who have an employed partner contributing to the household income will be eligible to receive the maximum allowance of $2,500 per dependent child.
    • Through federal student loan programs, we cannot consider the cost of childcare for a married student whose spouse is an at-home parent. Also, if a student is applying or receiving The Graduate School's child-care subsidy (applicable to only Ph.D. students), they are not eligible for this adjustment. In-home care by a nanny or service is not eligible.

    Required Information and Documentation

    • For each dependent receiving child care: name, age, and relationship. (You will be asked to enter this information into the online request form.)
    • For each child-care service provider: Name, address, weekly cost, dates of the time period when service is/will be used, and total actual or estimated cost for the academic year.
    • A billing statement or invoice for each provider.
    Travel expenses
    • Travel expenses may be considered for approved study-abroad programs and travel related to academic studies.
    • Allowances may be made based on documented expenses or mileage. Expenses may include airfare, lodging, meal and other transportation (upon arrival to destination).
    • Foreign travel adjustments will include determination of current State Department per-diem rates or actual expenses, whichever is less.
    • Only the individual student’s travel expenses may be considered. Travel adjustments will not be considered for student family or dependents.
    • Our office has the right to request to see boarding passes if the adjustment is approved. If travel did not occur, or the student is not able to produce boarding passes, the travel adjustment to the student's COA will be removed, and the student’s federal funds will be returned in the amount of the requested travel. The student will thus be responsible for reimbursing their bursar account in that amount.

    Required Information and Documentation

    • A summary outlining proposed research, destination, and dates
    • Documentation showing travel expenses (e.g., flight information).
    Documented special needs or disability expenses

    Documented special needs or disability expenses that may be considered include special services, personal assistance, transportation, equipment, and supplies that are reasonably incurred and not provided by other agencies.

    Required Information and Documentation

    • For each person receiving care: name, age, and relation (You will be asked to enter this information into the online request form.)
    • Proof of specific disability from agency or provider, and documentation of expenses, such as receipts or statement of services (You will be asked to upload 1 PDF file containing all these documents.)
    Computer purchase
    • The maximum allowance for purchase of a computer is $3,000 for students in years 1-3 and $3,000 for students beyond their third year. This means that one student may be eligible for an adjustment of up to $6,000 in computer-related expenses for the duration of their academic careers. Purchases must be at least 3 years apart.
    • Eligible expenses may also include printers, maintenance contracts, and upgrades.
    • Purchases of software, printer supplies, online service fees, etc. will be assumed to be covered in the existing COA allowance for books and supplies.
    • We cannot approve adjustment for purchases made by others on your behalf.

    Required Information and Documentation

    • The amount you are requesting (maximum of $3,000)
    • Receipts (if you already made the purchase) or a document showing the intended purchase and its price (e.g., a PDF of the product webpage) (You will be asked to upload 1 PDF containing all these documents)
    Medical or dental expenses not covered by insurance

    Documentation of significant out-of-pocket medical or dental expenses not covered by insurance during the current year and paid by the student may be submitted for consideration.

    Required Information and Documentation

    • Short description of each medical expense, the amount requested, name and relation of the person receiving the care, and whether insurance has been filed (You will be asked to enter this information into the online request form.)
    • 1 PDF of documentation for all the expenses listed, to be uploaded into the online request form. For each procedure/treatment, you should include:
      • Letter from health-care provider that documents the procedure/treatment
      • Documentation that the treatment is medically necessary
      • Date of the procedure/treatment
      • Original expense with the patient's name, date of service, and the medical/dental provider contact information
      • Amount paid (or to be paid) by insurance and any other amount to be subtracted from the balance due
      • Estimated or actual cost to the student (the amount not covered by insurance). The documentation must clearly delineate the payments (amount and date) made by the student from payments made by insurance.
      • Estimate from provider for services to be performed within the academic year (e.g., planned medical procedures)
    Research, dissertation, or thesis expenses

    Research, dissertation, or thesis expenses must be fair and responsible. Our office may contact your department chair or director of graduate studies to confirm that the expense(s) are needed for your research, dissertation or thesis.

    Required Documentation for the Request Form

    • Documentation of intended purchases
    • An explanation of how the item(s) will be used toward your research
    Special circumstances

    Our office may also consider other special circumstances that are not addressed in the other sections above. 

    Required Documentation for the Request Form

    • A summary of the circumstance(s)
    • Documentation that pertains to the request

    The following category can only be considered through the use of private student loan programs and not the federal loan programs:

    • Duke Student Medical Insurance Plan family coverage: This increase may be made to the cost of attendance budget when proof of coverage is presented to the Financial Aid Office. Statements and explanations provided by the student for immediate family expenses do not constitute supporting documentation for budget adjustments. 

    Conditions that do NOT merit COA adjustments include (but are not limited to):

    • Automobile or household expenses
    • Consumer indebtedness (including but not limited to, auto loans, credit card payments, student loan payments)
    • Financial support of a spouse or dependents
    • Additional food purchases beyond budget
    • Utility and telephone bills
    • Private school enrollment for dependent children or family, afterschool care, summer camps for dependents

    Important Notes

    • Other institutional or external support must also be reported in this application in order to determine federal aid eligibility.
    • Upon submission of the application and all documentation, students should receive an email from the Duke Graduate School Office of Financial Aid in approximately 10 days with a decision on the professional judgment request.
    • Students must submit all requests before the end of the academic year.

    Submitting Your Request

    Once you have reviewed the above guidelines and collected the required documentation, complete the online Request for Professional Judgment Review form.