Special Circumstances


At Duke, we take the time to personally consider each individual family's financial circumstances. We make every effort to be as accommodating as possible when determining your financial aid award, and we have developed guidelines to help you understand what we can and cannot consider as special circumstances.

Circumstances Already Considered in Your Aid Award

The following circumstances are automatically considered when evaluating your financial aid:

  • Federal, state, and other taxes
  • Medical expenses that are either
    • 4% of your total income or less, or
    • reported on your IRS Form 1040 Schedule A, line 1
  • Routine household expenses
  • Routine vehicle and travel expenses
  • Tuition expenses for children in private primary/secondary schools
  • Multiple children in college
  • Previously reported special circumstances

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What Qualifies as a Special Circumstance?

When determining financial aid eligibility, the following qualify as special circumstances and should be included in a letter at the time of application or at the time the event occurs:

  • Support of multiple households (married family members living apart, elder care, or care of family overseas)
  • One-time income
    • Withdrawal of retirement funds for emergency purposes
    • Moving allowances or similar expenses incurred and reimbursed by an employer
  • Funeral expenses or unreimbursed medical and dental expenses that are both
    • 5% of total income or more, and
    • Not reported on your IRS Form 1040 Schedule A
  • Educational debt
    • Note: we will only consider parental educational debt that is currently in repayment, documented, and for students (parents and/or siblings) who are no longer enrolled
  • Job loss or significant reduction in income

If you have experienced one of the situations above (other than job loss or income reduction), please click here to download the Special Circumstances Form. For the 2020-21 academic year, please email us at finaid@duke.edu for submission instructions.

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What Doesn't Qualify as a Special Circumstance?

When determining financial aid eligibility, the following are not and will not be considered in our analysis, and therefore would not qualify as special circumstances:

  • Expenses related to
    • Pets
    • Housekeepers
    • Vacations
    • Weddings
    • Extracurricular Activities
  • Consumer Debt
  • Fraternity/sorority dues
  • Graduate school expenses for siblings and/or other family members
  • Financial aid offers from other institutions
  • Unwillingness to contribute to educational expenses
  • Inability to pay the calculated family contribution from current income*

*Please note: It is our expectation that families will use all resources available to them to finance the expected family contribution (EFC) including current salary, savings, investments, payment plans and parent loans if necessary.

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Special Considerations for Income Reductions or Job Loss

For Changes that Occurred in 2019

If you experienced a significant reduction in pay in 2019, you may submit your 2019 taxes for a reevaluation. Please email us at finaid@duke.edu for submission instructions. You will be asked to submit your complete 2019 tax return, including all statements and schedules. Please include the student's name, date of birth, financial aid ID, and any other information you feel may be important.

For Income or Job Loss as a result of COVID 19

If you have a COVID-19-related job loss or reduction of income, please fill out our appeal application here. You can fill out this form even if you had previously submitted a COVID-related income reduction in March/April 2020 as an incoming first-year student.

In addition, you have the opportunity to submit your 2020 taxes and wage statements in early 2021 for a reconsideration of your 20-21 aid award. Duke's current policy regarding income reduction or job loss is to collect information once the calendar year has closed and the full impact can be assessed. For instance, if you experienced a significant reduction in pay in 2020 due to one of the qualifying events listed below, we will reevaluate your financial aid in the spring term, once all earnings information from 2020 can be assessed.  At that time, Duke would need your completed 2020 tax returns, W2's, and the Verification of Income form. All appeals would need to be submitted prior to March 1, 2021. Your fall financial aid award will not change until after the evaluation of your 2020 tax information, at which point it will be retroactively adjusted based on your finalized financial information for the year.  We understand this may result in a financial burden for the fall semester, and we will work with you to determine the best financing options available until your financial aid award can be reevaluated.

The following events will qualify you for reevaluation of your financial aid when finalized documentation is available regarding your earnings from the prior year:

  • Job loss/termination
  • Wage/salary reduction
  • Mandatory furlough

Please Note: If you are a business owner, reductions in income as a result of business operations cannot be considered under the special circumstance process unless your tax returns for your family and all businesses can be completed and submitted by March 1, 2021. 

For non-business owners, families should be aware that data must be collected from the entire household who wishes to appeal on the basis of income loss (i.e. wage statements must be received for all wage earners) to determine the net change in household income for the current aid year.  Applications submitted citing only one family members change in earnings will not be considered.

When considering financing options, we recommend looking into monthly payment options, additional federal student loans, federal parent loans, or other private/alternative loan options.  Find out more about your financing options, and contact us if you need assistance.

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