Financial Resource Center


Verification: Confirm Your Financial Aid Before Starting College

by Ken O'Connor / April 28th, 2011

Now that many colleges have sent out admissions and financial aid packets to their would-be freshman, a sigh of relief can be universally heard from the many families wondering about their college prospects. Whether accepted or rejected, the decision made by the school allows for students to no longer be left wondering about their future. They know exactly where they may attend based on acceptance. But now the issue moves to paying for college. As many students now understand, the admittance to an exclusive school without sufficient financial aid and scholarships is not cause for great celebration, but rather a reason for great consideration and preparation. Additionally, there may be verification. What is verification? Verification is a review of a family's tax and asset information to confirm the accuracy in comparison to the data supplied on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is done to ensure the accuracy of financial aid awards being given to students, and to correct mistakes that may have been made on the application. Reasons for being selected include:
  • Very low or zero family income listed;
  • Failure to sign the application;
  • Incorrect or missing data, like Social Security number or birth date; or
  • Being randomly selected.
Each year about one-third to as many as one-half of all college students are selected for verification. When selected, the student is required to submit to their school's financial aid office copies of family tax returns, W-2′s, certain investment statements, investment property information, and other documents where required. The financial aid office then reviews the information to confirm accuracy. As long as the family financial information matches the data entered onto the FAFSA, financial aid eligibility should be retained. However, if income and assets are greater than what was stated on the FAFSA, the student could lose financial aid eligibility. If income and assets are less than what was stated on the FAFSA, the student may increase financial aid eligibility. However, more often than not, it is found that income and assets were understated, and therefore financial aid eligibility is reduced. Verification is a critical process for incoming freshmen: The process of admitting new freshman into a college is a major project that the admissions and financial aid offices work together to complete. Schools send out admission and financial aid confirmations in an integrated packet to quickly confirm the student's commitment. That is because colleges recognize that financial aid offered is a major college choice decision point. However, the financial aid that is offered is subject to potential changes if selected for verification. Schools begin sending out requests for family tax information to new freshmen as early as April to expedite this review. Each year at every college there are students whose financial aid eligibility is reduced as a result of the verification process. Suddenly, the financial framework backing attendance to a specific school has come unraveled. This leaves students in a tough spot, just when they thought their college search had concluded. What to do if you are selected:
  1. Make sure to honor the request ASAP: As soon as you find out you are selected for verification, submit all documentation immediately.
  2. If the tax and asset information is identical to what was stated on the FAFSA, you have nothing to worry about: Just make sure you get all your ducks in a row!
  3. Make sure all required documents are submitted: Sometimes a verification request can be extensive, especially for families that own real estate or a business. If possible, hand deliver all verification documents to a counselor to confirm they have everything needed. A counselor should know based on review if additional documents are required.
  4. Follow up soon: Financial aid offices can operate very slowly. However, as a new freshman, you need to know as soon as possible about funding changes. After submitting a verification request, contact the financial aid office within five business days to get an update on processing. If it takes longer than five business days to complete, you need to get an estimated completion date established. This way, if faced with bad news about a funding reduction, there is still time to deal with it.
  5. Keep options open: Have a backup plan ready in case things fall through financially with the primary school choice. Good backup schools are ones that are geographically close to home, or have low enough costs to make them affordable.
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Ken O'Connor is a financial aid expert and the director of student advocacy at Learn more about credit union private student loans and college planning by visiting his blog.
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