24 Jan Acing The Financial Aid Verification Challenge
In our digital age, we seem to fixate on responding to online challenges – last year people were taking the ice bucket challenge to raise money for ALS. This year the “challenge” is a little more questionable with people wearing blindfolds as part of the Bird Box challenge – some of the results look quite painful as participants try to stumble their way around obstacles.
If you are a high school senior who is applying to colleges, you probably filed the FAFSA already as part of your financial aid application. You might see a notification on your Student Aid Report (SAR) that you have been selected for verification (look for an asterisk next to your EFC), or you might learn about it from your state or one of your schools.
Keep a close eye out for any communications from your colleges, as one of the requests you might receive is for verification of some of the information contained in your FAFSA. While this does involve a little more work, it is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the good news is that the college is seriously considering your application and is working to put together a financial aid package for you.
Verification does not mean that you made an error, or that there is a problem, so you don’t need to panic. Sometimes the request is random; sometimes it is specific to you, or the information provided was not complete. Some colleges may even choose to verify all applications. What it does mean is that they want to completely understand your financial situation and that of your parents, so the college can put together a financial aid package that will motivate you to attend that institution. Here’s what to do if you do receive a request for verification:
• Tax Information: If you completed the FAFSA using the Internal Revenue Service Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT), you usually do not have to verify that information. But some people who didn’t use the tool, filed an amended tax return, or were not required to file a tax return may be asked to submit a tax transcript. This information can be requested at https://www.irs.gov/individuals/get-transcript.
• Other information: Anything that was on the FAFSA can be subject to verification. The requesting entity might look for additional information on citizenship, divorce and child care agreements, family businesses, sibling college enrollments, or investment portfolios. Contact the requester immediately to get the necessary details if you don’t understand what is needed. It is helpful to number pages and print your name and identification number on each page, so your documents can be matched more easily with the rest of your file.
• Pay attention to deadlines and directions: Each entity will provide specific instruction as to what is requested, and how to submit the information. Some may provide a verification worksheet. You may be asked to send hard copies, or the college might allow you to scan and upload documentation through a secure portal. Make ultra-sure you do not miss any deadlines, and that the information you provide is complete. Keep copies of everything you submit, and make a note to yourself of what information was sent and when it was received.
• Respond Promptly: Don’t put off gathering the information. The longer you delay, the longer it will take for the college to complete its evaluation process. Some funding sources may disappear during that time, or it might add more stress to your decision-making process if you are waiting to hear from a specific college.
• Follow Through: Visit your portal a few days after submitting your documents to make sure everything was received, and there are no new requests. If you decide not to complete the verification process for some reason, you may opt out, but you will not be eligible for any financial aid assistance. Notify the colleges that you have chosen not to continue with verification.
You don’t have to dump ice on your head or walk around the house wearing a blindfold to meet a challenge. Just take the time to look for a request for verification and then provide the information!