Verification Does Not Mean You’re In Trouble
Once you submit the FAFSA, and the government calculates your family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), it will then be displayed on your Student Aid Report (SAR). The federal government or a specific college/university may then require verification of the information you supplied on your FAFSA.
This is not an accusation that you filled out the form wrong or that you were intentionally deceptive. The verification process is often randomized and also depends on which schools you send your info too. Some schools verify all FAFSAs and others have randomized verification.
For some perspective, the federal government selects about 30% of the FAFSAs for verification. Some colleges, especially private schools, will select as many as 100% of the FAFSAs for verification—the point of this being that these schools really want to ensure that aid is going to the people that need it.
What does the verification process entail?
Do not be dismayed! Verification is actually quite a simple process. If your financial aid application is selected for verification, the school will require you to submit additional documentation, such as signed copies of your IRS tax returns, W-2 and 1099 forms.
Most importantly, if you have been selected for verification, send in the requested documentation as soon as possible!
Colleges will have verification deadlines. If you don’t meet them, you will probably lose out on potential aid. Furthermore, some aid is first-come-first-served and verifying your info quickly will allow more time for the government or college to confirm your info, thereby giving you more time to compare financial aid packages.
The Department of Education usually focuses on these specific categories for verification:
- Household size
- Family members in college
- Adjusted Gross Income
- Paid Taxes
- Untaxed income and benefits
It’s a good idea to keep this information at hand after you submit the FAFSA, just in case.
How do you know if you’ve been selected for verification?
On your Student Aid Report, there will be an asterisk next to your EFC or some other notice indicating that you have been selected for verification. Individual colleges will usually send out a letter to notify you of the verification process and the steps you must take.
The Financial Aid Award Letter
Once the verification process is completed, each college will begin the process of issuing financial aid award letters to all deserving students. This includes many high-income families whose students will attend higher-priced private colleges. Private colleges often provide tuition discounts to reward good students from high-income families.
The family should compare the financial aid package from each college. Do not look just at the total amount of aid but conduct a bottom-line analysis of the net out-of-pocket cost of attending each school. Different schools, for example, may have different costs for room and board.
Depending on the type of college (private vs. public), you can appeal your award letter after finding out what your financial aid package entails. Private schools have institutional grant money that can be negotiated, but state schools are funded by the state and have less flexibility. Unfortunately, even private college financial aid packages can fall short of what you anticipate.
You may also receive an award from a second-choice school that is more generous than the one from your first-choice school. Don’t hesitate to try and leverage the better offer with your top choice. Naturally, it helps to apply to more than a few schools if you are looking to augment your financial aid package in the end. If you are a good student, apply to schools where you would be considered top of the class. They want you to improve their stats and will often give better offers.
Remember, a school’s first financial aid offer doesn’t have to be its last. Improving your aid award is possible!
Appealing the Financial Award Letter
If you are appealing an award package, you should be able to demonstrate that there is a legitimate need for additional aid. For example, you may have had a change in employment or an unusual family circumstance since completing your initial financial aid application. Since May is the standard time to notify colleges of your decision, you’ll need to take some swift action.
As financial aid offers turn up in your mailbox, you must first do three things if you want to try for an improved aid package:
- Understand the Components – First, you have to fully grasp what each school is offering you. Although the financial aid award letter varies in format from school to school, it should contain the following items:
- Your cost of college
- Your family’s expected financial contribution (EFC)
- Your family’s need (the cost of college minus your EFC)
- A listing of each aid source and dollar amount
- A date by which you must return the award letter
- Information on “appealing” any detail in the award letter
- Compare Packages – Next, compare your aid packages carefully. They can be as different as night and day. Consider the amount you have to pay out of your pocket now and how much you’ll eventually have to repay in the future. In other words, be wary of how much of the award is in the form of loans.
- Respond to the Award Letter – Don’t delay in responding to this award letter just because you’re still waiting to hear from other schools. If you don’t reply on time, the aid package can be revoked. Responding to an award letter does not commit you to attending the school(s); it merely safeguards your award. In responding, you have three choices – you can accept the award in its entirety, you can accept some components and reject others, or you can reject the offer entirely and request a revision in the composition of the package.
If you’ve decided to ask for additional aid, you will need to persuade the financial aid administrator of the college. Be sure to contact the financial aid office as early as possible because the school’s extra discretionary aid runs out fast. Present your case in a well-thought-out and diplomatic manner. If you have a legitimate argument, you should support it with documentation.
Time is of the essence and an improper award letter appeal could cost you thousands of dollars. Contact our office as soon as you receive your award letter and we’ll help you develop an appeal strategy to take to the financial aid administrator.