News: Financial Aid

FAFSA Verification: Three Common Roadblocks and How to Solve Them

Wednesday, September 25, 2019  
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By guest blogger Sonja Demps, Operations Coordinator, Dell Scholars Program

This article was originally published on the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation website. It is republished here with permission.

For students from low-income backgrounds, many of them the first in their families to attend college, applying for federal aid can be a daunting process. Many breathe a sigh of relief when the FAFSA is submitted, but for nearly half of these students, there is still a long road ahead. Each year, some students are selected to provide additional information to verify their financial details in a process known as verification.

Completing verification can be stressful and burdensome, but here’s the thing: it’s absolutely worth it. As advisors, we have the opportunity to support students through the process so they don’t miss out on the financial aid that can make college possible. At Dell Scholars, we’ve been through this process with hundreds of students over the years. Here are a few common roadblocks our students faced during FAFSA verification and how we helped them stay on track.

Student Roadblock #1: I have no idea where to track down all these documents!

Gathering the documents required for verification can amount to days or even weeks of research, phone calls, and waiting in lines. We’ve had students call us in tears after following telephone prompts and waiting on hold for hours, just to have the call drop before getting any answers. The clock is ticking, emotions are high, and students may feel like their whole future is at stake.

This is probably most students’ first visit to the IRS website. Some of them have never filed taxes before or completed a W-2. Doing anything for the first time involves some trial and error – which can amount to serious frustration when collecting the required documents for FAFSA verification.

Our Take: For Dell Scholars advisors, verification is familiar territory. We are able to serve as a guide for students and their families, sharing resources on where to access different documents or guidance on how to confirm their status. Heading into FAFSA season, consider offering informational materials,  webinars, tips on social media, and/or helpful links to provide a roadmap for the journey ahead.

Roadblock #2: I sent the required documents a while ago but haven’t received any updates. How can I confirm my status?

After scrambling to track down all those documents and rushing them to the post office, it’s hard to be patient when so many plans are waiting in the balance. What if the documents were lost in the mail? What if there’s still something missing?

Our Take: We know the agony of this waiting game! Here are a few tips we offer our Dell Scholars that may help your students as well.

  • Always upload documents to your college’s financial aid portal when that option is available for submitting documents.
  • When sending documents into the IRS or to your financial aid office, it only costs a few dollars for “return-receipt” notification about whether they arrived. Your peace of mind is worth it.
  • Still worried about whether that document arrived? Send a second copy right after the first. And if you haven’t received any updates within four weeks, it’s time to send another copy.
  • FAFSA verification can overlap with tax season, so you can imagine the hold times at the IRS! Before spending hours on the phone, make use of online resources. Check Where’s My Amendment to see if your amendment has been processed and follow your status on your college’s student portal.

Roadblock #3: My parents aren’t comfortable sharing their financial information.

In the midst of planning for college and making major decisions about the future, students are asked to disclose what may be closely guarded family secrets – every detail of their parents’ financial situation and their own, down to the last penny. Some parents may have concerns about how their information will be used, and after completing FAFSA, many students are uncomfortable approaching their parents yet again to request more documentation.

Our Take: It’s common for parents to express concerns about sharing personal information outside the family. This often stems from a lack of knowledge and understanding about the process. As advisors, we have the opportunity to serve as a trusted resource, providing assurance that their information will remain confidential, and explaining why it is needed and the specific consequences if it isn’t provided. By addressing their concerns and including them in the decision-making, we can help parents get on board.

FAFSA verification can leave students feeling unsure of their financial footing for college. The stakes are high, and the nuances of financial aid can feel like reading a foreign language.  Unfortunately, upwards of 25 percent of those selected will ultimately fail to complete the process; however we have a powerful opportunity to help students navigate the bumps ahead and make sure they stay on the road towards their goal of a college education.

We would love to hear from our colleagues working in the college completion field: what are your tips for navigating the verification process? Let us know by tagging us on Twitter at @DellScholars, and by using the hashtag #verificationtips.

(Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash)