Federal Verification – What is it, and what does it mean if you’re selected?

If you’re not familiar with the financial aid process, you have probably never heard of the procedure called ‘federal verification’. Before I get into the specifics of verification, I will provide some insight on the financial aid process as a whole.


For the most part, colleges rely on some or much of government funding which also contributes to a large portion of the financial aid options available to college students. In order to continue with government programs and offer those funds to students, colleges must abide by the guidelines the government has put in place.


A form you may be acquainted with, the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), is what has been created to calculate financial aid eligibility using those federal regulations. The U.S. Department of Education and subcommittees monitor the FAFSA, its setup, and effectiveness based on the set guidelines. This is also referred to as ‘federal methodology’ (‘institutional methodology’ also exists, and I will dig deeper into the differences between those two in a later post). 


In order to ensure that effectiveness of the current FAFSA and guidelines, the checks and balances process called federal verification is used. Basically, any and every piece of information that is reported on a student’s FAFSA must have another source that can verify it. Your name and SSN are checked with the Social Security Administration. The IRS can prove your tax information. Even a student’s enrollment status is checked with high school and college records.


While verification is a good practice to ensure accuracy and continue government funding, the unfortunate part is that the brunt of work to prove the information is placed on students and their families. If any item is not available to perform these double-checks, or if certain information doesn’t add up, colleges require families to produce document after document until they are satisfied.


What’s important for families to understand is that being selected for this verification process is not your fault, nor a result of something you have done wrong through the financial aid process. Most of the time, the verification process highlights anomalies that need to be substantiated, and for the other part, selection for verification is completely random.


Another significant point is the timeline for completing verification – there is no real deadline that you must meet. Many colleges pressure families to produce documents within 10 days, but the reality is if you completed the initial financial aid paperwork on time, then your student will still remain eligible for any awards they are entitled to receive. It’s only in your best interest to complete requirements as soon as possible, for your own peace of mind, and to more quickly receive your correct tuition bill. And of course, we are here to help you through the process!

  1. Verification strikes fear in my students. I encourage them to breathe, and do what you can. If you are being honest then you have nothing to fear.


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