Financial aid verification adds an extra step for students applying for college, a routine process that comes around again each year. For college success advisors, this is familiar territory, but the process is anything but routine for our students. We shouldn’t forget what an unnerving experience it can be for students who may perceive verification as a threat to their college plans.
Students need to advocate for themselves through the process of financial aid verification and the burden of tracking down information and paperwork will fall on their shoulders. But through educational resources and emotional support, college success programs can help ensure that students see the process through — and that they don’t experience verification melt along the way.
Here are a few words of guidance and support you should consider sharing with your students.
“You might be selected for financial aid verification.”
All too often, students aren’t aware of the verification process until they see the flag on their Student Aid Report or are informed by their school. This can raise the alarm bells for students who may feel that they have done something wrong or are confused about next steps. Advisors can help get ahead of those concerns by educating students about the financial aid process in advance, beyond just filing for FAFSA. One in five students will be asked to submit additional documentation to verify the information on their application, so it’s a very common process. Be sure to give students a heads up that there may be an extra step before their application is complete.
“Here’s what to expect.”
While the verification process will be different for every student, college success advisors can help students understand what to expect and share tips and tricks from past experience. Encourage students to start early — institutional aid is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, and some documentation will take time to arrive by mail. Conquer verification anxiety with educational resources like webinars, tips on social media, or backgrounds like this one: All About Verification. By offering guidance along the way, advisors can help students feel empowered to tackle the process.
“This is just one more step along your path to college.”
Financial aid verification can be intimidating. Some students will be concerned that they’re in trouble or have made a critical mistake in the process of applying for aid. But even if there was a mistake on their FAFSA, they are not being penalized through the verification process; they just have an extra step to get the right information squared away. Other students may feel discouraged about their college plans altogether, especially for those struggling with imposter syndrome. The worst possible outcome of verification is that students fail to enroll as a result of the process, so be aware of the feelings and questions it can provoke. Encouragement from a trusted advisor can help ease their fears and remind them that they deserve their place on campus.
“We’re here to help.”
Most importantly, advisors should let students know they aren’t in it alone. Monitor their progress to ensure the verification process stays on track. Anticipate potential challenges — such as parents who are uncomfortable sharing their financial information, or difficulty getting to a printer or the post office — and offer solutions to ease the process. Practical support goes a long way on its own, but it also signals to your students that you believe in them and are there to provide support, every step of the way.
For many students, financial aid is what makes college possible. By normalizing the verification process and showing up as an advocate, advisors can help students stay on track to access the funds they need to pursue the lifechanging experience of higher education.
Learn more about how to support students through the verification process. Click here to access “A Guide to Financial Aid Verification for College Success Advisors.”