FAFSA verification process affects 30% of applicants, can leave students confused

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Kaelin Triggs had several obstacles in the FAFSA verification process. Financial aid counselors helped Triggs through the process.

Each year, a handful of college students get selected at random to verify information provided on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Typically, a student has to obtain their own or their parents’ tax returns or W-2s. However, students who are selected for this process do not always have it simple.

Sophomore Kaelin Triggs was chosen for verification for the first time during the summer. After verifying his contact information and tax returns, during the fall semester, Triggs received an email from Webster informing him the federal government was requesting proof of his parents’ divorce. This was to be given to the university to be approved so Triggs could register for spring classes.

“It took the rest of the winter to try and verify that my parents were actually divorced,” Triggs said. “We weren’t really able to get the divorce papers, so my mom just emailed Webster and confirmed and they accepted that email.”

According to the Department of Education, about 30% of college students have to go through the process each academic year. Those chosen usually have the Pell Grant previously awarded, which students from low-income households are eligible for.

If a student fails to provide the needed information, they will not receive any federal financial aid. This could mean the student has to drop out. Triggs felt worried he would meet that fate.

“It was a frustrating process because I wanted to be in school and register for classes, but [the federal government] kept delaying my money for school,” Triggs said. “I was kind of embarrassed to tell anyone else because I thought I was going to get kicked out of school since I didn’t have money.”

However, Triggs sought help from the Office of Financial Aid. Financial aid counselors helped guide Triggs through communicating with the government and getting the materials.

Jessica Key, assistant director of the Office of Financial Aid, says students needing help with verification are common, so the office provides a variety of resources.

“We have everything on our website. We also have financial aid counselors, Zoom meetings with students, students can call customer service, and our offices are open and staffed to help students if they have questions,” Key said. “We welcome students to contact us and get in touch with their financial aid counselor if needed to walk through any kind of procedures as far as what to do ‘if…’”

The office has its own guidelines for helping students through all different kinds of financial concerns. Triggs is thankful for his financial aid counselor, Ashley Richardson, who helped explain what his FAFSA needed to him and his parents.

“After the first week of registration and I wasn’t able to register for class, I reached out to Ashley to get the process sped up,” Triggs said. “I would talk to her on the phone or on Zoom with my parents once a week to figure out what we needed to do to make sure I could come back this semester.”

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Kate McCracken
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