Every year, about 1/3 of FAFSAs filed are selected for validation, which could be described as FAFSA’s version of an audit. Some FAFSAs are chosen at random for verification, whereas some schools– especially those funding need-based aid out of an endowment– will verify every application. Because verification goes through the school, it’s not unusual for students to first learn about their verification status when they receive an acceptance and financial aid award. Being selected for verification does not typically mean that you’ve done anything wrong, just that you need to provide additional information.
If you are selected for verification, you’ll either see note on your SAR requesting additional documents, or you’ll be contacted by your school, or both. Because some documentation requires time to gather, it’s important to get on this right away if it applies to you. For example, you may be required to submit an IRS transcript of your tax return.
One big issue with verification is that it places a disproportionate burden on lower-income students, since about half of Pell Grant-eligible students will be selected for verification, and this burden has been shown to reduce college attendance– a recent study showed that more than 20% of these students do not complete the verification process, thus denying them access to the Pell Grant (and any other Title VI financial aid). At the same time, a study by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators showed that verification wasn’t effective at rooting out cheaters and in fact served primarily as a deterrent to students: 84% of verified students overall had no change to their EFC or a change too insignificant to impact their Pell Grant award; among students attending two-year schools that increased to 91%.
What to do if you’re selected? Get on it, ASAP. Sometimes the schools simply request documents that you’ll have on hand, but often they want to see your tax return transcript. Here are the Department of Education’s instructions on verification, as well as more details on how IRS DRT and tax return transcripts are handled.