Eligibility & verification information:
Basic eligibility requirements
Verification forms and documents
Dependency status and required documents
Marital status and documents related to children
What are the basic requirements for aid eligibility?
To be eligible for federal and state financial aid, and institutional academic awards (excluding Honors and Awards Convocation), students must be:
- U.S. Citizens or eligible non-citizens.
- Pursuing a degree and enrolling in coursework required for the degree. Non-degree seeking students are not eligible for federal financial aid. If students previously earned an undergraduate degree, they are not eligible for institutional aid.
- Making satisfactory academic progress. See Satisfactory Academic Progress for additional information.
In addition to the three requirements listed above, if you would like to participate in the federal aid program, you must also:
- Complete the FAFSA. You must update the FAFSA each year. See Important Dates for preferred deadline submissions.
- Have a valid social security number.
- Show that you are qualified to obtain a postsecondary education by completion of high school (or equivalent).
- Register (if you have not done so already) with Selective Service if you're a male between the age of 18 and 25.
- Complete the verification process, if required.
We may request that you provide documentation of:
What is considered an eligible citizen or eligible non-citizen?
A student (and parent, for PLUS Loan) must be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen to receive Title IV federal aid. The general requirements for eligible non-citizens are that they be in the United States for other than a temporary purpose with the intention of becoming a citizen or lawful permanent resident, as evidenced by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
What is acceptable documentation of citizenship or eligible non-citizenship?
U.S. citizens (citizens of):
- The 50 States
- The District of Columbia
- Puerto Rico
- The U.S. Virgin Islands
- The Northern Marian Islands
- Born abroad to U.S. parents
- All U.S. Citizens
- Natives of American Samoa (not considered a U.S. citizen)
- Natives of Swain's Island (not considered a U.S. citizen)
- Natives of American Samoa and Swain's Island are eligible to receive funds from federal programs except the ACG/National SMART grants
- Copy of student's birth certificate.
- Current or expired U.S. Passports.
- Copy of State Department Forms FS-240 (Consular Report of Birth Abroad), FS0-545 (Certificate of birth issued by a foreign service post), or DS-1350 (Certification of Report of Birth).
- Certificate of Citizenship (Forms N-560 or N561).
- Certificate of Naturalization (Forms N-550 or N-570).
|U. S. Permanent residents
- Permanent Resident Card (Form I-551 since 1997) or Resident Alien Card (Form I-551 before 1997).
- Alien Registration Receipt Card (Form I-151) issued prior to June 1978.
- Arrival/Departure Record (Form I-94) or the Arrival/Departure Record (Form I-94A) with the following endorsement: "Processed for I-551."
- Machine Readable Immigrant Visa (MRIV).
- Arrival/Departure Record (Form I-94 or I-94A) with a stamp stating admission.
|Victims of human trafficking
- Student's certification or eligibility letter from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
- For a spouse, child, or parent of a trafficking victim, T-visa (T-2 or T-3), victim's certification letter.
|Persons granted asylum
- Arrival/Departure Record (Form I-94 or I-94A) with a stamp stating admissions.
- Arrival/Departure Record (Form I-94 or I-94A) with a stamp stating admissions.
- Arrival/Departure Record (Form I-94 or I-94A) granted before March 31, 1980, with a stamp indicating that the student has been admitted to the U.S. as a conditional entrant.
|Person paroled into the U.S. for at least 1 year
- Arrival/Departure Record (Form I-94 or I-94A) with a stamp indication that the student has been paroled into the United States for at least one year, with a date that has not yet expired.
- Arrival/Departure Record (Form I-94 or I-94A) with a stamp indication that the student has been classified as a "Cuban-Haitian Entrant."
What is verification?
Verification is the process of confirming that the information reported by the student and/or parent on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is accurate. Each year approximately 30 percent of student applicants nationwide are randomly selected by the Department of Education for verification. Students selected for verification cannot receive federal financial aid until their information is verified.
Why did I get chosen for verification?
Errors on the FAFSA do not necessarily cause a student to be selected for verification, but drastic changes in information or information that appears to conflict may cause a student to be selected. If a student or parent estimates their income on the FAFSA, they will be selected for verification. Students from the same household who both attend Columbia College may be selected for verification if their FAFSA information is inconsistent.
What do I do if I am chosen for verification?
You will need to submit additional documentation to the financial aid office in order to continue the financial aid application process. Certain financial information such as your federal tax return transcript and parents' tax return transcript(s) for dependent students will be required. Please note that the request for tax transcripts may be waived if the student and/or parent(s) use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool when completing the FAFSA. We may also require documentation of untaxed income, child support, SNAP benefits, food stamps, child support and other requested financial information.
What documents are needed for verification?
The initial request for documentation is the same for all students. All students are required to submit a verification worksheet. Dependent students must also submit the Parent Verification Worksheet. Students and parents may be required to submit tax transcripts. Students or parents who were not required to file a federal tax return for the specified year are not required to submit a tax transcript.
An additional request for documents often occurs after the financial aid office reviews the initial submission of documents. Because financial information is student specific, the financial aid office cannot know exactly what is needed until the initial review is made. The financial aid office is required by the U.S. Department of Education to resolve any conflicting information and may request explanations and/or additional supporting documents.
Common additional documentation requests:
- Child support paid/received.
- 50% Support Form. This form must be completed for any person listed in the household on the verification worksheet over the age of 25 who is not your spouse.
- Student/Parent Assets Form. The parent/student asset information is requested when cash, business and investment information is missing from the asset section of the FAFSA. You may choose to change your information by going to fafsa.gov and making a correction to your FAFSA or by submitting the Assets Form to the Financial Aid Office. Students making corrections to the asset section of the FAFSA should notify us at email@example.com of the corrections (attention to verification staff).
- Food Stamp benefits documentation (SNAP).
- Income for Non-Tax Filer Form. This form is required if FAFSA or verification worksheet indicates that the individual was not required to file taxes and income is greater than zero.
Other additional documents that may be requested to resolve conflicting information:
- Income documents, i.e., W-2s, 1099s, Schedule C, etc.
- Documentation of combat pay received that was included in adjusted gross income on federal tax returns.
- Marital status documents, i.e., marriage certificate, divorce decree, documentation of separation.
- Education and non-education veteran benefits documentation.
- IRS Tax Account Transcript to show amended information.
- Documentation of non-filing status (for federal tax return).
- Documentation of at least half-time enrollment status in a degree seeking program for a dependent or spouse at another institution.
- Support Form (available in CougarTrack).
*When submitting additional documentation please provide student name, student ID and phrase "requested information"
on the document. Failure to provide documents in a timely manner can result in delay of eligibility review.
How will I be contacted for additional documents?
We will contact you via Cougar Mail if additional documents are needed.
Verification Form questions:
Who should I list in the household section of the Independent or Parent Verification Worksheet?
- Yourself; and
- Your spouse; and
- Your children: 1) list even if they don't live with you, if you provide more than half of their support from July 1 through June 30, 2) list children in which you are paying child support and amounts of support paid and 3) unborn child, if expected to be born during current academic year and if you will be providing more than 50% of the support for the child.
- Other people if they now live with you, you provide more than half of their support and you will continue to provide more than half their support between July 1 through June 30 (do not include foster children).
I don't have the tax forms needed for verification. Where can I get copies?
You can request a tax return transcript free of charge from the Internal Revenue Service. You should receive the forms within five to ten business days after submitting the request. Please make sure that you request a tax return transcript and not an account transcript. If you filed an amended tax return, we will need both the tax return transcript and a signed copy of your 1040X form.
*Note: Depending on the tax form filed (1040, 1040A, 1040EZ) the number of pages included in the transcript will vary. Be careful to ensure that you include all pages when submitting your transcript to the financial aid office. If the tax return transcript is double-sided, please ensure that both sides are copied and submitted to our office.
Why do you need information about my filing status on my federal tax return?
Federal regulations require that the financial aid office verify tax filing status for all students and parents of dependent students who are selected for verification. Students or parents filing as Head of Household must be able to document eligibility to use this filing status.
I am a married, independent student who filed as Head of Household on my federal tax return. What information do you need from me?
If our records indicate that you filed your FAFSA as married but you or your spouse filed your tax return as head of household, you will be required to answer the below questions so we can resolve the conflicting information between your FAFSA and tax filing status. For more information, you can visit the IRS website at and it will walk you through the below questions for the tax year you are filing:
- Were you a U.S. citizen on the last day of the calendar year?
- Was your spouse a U.S. citizen on the last day of the calendar year?
- What was your marital status on the last day of the calendar year? Single, legally separated, married, widowed?
*Note: "Legally separated" for this purpose means legally separated under a divorce or separate maintenance decree.
- Did your spouse live in your home at any time during the last six months of the calendar year (including temporary absences)?
*Note: A person is considered to have lived with you during periods of time when one or both of you is temporarily absent due to special circumstances such as:
*Note: It must be reasonable to assume that the absent person will return to the home after the temporary absence.
- Vacation, or
- Military service
- Did you pay more than half the cost of keeping up a home for the tax year?
- Did a "qualifying person" live with you in the home for more than half the year (except for temporary absences, such as school)?
How can I show documentation of income?
If you were requested to provide documentation of income, send the Columbia College Financial Aid Income form (available on the financial aid forms page) and all copies of your W-2(s). If you are unable to retrieve your W-2 forms from your records or your employer(s), you can also request a wage and income transcript free of charge from the Internal Revenue Service. You should receive the forms within ten business days after submitting the request.
What is the Support Form?
The Support Form provides Columbia College with support information about a person that you have listed on your verification worksheet. In order to claim a person on your verification worksheet, you will need to show that you support them more than 50%.
What is the Income Form?
If selected for verification, the financial aid office is required to document income earned from work. Students, spouses, or parents who do not file taxes but have income will be required to submit W-2s and the Income Form.
Why do I need to provide documentation of Food Stamps (SNAP)?
The financial aid office is required to verify that a student or member of a household is a recipient of food stamps as part of the verification process. We can accept a letter from the county agency which handles the case or a copy of account history showing that you (or a member of your family) received food stamp benefits.
Am I an independent or dependent student?
According to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you must meet certain criteria to be considered an independent student, even if your parents are not providing financial support for you. To help determine if you are a dependent student, review the Department of Education's Dependency Status link.
If you are a dependent student with an unusual circumstance and want to request a review of your dependency status by the financial aid office, please complete and return the Request for Dependency Override Form located in the forms section.
Why do I need to provide documentation that I am an Orphan/Ward of the Court?
You are being asked for this information if you answered "yes" to the Orphan/Ward of the Court question on the FAFSA. If you are an orphan, you will need to provide copies of your parents' death certificates. If you were determined to be a ward of court or were in foster care after the age of 13, you would need to provide a copy of legal documentation from the court system or family services division.
Why do I need to provide documentation that I am Emancipated?
You are being asked for this information if you answered "yes" to the emancipated minor question on the FAFSA. If you are a legally emancipated minor with documentation of the court judgment, you are automatically an independent student. "Emancipated minor" is a formal legal status that must be declared by a court of law. Simply moving out of your parents' household does not count. A judge must legally declare you emancipated before you reach the age of majority in your state. The court order must still be in effect at the time you file your FAFSA. Please note that documentation of parents' divorce referencing child support emancipation is not the same as being legally determined an emancipated minor.
Why do I need to provide documentation that I am homeless and what documents can be provided?
"Homeless" is strictly defined as lacking fixed, regular, adequate housing. This includes living in shelters, hotels, cars or "couch-surfing" anywhere you can. "Unaccompanied" means that you're not in the physical custody or care of a parent or guardian. This status only applies to students under the age of 21. If you answer yes to any of questions about homelessness on the FAFSA, you will need to provide documentation of your status.
A letter documenting the determination of homelessness must be provided by one of three entities:
- A high school or school district liaison.
- A director of an accredited HUD homeless shelter:
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administers funding for homeless shelters and services under Title IV of the McKinney-Vento Act. These funds are distributed to communities through a competitive grant process. For more information, see: HUD website.
- A director of a runaway/transitional living program or homeless youth basic shelter.
A director of a runaway or homeless shelter can make the determination that you are self-supporting and at risk of being homeless, which means you're living on your own, paying your own way, and are at risk of homelessness.
What documents do you need for my unborn child that I will be supporting this upcoming year?
We can accept documentation from your doctor stating when your due date is or documentation of birth, such as a birth certificate once the child is born.
Why are you asking for child support documents?
This documentation is requested when a student (or spouse or parent) lists on verification worksheet or the FAFSA that they are paying or receiving child support. Documents must show amounts from the calendar year that correspond to the tax year used to complete the FAFSA.
Types of documentation that may be submitted:
- Custody Agreement that shows amount to be paid or received and the names of the child(ren).
- Documentation from Division of Family Services or similar state or county managed child support payment agency showing the amounts and the names of the child(ren).
- If there is a verbal agreement for payment of child support and there is no legal documentation, the student can provide a letter written by the individual paying the support (if student is receiving) or by the individual receiving the support (if student is paying). The letter should be signed. We recommend that the letter be notarized.
- Documentation of pay stubs or bank statements from January 1 through December 31 showing the amounts deducted for the whole year (please circle amounts on document in black ink).
- We can also accept canceled checks or money order receipts for the whole year.
How do I show documentation of my marital status?
This documentation is requested most frequently when the information on federal taxes, FAFSA, and/or Verification Worksheet Form does not match.
- If student is married, documentation of marriage certificate.
- If student is divorced, documentation of divorce decree.
- If student is separated (not legally), documentation of separate residences, such as copies of individual leases for each spouse.
- If student is legally separated, a copy of legal separation or interim order
- We will also review documentation of separate utilities. The documentation dates must be from the same utility and time frame and have the individuals' names on it.
Helpful hints about marital status
A student cannot change his or her marital status on the FAFSA after the date the student filed. If your marital status has changed since filing your FAFSA and your FAFSA financial data no longer accurately reflects your ability to pay for your education, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.