The Role of Social Security Numbers in Financial Aid Processing

Financial aid administrators are often tasked with educating admissions offices and high school counselors about the importance of collecting social security numbers (SSNs). Families may be reluctant to supply this information and may ask: Why does the college, university or financial aid application need my SSN?

As we all know, we are in the world of systematic coordination of databases. A typical application for admission begins with data entry into an institution’s database, either manually or by systematic download, depending on how a student has applied. If a student leaves the SSN field blank on the admissions application, and the student is applying for financial aid, it could result in a delay in financial aid processing.

It is important to stress to families that, not only does the application for admission require the student’s information, but so does the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). What happens when the FAFSA is submitted for processing? The FAFSA searches these federal databases for confirmation of the student’s information and financial aid eligibility:

  • Social Security Administration (SSA)
  • U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
  • National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS)
  • Selective Service System (SSS)

If one of the searches fails or finds conflicting information, it would delay financial aid awarding. Here are a couple of examples:

Social Security Administration (SSA)

One thing the SSA checks is the student’s citizenship status. If the SSA cannot confirm a student’s citizenship status (due to an incorrect or missing SSN, or for other reasons), then the student would need to provide the school with proof of citizenship before the school could move forward with awarding Title IV funds.

Selective Service System (SSS)

SSS checks to see if men ages 18-26 have registered with the Selective Service. If a male student registered with Selective Service, but did not include his SSN on the registration form, then this search would fail. The student would need to provide proof of SS registration in order for the school to move ahead with awarding Title IV funds. If the student has not registered, he would have to complete the registration before the school could complete the Title IV awarding process. One exception: If a student has not yet turned 18, he would be eligible for Title IV aid, but would need to register once he turns 18.

It is also important to submit accurate SSNs for ongoing processing of Title IV financial aid. The student’s SSN connects federal loans and grants to the student for the duration of his/her education and beyond. The FAFSA cross-checks students and their aggregate loan limits and Pell lifetime eligibility limits. Both NSLDS and the Common Origination and Disbursement (COD) system collect student data and maintain a record of students’ eligibility. During processing, the FAFSA cross-checks this information and lets institutions know the students’ eligibility or ineligibility.

We have all been trained to keep our SSNs private in order to minimize the risk of identity theft. While this is an important practice for maintaining security of our personally identifiable information, when it comes to applying for federal financial aid, the SSN is a key data element. Therefore, it’s important to educate students and families about the role of SSNs in the financial aid process.

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