Three Papers

Financial Aid Document Intake: Who Said it Can’t Be Easier?

Rejection.

What comes to mind for most of us when we hear that word is the time she said no to a date or the time they didn’t call back for a second interview.

Admit it – the memory of it still stings a bit.

In financial aid, document rejection is a lot more hassle than having to track down a back-up date to prom. But it doesn’t have to be.

In this blog, we cover why documents get rejected, problems with the current document intake and rejection systems and solutions to help schools and students prevent the big Rejection or at least make it easier.

Why Docs Get Rejected

I reached out to my financial aid experts to find out why verification documents get rejected. Compliance is crucial in financial aid, so even minor errors force a financial aid staffer to reject a document and request a new one from a student. The top reasons for financial aid document rejection are:

  • Wrong document – (i.e. Tax Return you wanted the Tax Transcript)
  • Missing information, such as signature or even signature date
  • Incomplete or conflicting information
  • Unclear fax or scan
  • Errors on Verification Worksheets
  • Corrections made to document after being signed (usually scribbled or whited out)
  • Incorrect person signed document (i.e. parents are divorced and parent listed in the household is not the parent who signed)

Current Document Intake & Rejection Systems

Let’s imagine the current document intake and rejection scenario for most schools.

Financial aid officers arrive for the day. There are some documents waiting on the fax machine, a few sitting in the snail mail box and some amongst officers’ email inboxes. These must all be collected and carefully indexed to the students who sent them in.

One officer discovers a student has faxed in a verification document with partial information. The verification process is immediately stalled while the busy financial aid officer takes the document back to his desk and looks up the student’s information in the system to find her contact information. The officer then either sends an email or makes a call to inform the student of the issue with the document and request a new document. Often the officer will scan the document and index it into the imaging system to have a full record of what the student has submitted.

Indexing and scanning must take place for every document students fax or mail in. Even on scanned, emailed docs, staff must still take the time to index them to a students’ account.

It’s no wonder valuable financial aid staffers are so overwhelmed. But the process isn’t over yet.

Next up is the waiting game. Did the student get the voicemail or email? Counselors must wait a few days to give the student a chance to respond before reaching out again. Then, once student contact is made, there is more waiting while the student gets the corrected document to a fax machine, mailbox or scanner (if they’re not on campus) or brings it into the financial aid office.

The entire process can take weeks, with frustration and unnecessary delays on both sides.

A Better Way

By now you may be wondering why someone hasn’t solved this problem? Or you may be so accustomed to this process, that you’re thinking, “Yeah I know, so what?”

There is a better way. A much better way.

Technology has changed the entire world around us – 15 years ago, we wouldn’t have dreamed that we could send money to a friend by waving our phone over theirs or that we’d be able to fabricate organs on a 3D printer. Every industry has been revolutionized by technology, and it’s time for higher ed Financial Aid to experience the same improvement in processes.

Introducing StudentVerification: a web-based software that automates the verification process, facilitating student notifications, document collection, data validation and school communication.

New & Improved Document Intake & Rejection Systems

With StudentVerification, this is how a document intake and rejection scenario would look:

A financial aid officer arrives for the day and logs into her school’s document review workflow (provided by StudentVerification). This is where officers may review verification document submission activity.

The officer can quickly see that three students have responded to requests for additional documentation the night before by submitting the necessary documents via mobile upload. She quickly reviews the documents in the StudentVerification system and notes the quality of each document is excellent. This is likely attributed to the “review” function in StudentVerification, in which a student is asked to review the quality of their uploaded document before submitting it.

The officer notes one document is lacking a signature date, so the counselor simply rejects the document with a click of the mouse, selects the reason for rejection (this is saved on the financial aid office side of the software), and comments to tell the student how to fix it (see the graphic to the right). StudentVerification sends a notification in cyber speed to the student’s email inbox as well as cell phone via SMS to say the document was rejected.

This all occurs in one screen without the officer needing to look up the student’s information, add it to an email and type out a message explaining the rejection and requesting a corrected document.

Mobile Notifications

Research shows the open rate for text messages is 98% and 9 out of 10 texts are read within three minutes of sending. That means no more wondering if the student received the financial aid officer’s voicemail or email requesting updated documents. Students who opt into SMS notifications are being reached faster and with higher success rates than never before.

Auto-indexing

Note that none of the documents had to be indexed, because the system auto-indexes them. How did the students get into the system in the first place? StudentVerification securely transfers all data for students selected for verification with the click of a mouse.

Validated E-Signature Included

Next week, we will also dive into how students and their parents can sign verification documents with StudentVerification’s free, all-inclusive e-signature capabilities.

If you are interested in learning more about StudentVerification, request a demo here or call 602.643.1311.