You are not legally required to provide your social security number on college applications: your social security number is private. Schools are not required to ask for it. It will be required for a college loan, but it should not be required for a college application. That’s why I recommend that you do NOT put a social security number on your transcript.
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For more information, read this document from the Social Security Administration: Legal requirements to provide your Social Security Number.
“Giving your SSN is voluntary, even when you are asked for the number directly. If requested, you should ask why your SSN is needed, how your number will be used, what law requires you to give your number and what the consequences are if you refuse. The answers to these questions can help you decide if you want to give your Social Security number. The decision is yours.”
When a college asked for a social security number, I wrote “Not applicable” on the application form. None of the college asked me the question again. Once admitted to a college you will be asked to fill out additional paperwork for financial aid. You can provide a social security number at that time, to that single college. That can prevent those precious number from scattering through multiple colleges and multiple states with varying degrees of security. If a college asks you for the number, you can refuse and then provide it later if necessary.
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This post was originally posted in July 2011.
Admissions applications ask for your SSN so it can be entered in your student record. This allows a college to send you your 1098-T at the end of the tax year, so you can claim your tuition on your income taxes. If you fail to provide your SSN, the college will send your 1098-T to the IRS, rather than to you, which could mean you do not get this form for a significant amount of time.
So in essence, colleges ask for your SSN for tax purposes to comply with IRS regulations.
Colleges will only give you a 1098 if you have been admitted and received money. Colleges do not need the SSN for all applicants, only people who have been admitted. I encourage people to provide the SSN to comply with IRS regulations, but NOT provide the SSN for identification purposes prior to admission. It's very simple to provide the student SSN once the student is admitted to a college.
What Lee says is not entirely true. Most Colleges send 1098Ts to any registered student who incurs costs during the tax year. Receiving money is not a requirement.
The IRS is now fining Colleges who submit 1098Ts for students without an SSN. It will not be long before they begin fining students who willfully refuse to give their SSN for 1098T reporting (on the back of the IRS W-9S form).
It is for the student/parent's benefit that the SSN is given as they could be eligible for a sizeable tax benefit.
The point is that you don't need to provide a social security number when you APPLY to college. You only need to provide the SSN when there will be money involved - as when you are a registered student. They don't need it if you aren't a registered student. They can tell you about the scholarships they will give you even before they have your social security number. They only need the number when you know you wil luse the money.