FAFSA •

March 2, 2022

How Long Does FAFSA Take to Process?

The Department of Education will process the FAFSA within 3 to 10 days. But school-level processing takes longer. Learn all the details here.

FAFSA processing time

Recent data shows that 86% of students receive some sort of financial aid. If you’re a new student figuring out how to pay for college, sorting out financial aid should be your top priority.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is your ticket to financial aid. This all-important application helps you qualify for grants, federal student loans, and even some scholarships. 

But once you’ve filed the FAFSA, how long do you need to wait? How long does the FAFSA take to process? 

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FAFSA basics 

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA, is the single application that all students must complete to qualify for federal financial aid. 

FAFSA basics

The FAFSA is necessary for all types of federal aid, including:

  • Federal grants

  • Federal student loans

  • Work-study

  • Certain scholarships

Plus, most external scholarships require that students have already completed the FAFSA. Put simply, it’s very important that all students complete the FAFSA!

The FAFSA due date is June 30, but some states have different deadlines. Importantly, students must submit the FAFSA each academic year that they wish to apply for financial aid. 

Submitting the FAFSA

Students can complete the FAFSA online here. Students can also submit a paper form by mail, although this will take longer to process. 

The application will ask you for information including:

  • Your personal information, name, social security number, etc.

  • Your parents’ information

  • Your financial information

  • Your parents’ financial information

  • A list of schools you may attend

  • And more

The point of the FAFSA is to determine whether or not you qualify for aid. Eligibility is mostly dependent on your income level and your parents’ income level. There are FAFSA income limits that dictate whether or not a student will qualify for certain types of aid. 

How long does it take to fill out the FAFSA? 

Completing the FAFSA takes around an hour for most students. 

However, it can take much longer if you don’t have the necessary documents available. 

For instance, you may need tax returns, both for yourself and your parents. 

If you start the application process and then realize you don’t have all the required information, you can save your progress and come back later. Just be sure to submit the completed application before the deadline!

Once you’ve submitted the FAFSA, how long will you need to wait for results?

How long does FAFSA take to process? 

For online applications, FAFSA processing generally takes 3 to 5 days. 

For paper applications, FAFSA processing generally takes 7 to 10 days. 

FAFSA processing time

However, there are variables that can affect processing time. 

For instance, if there are any errors on the FAFSA application, it may be sent back to you and will need to be re-submitted. You can correct any FAFSA errors and then re-submit the application. This will restart the processing time. 

To understand FAFSA processing time, it’s helpful to understand the entire procedure:

  1. A student fills out and submits the FAFSA online or by mail.

  2. The US Department of Education processes the application.

  3. If there are errors or missing information, the application will need to be submitted again.

  4. Once the application is processed, students will be sent a Student Aid Report (SAR).

  5. Students review the SAR to confirm accuracy.

  6. The SAR is then sent to the school(s) the student listed on the FAFSA.

  7. Schools then use this information to calculate award eligibility.

  8. In many cases, students will need to follow up with individual schools to complete additional steps to qualify for aid.

  9. Students will be sent a Financial Aid Award Letter from each school that they’re accepted into.

There are essentially 2 aspects to FAFSA processing—federal processing and college-level processing. We’ll dive deeper into these topics below. 

Federal FAFSA processing 

Federal processing of the FAFSA application is straightforward. 

Once submitted, the Department of Education will review the application. Processing takes 3 to 5 days for online applications and 7 to 10 days for paper applications. 

Once processed, a Student Aid Report (SAR) is prepared. You can access this by logging into your FAFSA form using your FSA ID. If you include an email address on your FAFSA application, you’ll also receive an email with instructions on how to access the SAR. 

If you submit a paper application, a physical SAR will be mailed to you. If you submit an online application but don’t include an email address, you’ll be sent a SAR Acknowledgement in the mail. 

The SAR will then be sent to any schools you include on the FAFSA. Schools have access to SARs 1 day after they’re prepared by the Department of Education. 

College-level FAFSA processing 

FAFSA processing at the school level varies a bit more. Each school will have a slightly different process for dealing with financial aid applications. 

Colleges processing FAFSA

Schools are sent the Student Aid Report (SAR) within 1 day after it’s processed by the federal government. 

This form includes everything the school needs to calculate financial aid awards. 

Individual schools are responsible for preparing and distributing financial aid awards. The federal government sends them the necessary information (and much of the funding), but it’s up to the college itself to prepare a financial aid award offer. 

However, not all schools automatically prepare financial aid offers for students, even if the school is included on the student’s FAFSA. 

In many cases, students will need to contact the school’s Financial Aid office to determine what steps are required. 

So, once you receive your SAR, you should contact any school(s) that you’re considering attending. Talk to the financial aid office, and explain that you’re interested in a financial aid award offer. 

This may be the only step required—or the school may ask you to complete additional steps. Again, this varies by school. 

Most schools will only prepare a financial aid award for students who are accepted into that school. So if you haven’t yet applied to a school, it’s unlikely that they’ll go through the hassle of preparing an award offer. 

Once you’re accepted into a school and have completed any necessary financial aid steps, the school will prepare a Financial Aid Award Letter. 

This letter details the award type(s) available to you, as well as the estimated costs of attending that school for 1 year. 

Award letters are usually sent around the same time as acceptance letters—often around March or April. You can check directly with the school to ask when you can expect to receive your letter. 

Finally, you’ll need to choose which school you’ll attend—and which form(s) of financial aid you want to accept. 

You don’t have to accept the entire financial aid package. For instance, if you’re approved for a grant, a work-study program, and student loans, you could choose to decline the student loans and accept the rest. 

How long does it take to receive FAFSA money? 

Schools are required to distribute financial aid funds at least twice per academic year. Many schools distribute funds at the start of each quarter or semester, though this varies depending on the school. Financial aid payments are called disbursements

It’s also important to understand that financial aid disbursements often go to the school first rather than directly to the student.

Most schools will apply grant and/or student loan money to tuition first. If there are funds leftover, these may be distributed to the student. This is also true of many scholarships (though this varies depending on the scholarship terms).

For work-study, students must be paid directly at least once per month. 

Learn more about receiving financial aid funds here, or contact your school’s financial aid office for details. 

How do I claim my FAFSA money?

When you receive a financial aid award letter from a school, you typically must accept the award offer and begin attending the school. You don’t need to accept the entire offer—you could decline student loans, for example, while accepting grants. 

Most financial aid funds are sent directly to the school and will be applied toward tuition automatically. If funds are left over, they’ll generally be sent to the student. 

To learn more about claiming your financial aid award, contact your school’s financial aid department. 

How to monitor the progress of your FAFSA 

As a reminder, here’s the basic process of the FAFSA:

  1. Students must submit the FAFSA by the deadline (end of June).

  2. The Education Department processes the application within 3 to 5 days (online applications) or 7 to 10 days (paper applications).

  3. A Student Aid Report (SAR) is prepared and sent to students.

  4. The SAR is sent to schools listed on the student’s FAFSA within 1 day.

  5. Schools process SAR information and prepare financial aid award offers.

Knowing this process is helpful, but there are other steps you can take to monitor the progress of your application. 

Federal FAFSA portal

Students can access their FAFSA application and SAR at any time by logging in with their FSA ID. This portal lets you view your Student Aid Report, add schools to your FAFSA, and correct any errors or missing information. 

Student Aid Reports will be sent to schools listed on the original FAFSA application. If you don’t list a school, you’ll need to manually add it using the FAFSA portal. 

School financial aid departments

Once the SAR has been prepared, it’ll be sent to all the schools listed, usually within 1 day. 

From here, students can monitor progress by contacting the school(s) directly. You can simply call or email the Financial Aid office at the school to ask questions or monitor the progress of your application. 

Remember that you may need to complete additional steps in order for the school to begin preparing a financial aid award package. 

So, if you’re seriously considering attending a school, you should contact their aid department as soon as you receive your SAR. 

FAFSA timeline: What to expect 

Want the tl;dr of how long the FAFSA takes? The graphic below lays out the details. 

FAFSA timeline

Have more questions? Check out our Financial Aid FAQs resource. 

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Conclusion 

The FAFSA is incredibly important for all students to fill out. Fortunately, you shouldn’t need to wait long to get your results. 

In most cases, it takes between 3 and 10 days for the FAFSA to be processed on the federal level. Information is then sent to schools, who begin preparing financial aid award offers. 

However, keep in mind that individual schools have their own processes and deadlines—contact your school’s financial aid office to learn more. 

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