How Long Does It Take for FAFSA to Process?

Filling out the FAFSA is essential for getting financial aid, but how long does it take to process?

How Long Does It Take for FAFSA to Process?
Matthew Guay

If you are a prospective college student, nowadays financial aid is extremely common to apply for. Student loans have exploded as an industry, which has helped a lot of students get the funding they need to pay for college, but has led to a massive ballooning in student loan debt. Fortunately, there are various ways of getting financial aid for college and one of the most important ways to get it is through federal programs. This kind of financial aid depends on filling out and submitting a FAFSA form.

Read on for a breakdown of what a FAFSA form is, how FAFSA works, and how long it takes for your FAFSA to be processed.

What Does FAFSA Stand For?

If you’re in need of financial aid to attend college, going through the federal government is one of the more popular routes to take. Another or additional route is securing student loans from private lenders. In order to secure federal financial aid, you’ll need to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year. Filling out the FAFSA is essential to be eligible for federal student loans, Pell Grants, and an array of other state-level, federal-level, and school-level financial aid.

How Does FAFSA Work?

The FAFSA is a form that you fill out and submit to the Department of Education (DOE), which uses the FAFSA to determine how much federal financial aid you are eligible for. The FAFSA takes into account your personal financial information — typically, the income of your parents and how much they can provide for you to go to college — in order to determine how much federal financial aid you qualify for. The DOE does this through its formula for your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), an index number used to determine if you qualify for and for how much federal financial aid.

Your EFC is based on the EFC formula, which is implemented by law. Each year, an EFC Formula Guide is published, and divides up applicants into three categories:

  • Formula A, which is used for dependent students

  • Formula B, which is used for independent students without dependents other than a spouse

  • Formula C, which is used for independent students with dependents other than a spouse

These formula sheets generally ask for various financial details about your parents’ income, allowances against parents’ income, available income, parents’ contribution from assets, parents’ contribution in total, plus student’s income, allowances against student income, student’s contribution from assets, which leads to a final Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

Once you fill out the FAFSA form, it will be sent to schools that you list in your application, hence enabling the colleges to create packages of information for prospective and current college students, detailing the financial assistance that they qualify for. Many states also use FAFSA information to determine which students are eligible for scholarships and grants offered on the state level.

When Is the FAFSA Deadline?

When it comes to the FAFSA timeline, FAFSA and individual schools have specific deadlines. However, knowing when your FAFSA money comes in is important in order for you to make good financial decisions. Each academic year has its own federal FAFSA deadline. Below you’ll find the FAFSA deadlines for two academic years:

2022-2023 Academic Year FAFSA Deadline

The completed FAFSA form must be submitted by 11:59 pm Central Time on June 30, 2023. Any corrections or updates you need to make must be submitted by 11:59 pm on September 9, 2023.

2021-2022 Academic Year FAFSA Deadline

The completed FAFSA form must be submitted by 11:59 pm Central Time on June 30, 2022. Any corrections or updates you need to make must be submitted by 11:59 pm Central Time on September 10, 2022. 

When it comes to individual colleges and universities, they all have their own FAFSA deadlines. You’ll need to check with the colleges and universities you’re applying to in order to find out their FAFSA deadline.

How Long Does It Take for FAFSA to Process?

A common question for students who fill out the FAFSA is, how long does it take for FAFSA to process? This timeline depends largely on how you submit your FAFSA form. Here’s a breakdown of how long the FAFSA process takes:

  • If you submitted your FAFSA form online, then your application will be processed within 3 to 5 days. 

  • If you submitted a paper FAFSA form, your application will be processed within 7 to 10 days.

  • If you submitted a paper FAFSA form, without an FSA ID or email address included, your application will be processed in 3 weeks or more.

Getting a Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID) in advance will seriously speed up the FAFSA process. To get your FSA ID, go to fafsa.gov and create one. Take note that there’s often a lag in time from when you create your FSA ID and when you can successfully use it. Thus, it’s a good idea to create your FSA ID a couple of days before you plan on completing your FAFSA form.

After your FAFSA application is processed, you’ll receive a copy of your Student Aid Report (SAR). This document sums up the information you provided on your FAFSA form. It’s a good idea to check over your SAR to make sure all of the information is complete and accurate. If you do find any missing or incorrect information, you need to correct your FAFSA form as soon as possible. Fortunately, the federal program does have deadlines for corrections (mentioned above), although the individual schools you apply to will have their own deadlines.

Your SAR includes your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is calculated based on the formula worksheet you filled out when completing your FAFSA form. After your FAFSA form has been processed by the Department of Education, your SAR is sent to the colleges that you listed on your FAFSA form. When your SAR is sent out to colleges you listed, they are responsible for generating an award package and disbursing your financial aid. It should be noted, however, that simply listing a college on your FAFSA form is typically insufficient to receive aid at that college because most colleges do not create award packages for every applicant who lists the college on a FAFSA form. This is why it’s important that you contact the financial aid office at the college or university you plan to attend to find out if there are any additional requirements for receiving financial aid and to learn more about the process of applying for aid at that college.

The Bottom Line on the FAFSA Process

Filling out the FAFSA form is an essential step if you’re looking for federal financial aid for college. It’s also a key step for alerting state-level and school-level financial aid programs that you’re looking to qualify for assistance. For those wondering how long does it take for FAFSA to process, the answer depends most heavily on how you submit your completed form. Submitting your completed FAFSA form electronically, with an FSA ID already in the system, the FAFSA process takes usually 3 to 5 days. If you submit your FAFSA by paper, then the FAFSA process naturally takes longer. One of the most important points to remember are the federal FAFSA deadlines for submission and corrections or updates.