How Long Can You Expect it to Take for Your FAFSA to be Processed?

A timeline that breaks down the time it takes for the FAFSA to process and what you should be doing in the meantime.

If you’re anxiously awaiting a response back after filing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, check out our information that describes the timeline of the application’s processing from the moment you send it off to when you should expect to hear back. There are also a variety of things you can do to make the most of your time waiting to hear back from your application, which will be explored below.

Girl writing in guy's notebook
While the FAFSA is required by all universities, other applications like the CSS Profile may be required if you attend or plan on attending a private university. Be sure to check on the school’s website for specific information about what types of financial forms and applications needed.

What is the FAFSA and Why You Need to Fill it Out

The ins and outs of the FAFSA and benefits of completing it

If you’re a newbie at applying for financial aid, whether for an undergraduate degree or something comparable, the first thing necessary in order to become eligible to receive the most amount of aid towards your education possible is filling out the FAFSA.

The FAFSA is an online form that requires information about your household members, their income, your income, and yours and other household members’ savings. When you plan to fill out the FAFSA, make sure to have tax forms and any other information about your household’s situation available and ready to type in.

Once you’ve completed the FAFSA fully and submitted it, it will be run through a program that considers all of the information you previously input to generate your amount of financial need and your expected family contribution. The expected family contribution is the amount of money that the government expects your family (and possibly you) to allot towards paying for your education. Financial need is the amount that your expected family contribution does not cover in the cost of attendance, and this financial need amount will be factored into the grants, loans, and work studies that you will become eligible for.

The FAFSA is a crucial step for every student who is interested in receiving any sort of financial aid to take before going to school. Additionally, the FAFSA must be renewed each year that you’re in school, so always make sure to stay on top of those deadlines. While it varies by state, the deadline for first-time FAFSA applicants typically falls on August 1st and May 1st for students who are renewing their application.

For a deeper look at what the FAFSA is and why you should complete it, check out our in-depth guide.

Always make sure to double check that the information you wrote on your FAFSA is both accurate and completely filled out. Failing to do so can make it take longer to process or could potentially result in a loss of aid.

How Long Will it Take to Hear Back After Submitting the FAFSA?

A timeline of the FAFSA from start to finish

It can be stressful to click submit on your application, crossing your fingers that the financial aid gods will bestow upon you a low expected family contribution and high financial need, but knowing a timeline of what to expect can help to alleviate some of that anxiety.

The application opens on October 1st of the year before when the application is stated to be used for. The deadline to complete the FAFSA depends on the state you attend school in, but typically the application is due in the late spring or early summer. For specific dates, you can check on FAFSA’s website by putting in your information.

Once you complete the application, hopefully long before it’s due, you can expect to hear back in around three to five business days if you submitted it electronically. If you went the old school route and submitted it on paper, it can take up to ten business days to process.

When the application processes, you should receive a copy of your Student Aid Report which will reveal your expected family contribution. If you notice any incorrect details on your SAR, go back and fix your information as soon as possible to receive an accurate EFC. The expected family contribution should give you a good understanding of the types and amount of aid you might receive from your university.

The EFC is also a great predictor of whether you qualify for a Federal Pell Grant, which is a sum of aid that you are not required to pay back. Your SAR should mention a prediction for how large of a Federal Pell Grant you should expect to receive, but remember that it is just a prediction and is subject to change based on your school.

The Student Aid Report will be sent on to the school, or schools, you listed when filling out your FAFSA, and they will determine your full aid packages based on the result of the FAFSA.

From this point, you should verify with the schools you’ve applied to, or with the school you’re attending, whether or not there are any other forms or applications necessary to fill out in order to receive aid.

If you are applying to universities for the first time and are not currently enrolled in other colleges, you may receive your financial award letter in late May or April. This letter will describe the cost of attendance for the university, an itemized statement of the aid you receive based on your eligibility, and the resulting expected family and student contribution of attendance.

If you’re already enrolled at a university and are renewing your FAFSA, the amount of time it takes to hear back about next year’s aid can vary based on the school. It’s probable that you’ll be notified sometime in the summer, like towards June or July, and sometimes even as late as August, but every school is slightly different. If you would like to get a better idea of when you can expect to hear about your next year’s aid, contact your university’s financial aid office directly.

It’s important to take advantage of the time between when you submit your FAFSA and when you actually start attending college, so here are some of our tips and tricks to make the most of the application processing time.

hands using pen and writing in notebook
Some great places to search for scholarship opportunities while you wait to hear back about your FAFSA application are CollegeBoard, Niche, and FastWeb.

Utilizing the Processing Time

What you can do in the meantime to ease your anxieties over financial aid

While the time it takes to process to FAFSA to determine your estimated family contribution and financial award packages is largely out of your hands, you can take a little bit of control of funding your education in a couple of ways.

First and foremost, make a plan about how you’ll pay for college. Whether it involves discussing options and savings with parents or considering how you’ll contribute alone, making a plan is the best way to make the process a little less daunting. It can be difficult to make a plan without seeing the outcome of your FAFSA application, but you can get ahead by using an estimated family contribution calculator to predict the cost of attendance. In doing so, you can anticipate how much you might need to save up, dip into savings, or take out in loans, and whether there are certain schools you applied to that might fit your financial situation best.

The next step you should take after making a game plan is applying to scholarships. A lot of them. This is an efficient and easy way to cut down on education costs, and in a way where you won’t rack up debt. Applying to many scholarships with smaller award amounts is a great way to increase your chances of receiving funds, and this is a tip that you should be using during your entire time at college.

Lastly, if you’re anticipating a high cost that you’re not sure how you can quickly pay off, consider applying to jobs both the summer before the next semester and for the time you’ll be in school. If you qualify for a work study as part of your aid package, apply to them before you even get to campus to increase your chances at being accepted to one. In doing so, you’ll be able to lower your costs, even if it only makes a dent in your total cost.

Graduates throwing caps into the sky
If you ever have any questions regarding financial aid opportunities or scholarships specific to your university, make sure to reach out to your school’s financial aid office. They are always the best resource when it comes to financial aid questions and concerns.

Ultimately, your household’s financial situation and FAFSA results may be out of your hands, but the ability to be proactive in the ways you fund your education are completely in your control. By anticipating costs, making a game plan about how you’ll pay for school, and applying to scholarships and work studies, the stress of paying for higher education will become noticeably more manageable.

Allaina Wagner
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