How Long the FAFSA Takes to Process

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Mark Kantrowitz

By Mark Kantrowitz

August 2, 2023

It typically takes three to five days for the FAFSA to be processed if you submitted your form online. If you submitted your FAFSA offline using a paper form, it will be processed within three weeks.

In this article, we’ll explain how long FAFSA takes to process, as well as walk you through the entire process, from what you’ll need before applying to receiving your financial aid award letter and ultimately your funds.

The FAFSA Timeline

So, after you send in your FAFSA form, what will you receive back?

After the FAFSA is processed, the student will receive a FAFSA Submission Summary, which contains the Student Aid Index (SAI). The SAI was previously called Expected Family Contribution (EFC). If the student provided a valid email address, they will receive an email message containing a link to the Summary. Otherwise, a paper Summary will be sent by postal mail. It’s important to check your Summary carefully to make sure everything is complete and accurate.

If you file the FAFSA online, you will need to sign it with an FSA ID and provide a valid email address on the FAFSA. You can expect to receive your Submission Summary within 3-5 days. If you did not provide a valid email address on the FAFSA, a paper Summary will arrive within 7-10 days.

If you file the FAFSA online but do not sign it with an FSA ID, it will take 2 weeks for the Summary to arrive after you sign and mail the printed signature page. If you file a paper FAFSA, it will take 3 weeks for the Summary to arrive.

What you need to do
Length of time
Submit your FAFSA form
Complete and submit your form either online or using the paper form.
For 2024-2025 the FAFSA will open in December, and you have until the June 30th deadline of the following year to submit your form.
The FAFSA is processed and the schools you listed will receive your Institutional Student Information Record
Wait for your FAFSA Submission Summary and check it carefully.
This can take any time between three days and three weeks after you submit your form.
The schools you’re admitted to will send you a financial aid award letter
Review the letter and tell the school which financial aid you plan to accept.
Depends on the school, but usually with or shortly after your offer of admission.
The funds are distributed
Follow up with the institution if you don’t receive your money.
Again, depends on the school, but typically at the start of each semester, trimester, or quarter.

Documents Needed to Submit Your FAFSA

Preparing everything you need in advance will help you to submit your FAFSA as quickly as possible. You’ll need the following documents:

  • A Federal Student Aid ID: get this online in advance
  • Your driver’s license, if you have one
  • Your social security number
  • Your alien registration or permanent resident card, for non-US citizens
  • Your latest federal income tax return and your parent’s most recent return if you’re a dependent
  • Current bank statements
  • Records of any investments you have
  • Details of any untaxed income you’ve received
  • Your shortlist of colleges you want to apply to

Your Student Aid Index

Your FAFSA Submission Summary will also show your Student Aid Index (SAI) based on the information you submitted on the form. This is, very generally speaking, a measure of your family’s ability to pay for college. This figure is used to determine your eligibility for financial aid.

Although your SAI won’t affect FAFSA processing timelines, it will impact the financial aid you’re offered and what you’ll see in your financial aid award letters.

How to Check Your Financial Aid Status

It’s a good idea to make sure your FAFSA was successfully submitted. You can do this by logging into or contacting the Federal Student Aid Information Center.

At this stage, it’s also important to check if your state or the schools you’re applying to require you to submit any additional forms. Most notably, some schools require applicants to complete the CSS form as well as the FAFSA. Contact the financial aid office of each school to check their requirements.

Making Changes to Your FAFSA Application

When you receive your FAFSA Submission Summary, the college will receive the Institutional Student Information Record (ISIR), which contains the same information as the Summary. At that time, you can log in to and make any changes to your FAFSA application.

You can also replace the current list of colleges with a new set of colleges through the same platform if you are applying for financial aid at more than 20 colleges.

If you don’t receive the FAFSA Submission Summary within these timeframes, call the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) to ask about the status of your Summary. You can also login to The most common reason for a late Summary is a failure of the student or parent to sign the FAFSA.

How Long Does it Take to Get Financial Aid Award Letters?

Your eligibility for need-based financial aid is determined by each college, based on the college’s cost of attendance and your SAI. The difference between the cost of attendance and your SAI is your demonstrated financial need. The college will send you a financial aid award letter providing details of your financial aid package, including the types and amounts of financial aid.

How long it takes for a college to issue a financial aid award letter depends on the college. You will receive a financial aid award letter only if you are admitted by the college. Some colleges send financial aid award letters only to students who have demonstrated financial need. Typically, colleges send financial aid award letters with or soon after offers of admission.

If you’re not happy with the financial aid you’re offered, you may be able to appeal for more financial aid.

How Long Does FAFSA Take to Process and When do you get Your Money? 

The next step after receiving your financial aid award letter is to confirm with the school which aid you are planning to accept.

If you receive a grant, scholarship, or loan, these funds will be directly assigned to your tuition and mandatory fees. If there’s any money left over after this is paid, this will be disbursed to you for living expenses.

How and when the funds are disbursed will depend on the school, but this is typically done in two payments, often at the start of the semester or quarter.

However, this can take longer for undergraduates in their first year or first-time borrowers: many schools wait 30 days after enrollment to issue funds to these students.

How can I Make Sure my FAFSA is Processed as Quickly as Possible?

Follow these tips to make sure your FAFSA is processed without delay:

  • Submit your FAFSA form online
  • Include your FSA ID on the form
  • Include your email address on the form
  • After sending the form, check that it has been received correctly
  • Check with each school’s financial aid office to see if any additional forms are required
  • Look out for communication from the financial aid department in case you need to submit additional documentation

The Bottom Line

How long does FAFSA take to process? The FAFSA processing time can vary depending on whether you submitted your form online or offline, whether you included an FSA ID, and whether you submitted your email address on your online form.

You’ll then receive your FAFSA Submission Summary, and finally, you’ll receive your financial aid award letter with your letter of offer, or soon after, from each school that admits you. You can expect the funds to be disbursed at the beginning of each semester, though this may take longer for first-time students.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long does FAFSA take to direct deposit? 

Any funds that will be sent directly to you, rather than to the school to pay for your education expenses, are usually deposited at the start of each semester. However, this can vary depending on the school, and there may be a delay for first-time undergraduate students and aid recipients.

Can you get denied FAFSA?

Not everyone is eligible to receive federal student aid. Basic eligibility requirements include being a US citizen or eligible non-citizen, having a Social Security number, being accepted into a qualifying program, and planning to enroll at least half-time.

If you do not meet these requirements, financial aid may be denied. Additionally, you may also be denied financial aid if you are incarcerated in a state or federal institution.

How do I receive my FAFSA money? 

Generally, grants and scholarships will be assigned directly to pay your tuition, school fees, and, in some cases, room and board. Any funds left over will be sent to you via direct deposit to cover living expenses. Make sure you complete your bank details for direct deposit on your student aid portal to avoid any delay in processing times.

A good place to start:

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