Of course, knowing that you need to complete the FAFSA doesn’t make it any less intimidating. It can be daunting to know that you need to submit a large packet of paperwork each year in order to qualify for financial aid, but the process doesn’t have to be stressful.
By learning about what the FAFSA is and how you can prepare for it, you can get it done more quickly—and take the anxiety out of the FAFSA.
On this page:
- How Long Does the FAFSA Take to Complete?
- How Can You File the FAFSA Faster?
- How Long Does it Take the FAFSA to Process?
How Long Does It Take to Complete the FAFSA?
According to the Department of Education, it takes most people less than an hour to file a FAFSA.
To complete the FAFSA, you will need the following information:
- Social Security number
- Alien registration number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
- Federal income tax returns
- W-2s and other records of money earned
- Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
- Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
- FSA ID to sign electronically
If you are filing as a dependent student, you will also need to gather this information from your parents as well. Depending on how long it takes you to find this information, it may take over an hour to fill out the FAFSA.
Why Might It Take Longer for Some Borrowers to File the FAFSA?
Some students choose not to file the FAFSA via the online filing system available through the Department of Education’s website.
For these students, filling out the paper version of the FAFSA will take an average of three hours, including the time that it takes to read the instructions and gather the necessary information.
How Can You File the FAFSA Faster?
There are ways to reduce the time that it takes to file your FAFSA. One of the easiest ways to do so is to use the built-in tool through the FAFSA platform, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. Using the data retrieval tool will allow you to transfer information from your family’s prior year federal income tax returns to the FAFSA if your family is eligible to use this tool.
Before you start the FAFSA process, make sure that you have your FSA (Federal Student Aid) ID ready. It may take a few days for this ID number to be ready, so create yours in advance so that it is ready to go.
Next, have a list of schools ready to put down. You will be asked where you are applying, so have a list—you can always edit it later—to fill in this question.
Finally, gather all of your documentation so that you have everything that you need in one place. That will make it easier for you to work your way through the FAFSA without going off to look up information that you need.
How Long Does it Take to Get the FAFSA Results Back
After you submit the FAFSA, you should receive an email (if you included one in your application) with information about how to access your Student Aid Report (SAR) within 3 to 5 days. If you did not include an email, you will receive your SAR within 7 to 10 days via snail mail.
Colleges should receive access to your SAR within one day after it is processed but they may not look at it or process it immediately which means it may take longer to receive your potential financial aid package at the school.
Avoiding FAFSA Scams
While filing the FAFSA can be time-consuming and a bit confusing, it doesn’t cost you anything. There are companies out there that prey on students and families who are overwhelmed by the process and offer to submit applications for you—for a fee. Avoid those companies, and be sure to only work through the Department of Education’s website.