According to a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, about 85% of college students rely on financial aid to cover tuition costs.
Most turn to the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for help. Each year, the form provides billions of dollars in grants, work-study, and interest loans from the U.S. Department of Education.
With that kind of money on the line, it makes sense for students to have some questions. Am I eligible, for starters? If so, how much money am I eligible to receive? And how long does FAFSA take to fill out in the first place? Read on below for answers to these questions and more.
How long will it take to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid?
According to the Federal Office of Student Aid, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid typically takes about an hour to complete online.
That window gives you enough time to collect all necessary documents and data, review the application, complete the form, and process all information on the “Confirmation” page. Providing parental information may take some additional time.
Independent students or students who filled out the FAFSA last year and are simply renewing their application will be able to complete the process in 45 minutes or less. Today, students can even fill out the FAFSA on their phones through the myStudentAid Mobile App.
Filling out a paper FAFSA application will take significantly longer. Some students report spending upwards of three hours completing this process.
How Long Does it Take FAFSA to Process?
Process times depend on how the FAFSA is submitted. Students who filled out the application online and signed with an FSA ID will likely receive their Student Aid Report (SAR) in just three to five days, though it may take longer. This report provides a snapshot of your eligibility and application progress.
The SAR is also where you’ll find your Estimated Expected Family Contribution (EFC), or the amount of money you and your parents are expected to pay for the costs of college.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education can take anywhere from seven to ten business days to process paper FAFSA applications. Students who are eager to learn the status of their federal financial aid package should fill out the online FAFSA for faster results.
How to Streamline the Process
If you really can’t wait to get your hands on that financial aid award letter, there are a few steps you can take to streamline the process. Check out the list below for things you can do to determine your financial aid eligibility sooner than expected.
Create your FSA ID
You’ll need to create a username and password to complete the FAFSA online and sign it electronically. This is known as your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID. You’ll also need this information to sign loan forms, renew your application, and log in to access additional financial aid information.
A dependent student – or an individual whose parents still claim them on their tax returns – will need to have at least one parent create an FSA ID as well.
Remember, you can also check your SAR status online by logging into FAFSA.GOV using your FSA ID. Once you access the portal, click the “View or Print your Student Aid Report (SAR)” option near the middle of the “My FAFSA” page.
Gather necessary documents
Getting yourself organized beforehand means saving time when it comes to filling out the FAFSA. To complete the application, you’ll need to have the following documents handy:
Social Security Numbers (dependent students will need their parents to submit this information as well)
Driver’s license number (or Alien Registration number)
Tax return information – W-2, IRS 1040, or IRS 1040 NR forms. Non-residents should supply foreign tax return information. Remember, all data should apply to the two years prior, so the 2022-2023 FAFSA will require tax data from 2020.
Untaxed income – This includes child support, interest income, and veteran benefits.
Investment information – You’ll need balances for checking and savings accounts, investments accounts, and additional assets.
Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool
Suppose you’re having a hard time organizing your tax documents. In that case, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) to electronically transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA form.
The process provides an easy and accurate way to access your information immediately. All you need to do is log in to your current FAFSA form and click on the “Link to IRS” button in the finances section, which will take you to the IRS website.
Once there, enter your information exactly as it appears on your federal income tax return and hit “Submit.” Then, click the “Transfer My Tax Information into the FAFSA form” box and hit the “Transfer Now” button.
Check your FAFSA form to be sure the information made it in there. If successful, you’ll see the words “Transferred from the IRS” in place of the IRS information in the form.
List your potential schools
Before submitting your application, you’ll need to include all the schools you have applied to or plan to apply to. You can add up to 10 schools and edit the list later if you make any changes.
Double-check your state’s requirements on the Federal Student Aid site. Some states prefer students to log their schools in a specific order.
Be sure to have your school code ready. If you aren’t sure where to access that information, refer to the Federal School Code List.
When Do I Find Out About My Federal Student Loans?
After submitting the FAFSA, you can check the status of your application online. Check to see if it is a missing signature or requires further action; you may need to contact your school directly to resolve the issue. You can also log in using your FSA ID and make corrections to add or correct specific information.
You may also need to submit extra documents directly to your school of choice. Remember, schools don’t always complete an awards package for individuals who list them on their form. You still need to apply for and get accepted into a school to receive work-study funds, federal loans, federal grants, and other types of institutional aid.
Once everything is complete, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) containing your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC), or the amount students and/or parents will be expected to pay for college tuition.
If you receive federal aid but not enough to cover the entire cost of tuition, you can apply for additional scholarships and grants through local and state governments, private businesses, and nonprofit organizations. You can also take out a federal or private student loan to help pay for your education.
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Scholarships and title IV funding are available for our IT programs and additional course offerings. Give us a call at (858) 581-9460 or email us to learn more about what financial assistance programs we support. Financial aid is available to those who qualify.
We also offer career counseling services to all students as well as lifetime job placement assistance. Our staff works hard to help graduates land jobs they’re passionate about.
How long does it take to fill out FAFSA for the first time?
Filling out the FAFSA is a quicker process than most people assume. It takes about an hour to complete a new FAFSA online and about 30 minutes to fill out a renewal form. Paper applications will take more time since shortcuts like the IRS Data Retrieval Tool are not available in this case.
How long does it take to fill out financial aid forms?
Financial aid forms can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours to fill out. The time to complete this process depends on whether you fill out the FAFSA online or on paper. Preparing documents and information beforehand can also expedite the process.
Is FAFSA hard to fill out?
The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, isn’t a complicated form to fill out, though any errors can impact your eligibility for government assistance. If you are having trouble completing the FAFSA, you can consult the Federal Student Aid Website.
You can also contact the organization’s information center by calling 1-800-4FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). Online chat help is also available through the official FAFSA site.
How long does a FAFSA application take?
It usually takes three to five days to process a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) submitted online. You can check your status online using your FSD ID. If you submit a paper FAFSA, your application will take seven to ten days to process.