How Long Does It Take to Receive FAFSA Money

The FAFSA timeline is important to understand in order to receive financial aid for college. Learn about the FAFSA timeline in this article.

Overall, schools distribute grant or loan money in disbursements at least once per term at the start of each semester/trimester or quarter so expect it twice per year if you’re on the semester system.

FAFSA Background

Students who need help paying for school must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year. The FAFSA opens up the door to eligibility for federal student loans, Pell Grants, and many other forms of state, federal, and school-provided aid. 

Once you've submitted your FAFSA, you may be wondering, how long does it take to receive financial aid? And while the answer can vary slightly depending on your situation, the good news is that it's not hard to figure out the answer to the question, when do I get my FAFSA money?

The FAFSA Timeline 

If you're wondering, how long does it take to receive financial aid?, the table below shows approximately how long each step of the process takes when you're waiting for FAFSA funds. 

The FAFSA Becomes Available

The FAFSA opens up in October and runs through June of the following year. For the 2021 to 2022 academic year, it's open from October 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022

Students complete the FAFSA

This generally takes anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour 

The FAFSA is processed. Students receive a student aid report and schools receive an Institutional Student Information Record

This takes between three days and three weeks from the time the FAFSA is submitted

Schools prepare a financial aid award letter

The length of time this takes varies by academic institution, but the financial aid award usually arrives along with or shortly after an offer of admission

FAFSA funds are distributed by the school 

Generally, schools distribute grant or loan money in disbursements at least once per term at the start of the semester/trimester or quarter, which is on average twice per year with the semester system.

Let's take a closer look at each of these steps to better understand how long it takes to receive FAFSA money. 

How long does it take for FAFSA to process? 

First things first, the FAFSA becomes available in October of each year and you have a long time to submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid. In fact, if you want to be considered for financial aid during the 2021 to 2022 academic year, the FAFSA for the year opened October 1, 2021 and will remain open until June 30, 2022 (CT). 

It should take you less than an hour to complete the FAFSA. And once you submit your forms they should be processed quickly -- typically within:

  • Three to five days if you completed your forms online and provided an email address
  • Seven to 10 days if you submitted your forms online but didn't provide an email address 
  • Three weeks if you file a paper FAFSA

After your FAFSA has processed, you will receive a Student Aid Report detailing your Expected Family Contribution. The schools you indicated you're considering attending will also receive an Institutional Student Information Record. They will use it to prepare your financial aid package. 

How long does it take to receive a financial aid award letter?

If you are admitted to a school that you applied to, the school will review your FAFSA information and prepare a financial aid package. This will detail the loans, grants, scholarships, work study funds, and other sources of aid you are able to receive. 

The length of time it takes schools to prepare these forms can vary by program. In general, you will usually receive a financial aid award letter along with your admission letter or shortly after you have been notified that a school has accepted you. 

When do I get my FAFSA money?

After you receive your financial aid package, you'll need to let your school know which sources of aid you plan to accept. Grant, scholarship, and loan money will first be applied to cover the cost of tuition and school fees, and any excess will be returned to you to cover your living expenses.

Schools generally give you your grant or loan money in at least two payments. These are called disbursements and they usually happen once per term, such as at the start of the semester or the start of the quarter. This schedule applies both for student loans and Parent PLUS Loans. 

First-year undergraduates and first-year borrowers may be subject to an additional delay, as they may be required to wait 30 days after the first day of enrollment in order to receive student loan money. However, not all schools apply this rule. 

All first-time borrowers do have to complete Entrance Counseling before their school is allowed to distribute their loan funds. Graduate and professional students who are taking out PLUS loans for the first time must also complete Entrance Counseling. 

Students who have been awarded work study funds, payments will be made as work is performed, but must be made at least once per month. 

So, how long does it take to receive financial aid exactly?

The length of time it takes to receive your financial aid money depends on when and how soon you apply; how you submit your FAFSA; how quickly your school acts; and the type of aid you've accepted. In general, though, you should have the funds you need right around the time each semester, trimester, or quarter begins. 

In some cases, the FAFSA will not provide enough money for you to live on and to cover all of your educational costs. If that's the case, you can consider additional options such as private student loans. Often, you can be approved quickly for private loans and can get funds above-and-beyond what your school or the Department of Education is willing to provide. 

Unlike federal loans, though, private loans don't just come at one standard rate. Rates and terms can vary dramatically from one lender to another and based on your financial credentials. If you are interested in private student loans, Juno can help you get the best possible rates by grouping you with other students and negotiating with lenders on your behalf. 

Join Juno today to find out more about your options for affordable private student loans to help fund your degree. 

Christy Rakoczy Bieber
Written By
Christy Rakoczy Bieber

Christy Rakoczy Bieber is a full-time personal finance and legal writer. She is a graduate of UCLA School of Law and the University of Rochester. Christy was previously a college teacher with experience writing textbooks and serving as a subject matter expert.

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