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Big FAFSA Overview

By Chris Diehl

January 03, 2013

The U.S. Department of Education provides billions in student financial aid every year. But you won’t see a penny of that unless you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You can simplify the process with FAFSA on the Web.

Are You Still Using Paper?

If you have access to the Internet, either in your home, school, local library or other source, you will want to fill out the FAFSA online.

There’s really no difference in terms of content between the paper and online forms, but for accuracy and speed, FAFSA on the Web offers distinct advantages:

  • You can receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) in less than a week if you provide an email address. You’ll have to wait two to three weeks if you don’t. File a paper FAFSA and you’ll can end up waiting up to six weeks.
  • FAFSA on the Web’s automatic “edit check” finds errors on your application then prompts you to fix mistakes.
  • There are fewer questions on the online application.
  • Once you complete FAFSA on the Web, you’ll get a confirmation number that proves you successfully submitted the application.


More information is available on the FAFSA Web site. The site also offers information to answer other questions you may have.

Apply for a PIN

Your PIN allows you to sign your FAFSA electronically and check your application’s status online. If you sign with your PIN and supply a valid email address, you’ll receive your SAR to that email address in less than a week. Anyone with a valid Social Security Number who is a U.S. citizen (or eligible non-citizen) can apply for a PIN on the US Department of Education’s PIN registration Web site.

It used to be that when you applied for your PIN electronically, it would take up to three days to receive an email with instructions on how to retrieve your PIN.

As of January 1, 2008, those days are gone. When you apply for your PIN on or after that date, you can obtain your PIN in real time (assuming you supply an accurate social security number). No more waiting around for it to arrive.

The length of time it takes to receive your Student Aid Report after you’ve submitted your FAFSA can vary depending on whether you submitted your FAFSA results online or printed them out and sent them via regular mail, and also whether you electronically signed the FAFSA with your PIN or signed it by hand. If you go the electronic route, you can usually receive your SAR in one to two weeks; if you go the paper route, expect to see your SAR in about four to six weeks.


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