When Should I Apply For Student Loans?
Deadlines & Late Application Considerations

Unsure when is the best time to apply for student loans? The time from application to disbursement (when your student loan is sent to your school) varies by lender. While some lenders can process your loan very quickly, you shouldn’t wait until the last minute to start the process.

Important Student Loan Deadlines to Consider

At a minimum, the process includes participation from you, your lender, and your school. Even though this can be streamlined, there’s always the possibility that something could slow it down, such as your school certifying your loan. On top of that, there are certain regulatory periods (e.g., right-to-cancel period) that are required by law and cannot be reduced. Due to the presence of factors that exist beyond your control, it’s important to get your student loan sooner rather than later. The last thing you want is to wait until the last minute and have an unexpected delay cause issues with your enrollment status at your school due the payment not being received. Get it taken care of early and reduce the chance of issues happening.

Federal vs. Private Student Loan Deadlines

Deadlines for applying for student loans differ depending on the type of loan – Federal vs. Private. Federal loans are issued by the government, while private loans are issued by non-government entities, such as banks and credit unions. Private lenders typically offer more flexible timelines when it comes to applying.

When to Apply For Federal Student Loans

To apply for a federal student loan, you must first complete the Department of Education’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), then meet the earliest of three possible deadlines:

  • the federal student loan deadline set by the government
  • the federal student loan deadline set by your state
  • the federal student loan deadline set by your school

The reason for the separate deadlines is that your FAFSA form qualifies you for more than one type of federal aid. Grants, scholarships, federal work-study, and federal student loans are all part of the federal aid program.

It’s important that you check with your school’s financial aid office directly, as well as the Department of Education FAFSA main page, to make sure you are prepared to meet the earliest required deadline for the type of federal assistance you’ll need.

When to Apply For Private Student Loans

Private lenders have more flexibility when it comes to issuing loans and setting deadlines for applying for student loans. In fact, in many cases you can apply for a private student loan at any time throughout the year.

That said, you’ll want to check with your school’s financial aid office to make sure you understand their certification and payment requirements. Then you can inquire with private lenders about how long their individual application, approval, and loan disbursement processes will take.

Keep in mind that while some private student loans can be approved in minutes, there could be a secondary review process or unforeseen holdups that arise. With so many tasks and deadlines involved in starting school, it’s important not to wait until the last minute to apply for any type of loan.

Tip: View 6 Deadlines to Keep in Mind During Your College Search

What If I Need to Apply For More Student Loans Mid-Semester?

It’s not unusual to encounter unexpected costs while you’re in school. Common questions that arise after federal student loan deadlines have passed are: Is it too late to get a student loan? and, Can you apply for financial aid late?

If your financial situation changes or if you encounter unexpected expenses during the semester, there are always ways to get help. Be sure to check in with your school’s financial aid office as soon as you find you’re in need. Your advisors might know of grants and assistance programs funded by nonprofits and school-related foundations that aren’t publicized online. And remember that your FAFSA application will remain open for a time period in which you are able to make edits and adjustments, as needed – including any changes to your financial circumstances.

Private loans and scholarships are also an option. Some scholarships are open to applicants on a monthly basis, and offer a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to help fill in gaps your federal assistance package doesn’t cover.

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