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How do I Apply for a Student Loan?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 17, 2024
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The process by which you apply for a student loan can be fairly simple, but there are a few things you should be aware of and consider to make it easier. You should know that the student loan application process typically varies from country to country and may be different in different regions within a country. This means that you should likely start by contacting your school’s financial aid office and talk to an adviser about all your options. There are a few general guidelines that can help you apply for a student loan, however, such as filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in the United States (US), determining your eligibility, and knowing the differences between loans, grants, and scholarships.

Most schools have extensive departments full of faculty devoted to helping you apply for a student loan, and specific information you need know can be received at those offices. There are general guidelines that can be helpful, however, as you move forward. In the US, for example, the first step is almost always to fill out the FAFSA as early as possible. For your first year in college, you should fill the form out either in the spring or early summer if you are starting in the fall. You will be able to easily renew your FAFSA each year and should do so as early as possible to ensure your financial aid is not disrupted.

In Canada, on the other hand, some provinces handle student financial aid, while others leave it up to the federal government, so you should be sure to find out where you need to apply. Once you have filled out your FAFSA in the US, you will receive your award letter and an indicator of what you are eligible to receive. As you apply for a student loan, know that your parents' income can affect your eligibility until you reach a certain age, even if you do not live with them. There are some loans, however, that can be received with a parent as a co-signer in order to offset how they can impact your eligibility. Once you have received your award letter, you can then accept or decline various types of loans, grants, and scholarships that will all provide you with financial aid.

You should also know the differences between the different types of funding as you move forward and apply for a student loan. A loan is money given to you during your education that you later pay back. It usually accrues interest and repayment is often waived until you complete your education. Subsidized loans are loans that do not accrue interest until you begin repaying them; unsubsidized loans begin to build interest as soon as they are awarded. Grants and scholarships, on the other hand, are both forms of financial aid that do not have to be paid back.

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