How do I get a Student Loan for Higher Education?

Lainie Petersen

If you need a student loan for higher education, you can begin your quest with your country's department of education or student aid agency. In many places, including the United States, getting a student loan is a matter of completing a government-mandated or endorsed form that demonstrates your financial need, having your need for aid verified by the college or university of your choice, working with a lender, and then signing a promissory note. If you choose to take out a private student loan for higher education, one that is not supplied or guaranteed by the government of your country, the process may differ and include establishing your creditworthiness.

A student loan and financial aid application.
A student loan and financial aid application.

Each country has its own system for awarding student loans for students. The process in the United States begins with a student completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). All schools that offer federal student aid, including trade schools, community colleges, four-year universities and graduate schools, accept this form as part of their financial aid application process.

A student loan application form.
A student loan application form.

Some schools may also require a student to submit a separate application form. The information requested on the FAFSA documents the student's financial need, or the difference between what a student and his family can afford to pay toward his education, and the actual cost of tuition, fees, and living expenses for a student at that school. The school financial aid department uses this information to establish an aid package that often includes government and private grants, scholarships, work-study and loans.

Since taking out a student loan for higher education is often a significant and expensive obligation, schools typically attempt to award scholarships and grants before offering student loans. If other scholarships and grants are not available, or a student does not qualify them, student loans can be used to make up the shortfall, however. If the student qualifies for a student loan, the student will be instructed to to apply for a loan through a lender, which may be either a government agency or a private lender.

When it comes time for a student to actually apply for a student loan for higher education, much depends on the nature of the loan and its source. In the United States, students may qualify for the Stafford or Perkins loan programs, which are guaranteed by the federal government. Students, regardless of credit history, can qualify for these loans. If a student needs more money than these loans can provide, other options, including private loans not guaranteed by the government, are also available. Students or their parents may need to qualify for these loans as they would for a traditional loan by establishing both a good credit history as well as showing an ability to repay the loan.

Repayment on student loans generally begins shortly after graduation.
Repayment on student loans generally begins shortly after graduation.

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