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Student Loans

Student Loan Eligibility Requirements

If you need to borrow money for school, we always recommend using federal student loans before private student loans. Be sure you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as a starting point.

If federal loans don’t quite cover your costs, and you need additional money to pay for college, private student loans can help.

But what are the eligibility requirements for federal and private student loans? Here are the most common student loan requirements along with insight into application processes for federal and private loans.

Federal vs. private requirements for a student loan 

The U.S. Department of Education issues federal student loans, and federal loans generally offer more benefits and protections than private student loans, which private lenders issue. 

For instance, you won’t need to meet specific credit score requirements to qualify for most federal loans, but many private lenders require good credit. Federal loans don’t have an age requirement, but you must be your state’s age of majority—usually 18—to qualify for private student loans. 

If you’re considering federal and private student loans, here’s a look at the eligibility requirements for both. 

Must be U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen?

Noncitizens must be lawful permanent residents or have a qualifying immigration status

Noncitizens must be lawful permanent residents or have a qualifying immigration status 
Requirements vary by lender
Minimum ageN/A18 or your state’s age of majority

(Can a 17-year-old get a student loan?)
Must have financial need?✅ (for Direct Subsidized Loans)

❌ (for Direct Unsubsidized Loans)
Must be enrolled in eligible school or program?

Requirements vary by lender
Must be enrolled at least half-time?Requirements vary by lender, but most require at least half-time enrollment
Must meet satisfactory academic progress guidelines?Requirements vary by lender
Must complete the FAFSA?
Must meet credit and income requirements?❌ (not for most loans)

❗Exception: PLUS Loan applicants are subject to a credit check and may be denied based on a adverse credit history

Requirements vary by lender, but most require borrower or a cosigner to have good credit
Must have a cosigner?❌ (not in most cases)

❗Exception: PLUS Loan borrowers may have an endorser, similar to a cosigner
Sometimes, depending on your citizenship status and credit

Federal student loan requirements

Federal student loans have perks and protections that private student loans don’t provide. You could qualify for an income-driven repayment plan with an eligible federal student loan, for example. These plans base your monthly payment amounts on your household size and earnings. 

You might also be eligible for student loan forgiveness through federal programs, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), after meeting certain requirements. Because federal loans come with certain perks, applying for these first is a smart move. Remember to complete the FAFSA as a first step to qualify. 

Here are important criteria to meet if you’re interested in applying for federal aid. 

1. Attend an eligible school

You must be accepted or enrolled in an eligible degree program to qualify for federal student aid. You can contact your school’s financial aid office to ask whether your college or university participates in federal student aid programs.  

2. Meet citizenship requirements

You’ll need to be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen to qualify for federal student loans. Eligible noncitizens include those with permanent residency or a qualifying Arrival-Departure Record (I-94) from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 

It can be challenging to get federal student loans if you don’t meet citizenship requirements, but private student loans may be available to international students with a qualifying cosigner.

3. Be enrolled at least half-time

To maintain your federal aid eligibility, you should be enrolled at least half-time at a qualifying institution. You’ll enter loan repayment if you drop below half-time enrollment. Certain loans, including Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized loans, offer a six-month grace period, so you won’t need to make payments for six months after your enrollment status changes.

4. Academic requirements

Once you’re enrolled, the U.S. Department of Education also requires that you meet certain academic standards, but these standards can differ based on your school’s policies. You’ll likely need to achieve a specific grade point average (GPA), earn a certain number of credits, and meet other requirements to maintain your aid. Review your student handbook for more information. 

5. Financial need requirements 

Certain types of federal financial aid, including Direct Subsidized loans, require you to demonstrate financial need to qualify. The U.S. Department of Education doesn’t specify specific qualification criteria, though. For instance, there’s no minimum household income requirement. Your school will determine whether you qualify for need-based aid after you submit your FAFSA. 

How to apply for federal student loans

Take the following six steps to apply for federal student aid.

  1. Complete the FAFSA before the deadline. It may seem like a complex form, but breaking the completion process down into simple steps will help. Here’s what you’ll need for your FAFSA form
    • Your Social Security or Alien Registration number
    • W-2s and federal tax returns
    • Bank and investment statements
    • Proof of any untaxed income
    • A Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID


You’ll also need the above information for your parents if you’re a dependent student.

2.   Review your financial aid package. If you qualify for federal aid, your college or university will send a financial aid package outlining the types of loans, grants, and other aid you qualify for. 

3.   Compare options and accept. You can then compare and accept the types of aid you’d like for school.

4.   Complete loan agreement. After you accept the federal aid options, you’ll get a loan agreement from your school. Sign this agreement to finalize it. 

5.   Complete entrance counseling. You’ll also need to complete entrance counseling before any funds are disbursed. This counseling helps you understand how your federal loans work, explaining concepts such as interest, repayment, and avoiding default. 

6.   Receive loan funds. After you complete entrance counseling, your loan funds are disbursed to your school. 

Private student loan requirements

You’ll also need to meet certain requirements to qualify for a private student loan. Some eligibility requirements may be similar to those of federal student loans, but you’ll want to check with individual lenders before applying.

These are the most common requirements you’ll see from private lenders:

1. Attend an eligible school

Private lenders often require you to enroll in an eligible school, generally a Title IV-accredited four-year-degree-granting program at a private or public college. You might consider other loans if this isn’t the type of program you’re seeking. For instance, specific loans are available for coding boot camps, community college, or trade school and career training.

2. Meet citizenship requirements

You’ll also need to be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to qualify for many private student loans. Lenders often require a Social Security number or Individual Tax Identification Number to apply. If you need a cosigner, they also must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

Because of this requirement, getting private student loans can be tricky. Consider looking into student loans for international students.

3. Be enrolled at least half-time (usually)

If you’re not in school full-time, you might still qualify for a private student loan. Most lenders require that you be enrolled at least half-time. That’s often defined as six hours per semester, but you’ll want to check with your school about what it considers half-time and full-time status.

Certain lenders offer loans to part-time students, so it might be wise to start your loan search there if you’re not enrolled full-time.

4. Meet academic requirements (requirement varies by lender)

Once you’re enrolled, your lender might require you to meet academic standards according to your school’s policies, such as maintaining a minimum GPA. Certain lenders don’t have academic requirements and might loan to students with a low GPA.

5. Have a good credit score or a creditworthy cosigner

Lenders like to feel confident the loan they grant will be repaid, so many require someone with decent credit on the loan. But undergraduates often don’t have sufficient credit to qualify. 

For these reasons, many lenders permit cosigners. A cosigner applies for the loan with you. The loan is your responsibility to repay, but a cosigner is legally responsible for it if you default on your payments.

Not sure whether you need a cosigner? Or unsure whether your cosigner’s credit score is strong enough to help you qualify? Many lenders allow you to check whether you’re eligible for a loan with a soft credit check before you apply.

If you don’t have a cosigner or a solid credit history, you might consider student loans without a cosigner.

6. Meet income and debt-to-income ratio requirements (you or your cosigner)

This hurdle can be difficult to clear without the help of a cosigner. Private lenders often want to know you have income coming in and a manageable number of monthly debt payments before issuing you a loan.

If you don’t have an income, this is another area where a cosigner can help. Ensure you find a cosigner with a stable income and few monthly debt obligations.

How to apply for private student loans

If you can meet the main requirements, it’s time to start applying for student loans. Before applying, gather the following items to make the student loan application process as smooth as possible:

  • School information (including your school name, your year, and the term you need the loan for)
  • Social Security number (for you and your cosigner, if applicable)
  • Permanent U.S. address
  • Employment and income information (for you and your cosigner, if applicable)
  • Cost of attendance and your estimated amount of other financial assistance (loans, scholarships, and grants).

Once you’ve gathered this information, compare private student loans to find the lowest-rate option that aligns with your needs. After that, submit a formal application. Many lenders let you apply for loans online or over the phone by speaking with a loan officer. If you use a cosigner, they’ll also need to sign your loan documents, so it can be helpful to apply together. 

The time frame for loan decisions may vary by lender, so consider asking your lender about the approval and disbursement process before you apply.This will help you understand what to expect.

When you complete your education… (our expert’s advice)

Erin Kinkade


Continue to make the minimum payment, take advantage of a grace period if it’s available and you need it while you job search, and contact the lender immediately if you run into financial hardship. Lenders may try to work with you if you notify them, making adjustment to your repayment. (You’ll have more options with the federal loans in this case, so stick with federal loans when you can.) If you find yourself in a favorable financial condition and have increased cash flow, consider paying off your loans earlier and consolidating to a lower interest rate if it’s available.

Where to find student loans based on eligibility criteria

If you’re concerned you won’t qualify for a private student loan due to a low credit score, low income, or no cosigner, start by applying for federal loans. 

These guides can also help you compare options: