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Student Loans

When to Apply for Student Loans

Knowing when to apply for student loans is integral to the financial aid process. Most educational institutions have specific deadlines for submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). And while you can apply for private loans anytime, it’s best to do so before starting school.

In this article, we’ll explain when to apply for federal and private student loans and share several mistakes to avoid during the application process. 

When to apply for federal student loans

We recommend applying for federal student loans and financial aid before turning to private student loans. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Federal student loans offer several repayment plan options and other benefits, such as student loan forgiveness eligibility, that private loans don’t. 
  • Federal student loans may also have lower interest rates than private loans.
  • You do not need good credit or a cosigner to apply for federal aid.

To apply for federal student loans, you must complete the FAFSA. Filling out the FAFSA enables your school to consider you for federal student loans, grants, work-study programs, scholarships, and more. More than 70% of all undergraduates receive financial aid.

The table below lists the FAFSA deadlines for federal student loans and financial aid. However, it’s best to complete the FAFSA as early as possible. Most educational institutions have a set amount of aid to distribute each year, and it’s usually awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

Academic yearFAFSA opens onFAFSA deadline
2023 – 2024October 1, 2022June 30, 2024
2024 – 2025December 31, 2023June 30, 2025
2025 – 2026October 1, 2024 (expected)June 30, 2026

If you want to be considered for scholarships, submitting your FAFSA on the earliest date possible is even more important. Most colleges consider students for scholarships as officials receive applications, so it’s wise to be in the first batch.

In addition, each state has its own FAFSA deadlines. In Ohio, for example, you must submit your application by October 1, 2024. In Pennsylvania, first-time applicants have an August 1, 2024, deadline, and all other applicants must apply by June 1, 2024.

Knowing each state’s deadline is important, especially if you’re applying to schools in multiple states. We recommend checking with your college’s financial aid office to determine their preferred due dates.

When to apply for private student loans

If you’re an international student or don’t have a Social Security number (SSN), you aren’t eligible for federal financial aid. Other times, you might apply for federal student loans, but they don’t cover all of your education costs. This is when you might apply for private student loans. 

Apply early

While there are no set deadlines like with federal student loans and aid, it is best to apply for private student loans two to three months before school begins. This ensures you can be approved and funds can be disbursed in plenty of time for the start of the academic year. 

Take the time to research lenders by evaluating the terms, repayment schedules, whether or not it requires a cosigner, and the payment options while you’re a student. Also, find out whether or not your lender offers deferment options while you’re in school and after graduating.

Private student loans are not eligible for student loan forgiveness programs like federal student loans, so take your time comparing options to ensure you can affordably make your student loan payments when you leave school.

When to apply for student loans by semester

While fall is the most common time for students to begin school, you may be considering starting school in the spring or even summer. In this case, federal student loan application due dates might differ if you start school in the spring or summer. 

It’s still best to apply for private student loans two to three months before the start of your semester. 

Here is a general look at the federal financial aid deadlines by semester.

Semester Deadline
Fall June 30
SpringVaries by state
SummerSame as fall/spring

When to apply for student loans for fall semester

Students must fill out the FAFSA before enrolling to be considered for financial aid. The FAFSA typically opens on October 1 every year and closes on June 30. However, the earlier you fill out the FAFSA, the better. 

When to apply for student loans for spring semester

It’s typical for schools to give students at least two student loan disbursements per school year. Disbursements usually happen at the beginning of the fall semester and at the beginning of the spring semester.

If you plan to attend school for the entire year, you only have to fill out the FAFSA once to be considered for aid for the fall and spring. If you only enroll for the spring semester, you will get one disbursement. However, you can still borrow up to the maximum federal loan amount annually. 

Check with your school to find out the FAFSA spring deadline. Some states list spring deadlines. However, most colleges and universities set their own due dates, so it’s a good idea to contact yours first.

Here are some states that list spring semester deadlines:

  • Arkansas: Jan 10
  • New Jersey: Feb. 15
  • Tennessee: Feb. 1

When to apply for student loans for summer semester

Many colleges consider the summer semester part of the school year preceding it, so FAFSA deadlines for summer financial aid are often the same as fall and spring semester deadlines. 

However, if you plan to take summer courses, it’s best to contact your school to ensure you’re completing the financial aid applications correctly.

If you’ve already maxed out your aid for the year, you’ll have to find other funding options for the summer, such as private student loans. Another option is to work a part-time job in the summer to pay for classes.

If you’ve received Federal Pell Grants, it’s possible you can receive an additional grant to fund summer classes. 

What influences when you should apply for student loans? 

There are several factors you should consider when applying for your student loans. Remember that your school financial aid office is your best source of information on all student aid topics at your institution.

What to consider when applying for student loans

Here’s a list of considerations when you’re preparing your student loan applications.

  • Your school’s financial aid deadlines: Each college will set its own deadlines for student loans. If you’re starting school in the spring, make sure you know your school’s spring FAFSA deadline.
  • Scholarship and grant application timelines: There are many different scholarship and grant opportunities available. If a school or other institution grants you a scholarship, it can reduce the amount of student loans you need, so it’s a good idea to apply early.
  • Financial need and budget planning: Your personal financial situation also dictates when to apply for student loans. If you know you’ll need funding due to budget restraints, apply sooner rather than later.
  • Parent or cosigner availability: If your parent is applying for a Parent PLUS loan or you’re using a cosigner to apply for private student loans, check with them early to ensure they are available to complete their applications.

Common mistakes to avoid when applying for student loans

You should avoid a couple of things when applying for student loans. These mistakes could cause you not to get student aid for the school year or cost you thousands if you use private student loans.

  • Missing deadlines: If you miss the deadline to apply for student loans, you may get a reduced financial aid offer. You may also not get a financial aid offer at all. 
  • Not comparing loan options: It’s a good idea to apply for federal student loans first, but if you’re not eligible, compare several private loan options before choosing one.
  • Overborrowing: Only borrow the amount you need to pay for your education. Borrowing too much can lead to financial stress later when your loans are due. Do what you can to reduce the total amount you owe, whether working part-time or continuously applying for outside scholarships.
  • Not submitting required documents: When you apply for federal and private student loans, you’ll likely have to upload financial documents and proof of your identity. Ensure you include everything the lender or government requests to help their staff process your application on time.