When to Apply for Student Loans: Everything You Need to Know

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 applying for student loans. It’s a good idea to start shopping for student loans early and to apply for student loans as early as you can so that you don’t miss a deadline.

Important Deadlines to Consider for When to Apply for Student Loans

At a minimum, the student loan process includes participation from you, your family, 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

When to apply for student loans differs 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 for student loans.

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 financial aid. Grants, scholarships, federal work-study, and federal student loans are all part of the federal aid program. This type of student aid can be awarded by the federal government, by your state, or by your school.

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.


Important FAFSA Deadlines for 2021, 2022, and 2023

When to Apply for Student Loans for the 2021-2022 Academic Year: The federal deadline to complete the FAFSA for the 2021-2022 academic year is June 30, 2022.

When to Apply for Student Loans for the 2022-2023 Academic Year: The FAFSA for the 2022-2023 academic year opened on October 1, 2021 and the deadline is June 30, 2023. Some federal financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. So when it comes to when to apply for federal student loans, we recommend that you fill out the FAFSA as soon as you’re ready.

Keep in mind that states and individual colleges and universities have their own unique deadlines to be considered for financial aid. You can find state-specific deadlines for 2022 and 2023 online and be sure to check the school’s website or with the financial aid office for more information.

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 Deadlines for 2022-2023 College Searches

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 for this year? and, Can you apply for financial aid late?

If your financial situation changes, if you encounter unexpected expenses during the semester, or if you are trying to decide when to apply for student loans beyond the deadline, 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 student 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. Most private student loans can help you cover up to 100% of your college costs, but be sure to exhaust all of your other financial aid options first.


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