by Aidan Kang, CFA
Senior Writer
UPDATED: August 03, 2021

As an upcoming college student, you are probably overwhelmed with the number of things you need to do before you can enter your chosen university. One of the things that you’re probably most worried about is how to pay for your school’s tuition fees. You probably know by now that you’ll need student loans in order to pay for tuition, books, and other expenses. But where do you even begin? How difficult is the process of applying for a student loan? Will you even qualify for a federal student loan? These are just some of the questions that you’re asking about how to get a student loan.

Student loans can be a tricky subject. There's a lot of confusion and misinformation about how student loans work. A lot of times, you’re burdened with too much information so instead of getting clarity, you become more confused about what to do.

To help make this process easier, we’re here to give you an easy-to-follow guide on the steps that you need to follow if you want to apply for a federal or private student loan. Hopefully, with the right information and guidance, you could walk away feeling more confident about going through the student loan application process.

Steps In Applying For A Federal Student Loan

If you are a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen, you can apply for a federal student loan. Federal student loans are the most common form of government-backed financial aid available to students. If you don’t have any other means to finance your education and you don’t qualify for any financial aid, you can apply for a federal student loan. The good news is that almost everyone qualifies for one.

Step 1: Prepare all the information and documents needed to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

If you’re planning to apply for a federal student loan, you will need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA form. Aside from federal student loans, the FAFSA can also help you find scholarships, grants, and other forms of financial aid or funding that you can potentially avail to help pay for your college.

The FAFSA, however, is not something that you can complete in a matter of minutes. It is a long form that requires a lot of details. To help you prepare all the documents and information in filling out the FAFSA, you can download the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet (2021-2022).  

Print out this worksheet and pre-fill the information required. Double check all your information before going to the next step. This will save you a lot of time and lessen the chances of mistakes when filling out the actual FAFSA form.

Step 2: Create an FSA ID

To access the FAFSA form, you will have to login using your student identifiers that include putting in your name, Social Security Number, and date of birth. However, the Federal Student Aid recommends that you create an FSA ID as it is the easiest way to fill out your FAFSA form.

When you create an FSA ID, you will be given a username and password that you can use to access the Federal Student Aid online system including the FAFSA. Creating your FSA ID beforehand will save you time when you start filling out the FAFSA form.

To create your FSA ID go to the link below:

Create your FSA ID

Step 3: Fill out and complete your FAFSA form

After preparing your information and creating your FSA ID, you’re now ready to fill out the FAFSA form. The FAFSA is made available every October or a year before the next school year starts. Make sure to fill out the form early as some financial aid programs and grants are on a first come, first served basis.

You can access the 2021-2022 Form by using this link below:


You can also access the FAFSA form on the myStudentAid app on the Apple App Store and Google Play for Android devices.

Step 4: Wait to receive your financial aid award letter.

After filling out the FAFSA, you will need to wait for your financial aid award letter. The financial aid award letters are usually sent out early to mid-April. This letter will outline the financial aid that you qualify for including scholarships, grants, work-study programs, and federal student loans.

If you receive financial aid in the form of grants and scholarships, this means you don’t need to pay back this money. If you don’t qualify for any of these types of financial aid, the federal student loan that you are eligible to apply for will be indicated there. You will need to pay back the student loan after you graduate from college.

If you apply and get accepted to more than one school, you will receive multiple financial aid award letters. There will be different terms depending on the costs associated with attending the particular school.

Step 5: Accept the financial aid offer.

Once you receive your financial aid letter, you can accept the letter by returning it to the financial aid office of your chosen school. Again, if you receive more than one financial aid award letter, review these carefully before deciding on which school to go for. Make sure that you understand all the terms indicated in the letter. If you have any questions regarding your financial aid award letter, contact the school directly.

Steps In Applying For A Private Student Loan

While every American is eligible to apply for a federal student loan, there are certain instances where the money is still not enough. Maybe the tuition fees in your chosen school or course are high or you need additional funds for your living expenses. Getting a private student loan can help you cover the costs of these things.

Before applying for a private student loan, exhaust other options first. Check for other sources of financial aid that may be available or whether there are part-time jobs for students that can help you pay for school. After considering all of these options, that’s the time when you should only start considering private student loans.

Below are the steps in getting a private student loan.

Step 1: Compare private student loan lenders.  

When looking for a private student loan, don’t go for the first lender that tells you you’re eligible. Make sure to compare different lenders to get the best available rates. Different lenders will have different rate offers and also different requirements.

Most private student loan lenders will require that you must have a cosigner especially if you don’t have a job or existing credit history. A cosigner is someone who will guarantee the loan with you so in case you are unable to pay for the loan, the cosigner will be responsible to pay for the loan.

In most cases, having a cosigner makes it much easier for you to get approved for a private student loan. However, you can’t just have anyone as your cosigner. Your cosigner has to be someone with a good credit history and a steady source of income in order for you to get approved. Because your cosigner is essentially shouldering the loan in case you default, the lender has to make sure that the cosigner has the ability to pay back the student loan.

Some lenders have a minimum credit score requirement of at least 670 for student loan cosigners. To make it easier for you to get approved for a private student loan with the best rates, find a cosigner with a credit score of 720 or above.

But what if you don’t have a cosigner? Don’t worry because there are ways to get a student loan without a cosigner. You can apply for merit-based student loans that look at your academic record or future-income-based student loans that look at your potential income as part of the criteria in lending you money.

Step 2: Apply to your chosen private lender.

Once you choose a lender, the next step is to fill in your application and submit your requirements. These requirements will depend on your chosen lender. If you have existing federal student loans, some lenders will offer that you consolidate these federal loans with your private student loans (also known as refinancing). These offers are often attractive as they will usually offer lower interest rates.

Be cautious, however, before accepting any offers because once you refinance your federal student loans with a private lender, you will lose the benefits of government programs including public service loan forgiveness, student loan forgiveness, forbearance, and income-driven repayment plans.

Step 3: Sign your loan documents.

The final step is signing your private student loan documents. Before signing, make sure you review the loan document again. If you are not clear about anything especially the repayment terms and interest rates, ask for help from someone. Don’t assume anything as signing for a student loan that you don’t understand could put you in more debt than necessary.

Easily Apply For A Student Loan

Applying for a student loan does not need to be a complicated process. Carefully following the steps and devoting 100% of your attention during your application will help you complete the process smoothly and with fewer mistakes.