How to Apply for a Federal Student Loan

The majority of college students need assistance from the United States government to help pay for their college education.

I mean, knowledge doesn’t come cheap these days! But a surprising amount of students and parents are still in the dark about when and how to apply for a federal student loan.

Kick the head scratching to the curb with these tips and instructions to make the application process easier on you and your family.

  • Remember! Loans are money that you are borrowing from the government, and therefore you must pay back upon graduation. They are not “free money” like scholarships or grants!

Types of Loans

First things first: you can’t figure out how to apply for a federal student loan before understanding what types of loans are available to you. There are two basic types of loans available to you as an undergraduate student.

  • Direct Subsidized Loans: the availability of subsidized loans is based on your financial need as a student (or your parents’). The government doesn’t charge you interest on your subsidized loan while you are enrolled in school at least part time, and for 6 months after your graduation or discontinuation of university studies. 
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans: these loans do not depend on financial aid for their disbursal. The interest is charge on the loan while you are in school, but you are not required to pay it until after graduation (though some may choose to do so to try and cut down their cost).

In addition, there are a couple other types of federal student loans available.

  • Direct PLUS Loans: these loans are available to graduate or professional students, or the parents of undergraduate college students. There is a credit check before disbursal, and they have a fixed interest rate at 7.9%. 
  • Federal Perkins Loans: these are based on exceptional financial aid demonstrated by the student, and are disbursed through your individual school. 

For more information about the types of federal student loans that are available, click here!

How Do I Apply For A Federal Student Loan?

Now that you are an expert in all the different types of loans that are available, you’re probably wondering how to get one.

Here, we break down the basic steps one must take to apply for a federal student loan.

Step 1: First off, you MUST apply for the FAFSA (or Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Though you can fill out the FAFSA between January 1st and June 30, most organizations will recommend you to file it before February 13th, as there are some aid programs and opportunities that are first come, first served.

The FAFSA documents your and your parents’ income, history, and taxes (so you’ll need to file taxes or have a good idea what yours will look like before filing the FAFSA). Then, it makes you eligible for government aid, be it Work Study, Grants, or Loans. Remember, you can’t apply for government loans without the FAFSA! 

Step 2: After you are approved for federal loans (the FAFSA will also tell you how much of each type of loan you can borrow each year), you must sign a promissory note and, if it’s your first time borrowing, read the terms and conditions and go through a small quiz session. This way, the government and your university can both be reassured that you understand all the ins and outs of borrowing and paying back your loan.

Step 3: Your school may have other requirements, so make sure to check with them as well. They should tell you up front if there’s anything extra you need to do, but it never hurts to talk to your school’s financial aid office to double check.

Applying for a federal student loan really isn’t as scary as it sounds, and there are many resources out there to help you if you get stuck. You can always ask your guidance counselor, or any advisors at your school, as well as find information on the internet (just make sure it’s a credible source – like the government websites!)

There are a few other things you should remember about how to apply for a federal student loan:

  • You have to file a FAFSA every year that you intend to use federal student aid.
  • You can file online any time after January 1st (for free)!

For more information on the entire process, visit the Federal Student Aid website!

Related Posts

The following two tabs change content below.
Elizabeth Benson

Elizabeth Benson

Elizabeth Benson is a freshman at Central Michigan University, currently pursuing a degree in Journalism. Elizabeth is a member of the CMU Honors Program, and is a staff reporter at Central Michigan Life, the student run campus newspaper. When she’s not in school, she can usually be found reading, writing, or watching movies, and enjoys traveling and performing in plays.
Elizabeth Benson

Latest posts by Elizabeth Benson (see all)