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When To Apply for Student Loans

While federal student loans have stricter application deadlines, private student loans can be applied for at any time — including mid-semester.

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By Eric Rosenberg

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Eric Rosenberg

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Eric Rosenberg is an expert on personal finance. His work has been featured at Business Insider, Investopedia, The Balance, The Huffington Post, MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Mint.com and more.

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Edited by Renee Fleck

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Renee Fleck

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Renee Fleck is a student loans editor with over five years of experience in digital content editing. Her work has been featured in Fast Company, Morning Brew, and Sidebar.io, among other online publications. She is fluent in Spanish and French and enjoys traveling to new places.

Updated December 21, 2023

Editorial disclosure: Our goal is to give you the tools and confidence you need to improve your finances.

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Credible takeaways

  • You can apply for federal student loans as early as the year before you start school.
  • You can apply for a private student loan at any time, but it can take up to a month for the funds to disburse. 
  • It’s a good idea to apply for federal loans early since they have hard deadlines and some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

There are different deadlines for federal and private student loans, and knowing these can be crucial to securing the funding you need for your education. Whether you decide to take out federal or private loans, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to apply and for the funds to be disbursed, just in case there are any hiccups along the way.

Here’s when to apply for both federal and private student loans.

Federal student loan deadlines

For most borrowers, it’s best to apply for federal student loans when planning for college costs. Your first step is to complete the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

The FAFSA typically opens October 1 for the following academic year, but the 2024-25 FAFSA won’t be available until December 2023. It’s a good idea to complete the FAFSA as early as possible so you can get all of the financial aid you may be eligible for.

Also keep in mind that some aid is finite and awarded on a first-come, first-served basis — so be sure to submit the FAFSA as soon as you can, especially if you have high financial need.

2024-25 deadlines

  • FAFSA opens: December 2023
  • Final deadline: June 30, 2025

2023-24 deadlines

  • FAFSA opened: Oct. 1, 2022
  • Final deadline: June 30, 2024

Important: Some states and schools require you to apply earlier than the federal deadline. For example, California’s deadline for many state financial aid programs for the 2023-24 academic year was March 2, 2023. That’s more than a full year before the last federal deadline.

Be sure to check your state’s FAFSA deadline and plan ahead. You can also contact your school’s financial aid office to check what specific deadlines you’ll need to meet.

Private student loan deadlines

Unlike federal student loans, you can apply for private student loans at any time — but you don’t want to wait until the last minute. Give yourself plenty of time before tuition is due to apply for a private student loan and for the funds to be disbursed. This way, you won’t have to worry about missing a payment if there are any delays.

In some cases, private lenders will approve your application in just a few minutes. But if your application requires additional review, it could take up to two weeks for approval. After this, there are a few more steps before you’ll get your funds. 

Here’s a brief look at the timeline for private student loans:

  1. Application: There’s no specific deadline for private student loans. But if you already know your costs will exceed federal loan limits, it’s smart to apply well before your tuition is due. This gives you more time to compare as many options as possible so you can find the best loan for you.
  2. Certification: Before the private lender disburses your funds, they’ll typically work with your school to certify your enrollment status, cost of attendance, and other details. This might be a quick process — but again, it’s best to plan for delays. The certification process usually takes about seven to 10 days, depending on your school. The financial aid office can give you more information about their certification timelines.
  3. Disbursement: Most private student loans are disbursed at the start of the semester. The funds are typically sent directly to your school, which applies the money to your tuition and fees. You’ll get whatever money is left over to cover costs like living expenses and books.

From start to finish, it can take up to a month or longer to get a private student loan. While these loans are often approved quickly, it’s a good idea to apply early to avoid last-minute delays.

Advertiser Disclosure
4.94.9

Credible rating

Fixed (APR)

4.11% - 15.44%

Loan Amounts

$1,000 up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance

Min. Credit Score

680

on Credible’s website

View Details

4.84.8

Credible rating

Fixed (APR)

4.13% - 15.46%

Loan Amounts

$2,001* to $400,000

Min. Credit Score

680

on Credible’s website

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4.44.4

Credible rating

Fixed (APR)

4.39% - 14.66%

Loan Amounts

$1,000 to $99,999 annually ($180,000 aggregate limit)

Min. Credit Score

660

on Credible’s website

View Details

4.84.8

Credible rating

Fixed (APR)

4.48% - 13.29%

Loan Amounts

$1,000 to $350,000 (depending on degree)

Min. Credit Score

720

on Credible’s website

View Details

4.34.3

Credible rating

Fixed (APR)

4.50% - 15.49%

Loan Amounts

$1,000 up to 100% of school-certified cost of attendance

Min. Credit Score

660

on Credible’s website

View Details

4.64.6

Credible rating

Fixed (APR)

4.56% - 8.34%

Loan Amounts

$1,001 up to 100% of school certified cost of attendance

Min. Credit Score

670

on Credible’s website

View Details

4.84.8

Credible rating

Fixed (APR)

5.35% - 7.95%

Loan Amounts

$1,500 up to school’s certified cost of attendance less aid

Min. Credit Score

670

on Credible’s website

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All APRs reflect autopay and loyalty discounts where available | LightStream disclosure | SoFi Disclosures | Read more about Rates and Terms

You can still apply after school has started

For both federal and private loans, it’s possible to get more funding even after the semester has started.

As long as you’ve already submitted the FAFSA, you may be eligible for additional federal loans immediately — assuming you haven’t hit your borrowing limits yet. Log in to your Federal Student Aid account to see what available funds you may have remaining.

If you haven’t submitted the FAFSA, you can apply for federal student loans until the deadline at the end of June. Applying mid-year can limit your options, depending on your state or school deadlines. Your school’s financial aid office can also help you find extra money you may qualify for.

Similarly, you can submit an application for private student loans at any time. For example, if you maxed out your federal loans to cover tuition but are running low on funds for housing and supplies, you might consider applying for a private student loan to cover your living expenses.

Can you apply for student loans before being accepted?

For federal student loans, you can — and in many cases, should — apply before you get accepted to school. That’s because the FAFSA typically opens on Oct. 1 of the calendar year before the academic year you’ll be starting. Because most colleges don’t announce acceptance decisions that early, the 2024-25 FAFSA allows you to add up to 20 schools, all of which will receive your necessary financial information.

Private student loans work a bit differently. It’s generally best to start applying after you’ve received a financial aid award letter from your college (which they will send around the same time that they accept you), so you have a better idea of how much you’ll need to borrow.

You want to have plenty of time to process your application and receive an approval before your tuition is due. Many colleges have July or August payment deadlines for the fall semester, so consider applying by May or June.

Applying for student loans FAQ

How far in advance should you apply for a student loan?

It’s a good idea to apply for federal loans as soon as the FAFSA opens up for the academic year. Applying early ensures you meet all deadlines and improves your chances of getting other financial aid, like scholarships and grants, which may be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. You can apply for the 2024-25 FAFSA starting in December 2023. 

When should students start applying for financial aid?

Students are encouraged to start applying for financial aid as soon as the FAFSA becomes available for thee academic year, which is usually October 1 of the preceding year. (However, it’s December 2023 for the 2024-25 academic year.) 

Additionally, each state sets its own deadline for financial aid, so it’s smart to apply as soon as possible to ensure you receive the most financial aid you possibly can. Contact your school’s financial aid office to check what specific deadlines you need to meet.

Do I apply for college or student loans first?

It’s generally best to apply for federal student loans after you know which schools you plan on applying to. When you fill out the FAFSA online, you’ll have the option to add up to 20 schools you’re interested in, all of which will receive your necessary financial information. 

You should add each school you plan on applying to, even if you haven’t been accepted yet. Once accepted, your school will determine how much financial aid you’re eligible to receive. 

Do I apply for a student loan every semester?

You’re required to submit the FAFSA once a year if you wish to take out federal loans. Funds are generally disbursed at least once per semester, trimester, or quarter. You can apply for private student loans anytime, including mid-semester. 

Can you take out student loans anytime?

As long as you have an approved FAFSA and haven’t hit your borrowing limits, you can apply for more federal loans mid-semester. You can take out private student loans anytime, although it’s best to apply earlier than later, as it can take a few weeks to a month or longer for funds to disburse.

Meet the expert:
Eric Rosenberg

Eric Rosenberg is an expert on personal finance. His work has been featured at Business Insider, Investopedia, The Balance, The Huffington Post, MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Mint.com and more.

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