When Should I Apply for Student Loans?

Posted by in Loans | Updated on October 5, 2022
At a Glance: FAFSA opens on October 1st, the year before you expect to enroll, and closes on June 30th in your enrollment year. Private lenders accept applications throughout the year, so you can apply when you have an acceptance letter.

For many young people, the decision of how to fund their college or university education is the most important financial decision of their lives. The best choice is always grants and scholarships, but this may not always be an option. If you are seeking other ways to pay for your education, there are a few options to explore. Student loans are a common choice. There are many different federal and private student loans that you can choose from. One of the important questions to ask yourself is, ‘When should I apply for student loans?’ That answer depends on a few different factors. Read on to learn more.

Federal Student Loan Deadlines

The first step in applying for federal student loans is the Department of Education’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also called FAFSA. 

2023-24 Federal Student Loan Deadlines

For the 2023 to 2024 academic year, FAFSA applications open on the 1st of October 2023, and the final deadline is 11:59 p.m. Central time (CT) on June 30, 2024.

2022-23 Federal Student Loan Deadlines

For the 2022 to 2023 academic year, FAFSA applications open on the 1st of October 2022, and the final deadline is 11:59 p.m. Central time (CT) on June 30, 2023.

2021-22 Federal Student Loan Deadlines

For the 2021 to 2022 academic year, FAFSA applications opened on the 1st of October 2021 and the final deadline was 11:59 p.m. Central time (CT) on June 30, 2022.

The above dates are the federal deadlines. However, the state deadlines and the deadlines imposed by some schools are earlier than this. Make sure to check your state’s FAFSA deadline to avoid making a mistake. Also, contact your school’s financial aid office for guidance on their specific deadlines and guidance.

Private Student Loan Deadlines

Private student loan lenders are more flexible than the federal government. Many private student loan lenders accept and process applications throughout the year. In those cases the answer to the question ‘When should I apply for student loans?’ is when you need them. 

With that being said, it is still important to apply in good time, even for private student loans. This is because even lenders who advertise very fast disbursement still need time to process your application. There could also be other unforeseen issues that cause delays. 

Therefore, don’t wait until the last minute to apply for private student loans. Give yourself time to explore all the options, then select one. Whatever funding method you choose, it’s important to have it secured well before your tuition is due, because there are several steps involved in getting a private student loan, including:

  • Application and Processing: Give yourself plenty of time (several months or a year) to compare and explore various options (including scholarships) before you choose and apply with the lender best suited to your needs.
  • Certification: At this stage, the lender contacts your school to verify your enrollment and the various costs. It generally only takes a few days or a week, but it depends on the efficiency of the school administration and lender.
  • Disbursement: Lenders usually send the tuition and other fees directly to the school and transfer the rest to you. 

The whole process could take a month or more, so keep that in mind for your planning around deadlines.

Student Loan Deadlines FAQ

The questions below often follow the question ‘When should I apply for student loans?’ when discussing student loan funding.

Can you apply for student loans before being accepted?

Yes, you can apply for federal student loans before you are accepted. Depending on the various state and federal FAFSA deadlines and the date on which college acceptance decisions are made, you might have to apply before receiving any acceptance letters. Also, some financial aid packages are awarded on a first come first served basis, so being early is helpful.

Private student loans generally require at least an acceptance letter. However, the application process is usually a month or less which means that if you apply as soon as your receive your acceptance letter you will generally receive the loan well before most schools’ final tuition deadline.

Can you still apply for student loans after school has started?

Yes. If you encounter unexpected costs that you can’t meet, there is a period of a few months after the FAFSA submission deadline in which you can submit corrections to your application. This includes recent changes in your financial situation. Also, make sure to get in touch with your school’s financial aid office for help. You may not need any loans if you can get a grant or scholarship.

Finally, you can apply for private student loans at any time of the year. This should be your last resort after seeking grant and scholarship funding, however.

What is the difference between a federal student loan and a private student loan?

Federal student loans are issued by the federal government. Private student loans are issued by private lenders, such as credit unions and for-profit lenders. 

When it comes to deadlines, the difference is that FAFSA opening and closing dates are very specific. The opening date is the 1st of October in the year before your enrollment and the deadline is the 30th of June in your enrollment year. Although June 30 is the final submission deadline, you can still make corrections or adjustments to your application after this date if your financial circumstances have changed since you first submitted it.

Private student loans do not generally have application deadlines as such. Banks and credit unions accept applications throughout the year. However, it is a good idea to apply for a private student loan well before you need it, because processing, certifying, and disbursing the loan takes time.

Read More

Final Thoughts

The answer to the question ‘When should I apply for student loans?’ depends on what kind of student loans you are considering. The federal student loan program (FAFSA) has specific dates between which you can apply. Generally, applications open on October 1st, the year before you expect to enroll, and close on June 30th in your enrollment year. Even after the final deadline, you are allowed to submit some adjustments to your application in case your financial situation changes. Private student loan lenders accept applications throughout the year, so you can apply as soon as you have an acceptance letter. Private student loan applications might take a month or more before your school receives the funds.