Take the guesswork out of applying for student loans by assessing your needs and knowing your options.
Step 1: Complete the FAFSA
All families should complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Schools use this form to award most types of aid, so visit fafsa.ed.gov after January 1 for the upcoming academic year.
Tip: Family income and tax information are required, but estimates are acceptable. Want to estimate your financial needs before January 1? The FAFSA4caster can give an early estimate of the amount of aid you may be eligible to receive.
Step 2: Estimate your total cost and financial aid
Most school websites offer a Net Price Calculator that can give you an estimate of your total cost and your financial aid award at a particular school. Actual costs and awards may vary.
Tip: Can’t find the calculator on your school’s website? Try typing “Net Price Calculator” into the school website’s search tool.
Step 3: Determine if you have additional expenses
Consider the results of the Net Price Calculator. If there’s a gap between your estimated total cost and your aid award, that gap represents your additional out-of-pocket expenses.
Tip: If the school’s estimated financial aid award will cover your costs, use the timeline in Step 5 to know your due dates.
Step 4: Plan to cover additional expenses
Some schools have tuition payment plans, which allow students to pay in installments.
Federal Direct PLUS loans can cover up to 100% of remaining education-related costs. These loans are available for parents of dependent undergraduate students and for graduate and professional students. A credit check is required.
Private student loans are offered by lenders like Wells Fargo and can typically cover the remaining eligible education-related costs. Credit history, debt, and current income are considered, so most undergraduates apply with a qualified cosigner.
Tip: Since all types of student loans need to be repaid, consider how much you might earn in the future and never borrow more than you think you will be able to comfortably repay.
Step 5: Know your deadlines and compare your options
Use our financial aid calendar for important dates, and be aware of the different types of funding options that families can use to cover education costs.
Tip: Pay special attention to the processing timelines to make sure that you can take full advantage of all financial aid opportunities.