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  • Michael DiBartolomeo

How Long Does It Take to Get a Student Loan? All You Need to Know

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

Getting a student loan is a necessity for many students who are looking to get a college education. A college hopeful can opt to take a student loan for several different reasons, including tuition fees, living expenses, books, and other school-based expenses.

There are federal student loans and private student loans. The student loan that a potential borrower can get access to determines many of the conditions. These include student loan interest rates, consumer protection policies, and repayment methods.

Though a student loan is for school, it works like other loan types that people take. Funds are first borrowed after a loan application process, then somebody must repay the said funds. Of course, any interest and fees associated must also be paid along with the principal loan money.

Types of Student Loans

Types of Student Loans

A college hopeful can get student loan money in one of two ways. One could get federal student aid, or it's also possible to get a private student loan. A federal student loan is provided by the government, while a private student loan is provided by other entities, such as banks, online lenders, and credit unions.

Federal Student Loan

The United States Department of Education is responsible for making these loans available. However, if a college hopeful wants to get a student loan this way, the person must first complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA). Getting federal student loans is typically a big win for college students, as the interest rates tend to be much better than those students get with private student loans.

Federal student loan funds are provided in several ways, depending on financial need. These are as follows:

  • Direct PLUS Loan - College students at the graduate and professional level can access this type of loan. Parents of dependent undergraduate college students can also receive the funds from this federal student loan. Federal loans of this type offer funds to cover school expenses that other student aid alternatives don't. Note, however, that this financial aid avenue requires a credit check.

  • Direct Consolidation Loans - A college pupil can use this loan type to combine several loans into one. This route is convenient when someone wants to get a student loan large enough to provide adequate funds from multiple sources. That's because a college student using this financial aid avenue only has to deal with one servicer, which means there's no need to worry about multiple interest rates.

  • Direct Subsidized Loan - Undergraduate college students can access these loans based on financial need. The current school year and level of dependence determine a college student's qualification parameters for this student loan type. As a first-year, the loan limit for a subsidized loan is $3,500. After the first year, the amount increases to $4,500 in the second year and $5,500 after that.

  • Direct Unsubsidized Loan - Undergraduate, graduate, and professional students can access these funds, and financial need is not considered here.

Private Student Loan

Online lenders, credit unions, and online lenders tend to provide private loans. The maximum interest rates and loan amounts that govern federal student loan funds are not present where private loans are concerned.

  • Direct to Consumer Loans - Direct to consumer private loans don't come under the school-certified loan umbrella. Note that some private loans can be school-certified, but this is not one of them. Note that school-certified loans are simply those that require the school to verify details on the loan records. The school only needs to get involved in this manner if the loan type requires it.

  • State Loans - Not every state offers this kind of financial aid, but those that do treat them like private student loans instead of federal student loans, which is why they are categorized this way. The US Department of Education database provides information on the availability of this kind of private student loan in various states. If a college-goer is hoping to get a student loan of this type, it's advisable to refer to the database to see the case in the designated state.

  • Bar Exam Loans - These private student loans don't only do what the name would imply. The idea is to provide funds to cover all the school expenses that other student loan options don't. A college hopeful could get one of these loans for living expenses, exam fees, books, etc. Law students tend to use these funds in conjunction with their bar exams, which explains the name.

  • International Student Loans - Federal student loans aren't available to non-US citizens. There are eligible non-citizen clauses, but the average international college student doesn't fall into that category. Therefore, private student loan facilities tend to have loans for international students.

  • Medical Student Loans - This financial aid award is for students pursuing medicine. Those medical college students who have good credit may want to opt to get funds from one of these sources. That's because the interest rates are sometimes better.

  • Student Loans for Bad Credit - Having bad credit doesn't mean students don't need school money. Some private lenders have loans that are set up to provide money to those with bad credit.

How to Apply for a Student Loan

How to Apply for a Student Loan

The loan application process depends on the kind of loan a college student wants to get for school. How long it may take to get the loan also depends on this. If someone wants to get federal student loan funds, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) is the avenue to access that money. Parents who have dependent college students may elect to complete the form on the student's behalf.

If a college student wants to make sure a financial gap is closed after maxing out federal loans, or if the person didn't qualify for government financial aid, a private student loan may be in order. Any student who hopes to get a student loan this way must go through the process stipulated. Private student loan providers have different processes, and they must be followed to completion before any money is turned over.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Student Loan?

The question "how long does it take to get a student loan" is one that comes up very often among those who are looking to secure financial aid for their school expenses. How long it takes can influence the willingness to apply, and it also factors into the decision of which loan type to opt for.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Student Loan? Federal Student Loans

Even if a college hopeful seems unlikely to qualify for federal student loans, it's never a bad idea to fill out the form. It encompasses a wide range of funds for merit-based scholarships, grants, and student loans. Some people are surprised by the financial aid they're eligible for in the form of federal student loans.

After application, FASFA processing takes anywhere from one week to three weeks. Those weeks can feel like so much more time when a student is anxiously awaiting a result. How long it takes is necessary to ensure that the financial aid package is customized to a student's unique need for funds.

This is where a Master Promissory Note comes into the mix. Before the money can be processed, the college student who applied must agree to the loan terms. These stipulations include the amount of money, interest rate, payment period, etc. The Master Promissory note requires a signature, as it indicates agreement to the conditions. No money disbursement takes place until the signing is complete.

A college student needs disbursement before school sessions. Therefore, the time taken to disburse the funds tends to factor this in. Typically, the allocation happens within 10 days before the first day of classes. Of course, getting the money within 10 days before school sessions gives ample time to pay tuition fees and other expenses early enough.

There may be a couple of extra weeks in the process if the college student is a first-time borrower and a first year. There's a delay of 30 days, which makes a massive difference in how long it takes to get the student loan funds. In the case of a first-year, first-time borrower, the money tends to be disbursed approximately 30 days after the first day of the payment period.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Student Loan? Private Student Loans

Bear in mind that college students should always opt to take federal student loans if they can. The last resort should be a private student loan. How long it takes to get one of these varies, unlike federal ones' timeline, which is standard. It could take over two months to receive the funds for private student loans. The maximum period is typically no more than 10 weeks, and the average usually is less. Most college hopefuls get this kind of student loan money within two weeks to 10 weeks.

The way the money is provided depends on the kind of loan chosen. A financial aid office is not always the collector. If a borrower opted for a direct to consumer loan, the school's financial aid office would not get the funds. Instead, the process would involve the money going directly into the personal bank account of the borrower. On the other hand, school-certified loans are paid to the school's financial aid office.

Of course, college students have variable rates to deal with where private loans are concerned, so they can never ignore that factor.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Student Loan? Checking on the Loan Process and Status

Private student loans operate to the beat of their drum, unlike federal student loans that take their parameters from a standardized government process. Of course, private lenders have to work within moral and industry regulations, but the process lends itself to a lot of breathing room. That's one of the reasons a college pupil can end up waiting between two weeks and 10 weeks for the process to run its course.

Some private student loans offer approval in record times. How long does it take? In some cases, within a few minutes, students know if they're approved or not. Sometimes, the time taken to get some private loans certified by a school adds a couple of weeks to the process.

As the weeks go by and the first day of school draws nearer, potential borrowers may start to get a bit edgy about the funds they're waiting for. In such instances, they may feel inclined to check up on their application to see what the holdup is.

College hopefuls who opt to get federal student loans must create a FASFA account as a part of the signup process. One upside of this is that students can take advantage of the web page to view the status of each financial aid award. Students can also take the time to call or email in their questions for further clarification.

Private student loans are a different story, as there is no one place to check on everything as there is for those who can get federal student loans. Unfortunately, college students can only watch the weeks go by and call the lender to check on the status.

Frequently Asked Questions

Federal and private student loans are used by many college hopefuls each year for their school expenses. The processes are not always straight forward, and they can take weeks to run to completion. It's no surprise then that many people tend to have a slew of questions about the whole loan application and receipt process.

Below is a collection of several of the most common questions that loan applicants ask and their answers.

How Do I Apply for a Student Loan?

The application process depends on the kind of loan that you wish to apply for. If you want to go the route of federal loans, then you need only complete the FASFA. Private lenders all have their systems in place, so you need to find out how the lender you're interested in does things.

Can I Cancel a Federal Loan I Got Approval for?

The ability to cancel a federal loan depends on the type of loan, and when you choose to attempt the cancellation. PLUS loans, for example, can be canceled even after you've completed the signing of the promissory note. However, you need to make and communicate your decision not to take the loan within two weeks of the first day of the payment period or two weeks of the school notifying you of disbursement. You can work with whichever falls later.

Why Are Federal Loans Recommended?

Federal loans are designed by the government with students in mind, unlike private student loans. While a private firm can have an offering geared toward students, they tend to be for the benefit of the firm and not the borrower.

That's why government loans for students tend to have more favorable terms for students. These loans are built with education as the priority. The variable rates of interest that are synonymous with private student loans, for example, are a non-factor with federal aid.

That's why it's always recommended to exhaust the federal options before looking at private options.

Should I Take a Direct to Consumer Loan?

Much of this boils down to how essential the additional convenience is to you. Of course, you must accept all of the advantages and disadvantages of seeking funding using private entities instead of federal ones.

However, the disbursement of direct to consumer loans can be very advantageous. Instead of providing the funds to your financial aid office, the money is sent to the borrower's account. Of course, there are numerous different school expenses that borrowing comes into the equation for.

Unfortunately, financial aid offices can take an inconvenient amount of time to provide leftover loan funds to students after the required deductions have been taken.

Direct to consumer loans don't have this issue since all the money is readily available at the bank. However, note that the borrower needs to exercise responsibility in spending the money in the way it was intended.

When Do Repayments Begin?

How long does it take to reach the repayment point? This is another question that depends on the kind of borrowing arrangement you agreed to for securing the funds. Federal loans tend to have a grace period. You don't need to worry about paying anything, so long as you remain enrolled with full-time status at school. Typically, the payments become triggered when students either switch to part-time status or complete their course of study.

At that point, there's a grace period of up to nine months, which a graduate can use to find employment before it's time to start making repayments.

Private loans don't have a standard point where this is concerned. As is the case with almost any condition tied to private alternatives, you must verify this information with the lender of your choice. Nevertheless, it's important to point out that most private lenders begin to recollect just about immediately. Be prepared to start paying these loans back to avoid capitalized interest on your student loan. These loans are treated the same way as other public loans, so it's no surprise.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax or legal advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific situation with qualified tax, legal, or Pittsburgh financial advisors.

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