Researching student loan options should be next on your list after applying to undergraduate or graduate school. If you already know you will need financing of some kind for your degree – and in this day and age it's rare not to need it – take the time to find resources that can offer the best economic program for your life.
So where to find student loans? Should you just walk into any bank? After all, private financial institutions are touting all kinds of educational loans that make it sound like you’ll lose money if you don't sign up for them. Or, should you click on any of the thousands of loan offers splattered all over the Internet? Isn't that the most expedient?
Hold onto your pen or mouse for a moment. Realize that not every student loan is the same, and remember that this is a huge decision and responsibility you might be undertaking, so take a proactive approach instead of a reactive stance.
Sifting Through The Clutter: Where To Find Student Loans
First, talk to the loan officer at the universities or colleges you’re considering. Even online degree programs that are worth their recruiting efforts will offer financial aid counseling. They should give you excellent information about what government, state and private organizations have historically made the best loans to students in recent years.
The financial aid counselor or liaison can give you budgetary information about typical costs per year of tuition, and in turn can recommend the best combination of loans available. He or she can also provide application forms for school sponsored loan programs.
You will need to do your own research as well, because after all, you are the one who will have to live with your loans for five, ten, twenty, maybe even thirty years.
Ask friends and colleagues where they got their loans. It’s better to ask those who have graduated already, so they can give you an honest appraisal of what the customer service (if applicable) has been like, and what kind of impact their repayment schedule has had on their life.
Also, remember to check with your employer if you’re already working. Though this applies more to graduate school rather than undergraduate, they could very well offer a loan program that's competitive with Federal or consumer loan options.
Next, be sure to fill out a FAFSA (Free Application For Student Aid). This form is the gateway to all Federal loans, and you only have to fill it out once to find out every loan for which you are qualified. You can easily find this on the United States Department of Education’s website, or just type in FAFSA in your search engine.
Last, start with major banks and lenders with whom you or your parents have had a prior relationship with. Talk to their educational loan officer. Be honest about your potential monetary needs; a good loan officer gets paid to make sure they can offer a loan that works for you, and he or she also gets paid to consider whether the borrower is a good fit for the company in terms of repayment goals.
Take the information given to you from these institutions, and start researching smaller private lenders. Above all, don't sign up for any loan until you have thoroughly compared interest rates, time lines for repayment and customer service!