The application process for student loans really begins when you sit down with your schools of choice and determine what your financial needs will be.

If you're looking at an array of schools, with varying tuition and room, boarding costs, you’ll have a bit more work to do than if you have already designated your program of choice.

Whether you've got one school or several to consider, contact the student financial aid office as soon as possible. They will gladly give you a breakdown of what a typical student budget looks like, including tuition costs and estimated housing, for you to use in determining how much money you’ll need.

Next, determine whether you or your parents will be the borrower. Whoever it is, they will need to get their most recent tax returns and financial information together in one place to fill out any applications, as you will soon see.

Just as an example, let’s assume you will attempt to exhaust any Federal loans available before applying to private ones. The United States Department of Education has made the application process relatively easy. They will provide a Free Application For Student Aid (FAFSA) which is the first stop to applying for any number of Federal loans such as the Stafford, Perkins and PLUS loans.

Be sure to apply for a unique PIN (personal identification number) at least three days before actually filling out the information. This will serve as your personal gateway to your form for the duration of the year. If your parents will be co-signing your loan or taking one out in your name, they will also need to apply for a PIN.

Student Loan Debt

Student Loan Debt

When you are ready to fill out FAFSA, you will be asked for information like: your Social Security number, your parents’ Social Security numbers if you are providing parent information, your driver’s license number if you have one, citizenship information, Federal tax information or tax returns for yourself and spouse, if applicable. You might need to provide information including, but not limited to, veteran or military credentials.

Once you have filled out the FAFSA, you will shortly receive your Student Air Report (SAR), which tells you things like your EFC (Estimated Family Contribution) and what you can expect to receive from federalized loans to help fill in the gaps between school costs and what your family can provide.

For private loans, the process can vary from company to company, but mostly you can fill out a form much the same way as above. The difference is, they will probably take an extra day or two to check your creditworthiness through any of the federal credit reporting companies, and then calculate what they are able to loan.

You will need to then sift through any and all offers by private loan companies to figure out which offer the best interest rates, repayment plans, and customer services.

Once you have decided upon any loans and designated your school of choice, contact the school’s loan office, which will tell you what the next steps are for connecting the loan with the school, and making sure the monetary disbursement process is set up in your name. In some cases, money is sent directly to the borrower in installments; if this is the case, you will need to find out what your school payment plan is expected to be.