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How long does it take to get a student loan?


    Student loans are a huge topic that many students and their families wonder about when it's time to start thinking about college (and paying for it).

    One of the biggest questions students and their families have is how long it takes to get a student loan. Read on to learn how long each step of the student loan process generally takes.

    How long it takes to get federal student loans

    Most students and their parents prioritize receiving federal student loans over other types of loans because they often come with advantageous interest rates and repayment terms. Here’s how long that process generally takes.

    Step 1: File your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®)

    What this entails: The first step in securing a federal student loan is to submit the FAFSA®. That’s what’s used to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which colleges use, in part, to determine how much aid to award you, including federal student loans.

    Time to expect: This will depend on whether you’re required to provide parental information and, if so, how quickly you and your parents can gather the necessary information. Federal Student Aid (FSA) estimates that it takes most people less than an hour to complete the form after they’ve compiled all the necessary information.

    Step 2: Wait for your FAFSA® to be processed

    What this entails: According to FSA, if you submit your FAFSA® online, your application will be processed by the U.S. Department of Education within three to five days. If you submit a paper FAFSA®, your application will be processed by the U.S. Department of Education within seven to ten days.

    Time to expect: This will take three to ten days, depending on how you file your FAFSA®.

    Step 3: Get your financial aid award letter

    What this entails: Once your college receives your FAFSA® information, it will determine your eligibility for financial aid. Financial aid award letters are generally sent out around March or April, though each college’s timeline varies. Depending on the aid your school decides you’re eligible for, your award letter can contain information about need-based federal aid. It might also include information about non-need-based aid, including certain loans. These loans include the Parent PLUS Loan, the Direct Subsidized Loan, and the Direct Unsubsidized Loan.

    Time to expect: Most people receive their aid award letters when they receive their offers of admission, but the timing can vary.

    Step 4: Sign Your Master Promissory Note (MPN)

    What this entails: You’ll need to sign a Master Promissory Note (MPN) to actually receive federal student loan funds. Once signed, the federal student loan funds can be disbursed. This usually happens before your classes start or up to 30 days after your classes start. Each school has its own process to have students sign an MPN, and some schools may require students to sign a new one each year.

    Time to expect: This happens before classes start in most cases, though you may not get funds until 30 days after your classes begin.

    Other things to know about how long it takes to receive federal student loan money

    You should expect to get your federal student loan funds before classes start or up to 30 days after classes start. If you receive a federal student loan, you’ll receive the funds in at least two payments, otherwise known as disbursements. Your school will likely provide your loan disbursements at least once per term.

    Here are a few more things to be aware of as far as student loan disbursements:

    • If you’re a first-time borrower – including being a first-year undergraduate – you may have to wait 30 days after your school’s enrollment begins before your school will disburse your loan funds. You’ll want to check with your school if this is their policy.
    • To receive your loan disbursement, if you’re a first-time borrower of a Direct Subsidized Loan or a Direct Unsubsidized Loan, you must complete entrance counseling.
    • If you’re a graduate or professional student taking out a Direct PLUS Loan for the first time, you must complete entrance counseling before receiving your first loan disbursement.
    • Counseling isn’t required if you’re a parent taking out a Direct PLUS Loan to help pay for your child’s education.

    How long does it take to get private loans?

    Unlike federal student loans, which the government issues, private student loans are issued by private lenders, such as banks and other financial companies.

    The private student loan process and timing depends on the lender. Many private student loan applications can be submitted online and take a short amount of time to complete. Approval times can vary, but some lenders will let you know if you’re approved within a matter of days.

    Final thoughts

    If you’re considering applying for any kind of student loan, start the application process as soon as possible to access the funds you need to pursue your educational goals. Particularly when it comes to federal student loans, take note of the deadlines, as it’s important to plan ahead.