Almost everyone qualifies for student loans, though students with the greatest financial need can generally borrow under the best terms. The first step in applying for a student loan is figuring out whether you will be considered an independent student or one who is dependent on your parents. There is some gray area when it comes to dependency status, but generally speaking, you're an independent student if:
- You are over the age of 24.
- You are married at the time of applying.
- You are on active duty or are a veteran of the armed forces.
- You have children who receive at least half of their support from you.
[source: U.S. Department of Education]
Under certain circumstances, independent status may be granted to students who do not meet the requirements listed above. If you have questions about this, talk to the financial aid administrator at your school. He or she can make the final determination about your status.
Once you've figured out your dependency status, it's time start gathering financial information for yourself (independent students) and your parents (dependent students). This includes tax returns, bank statements and information about other financial assets [source: U.S. Department of Education]. You'll also need social security/immigration cards for everyone on the application.
To qualify for financial aid, you also need to be working toward a degree in an eligible program. In other words, you may be applying to an accredited school, but the underwater basket weaving classes you plan to take could disqualify you for the loan if they do not count toward a certificate or degree. Be sure to talk to a counselor about whether your courses are acceptable under your loan program.
Once you've answered some questions about your dependency status and eligibility, it's time to start comparing student loan programs. There are several different types of student loans, each with its own terms and conditions. You may qualify for more than one type, so it's important to understand how each works in order to make the best decision about financing your education. In the next section, we compare different types of student loans as well as the qualifications for each.