You’ve made it into college in the US; congratulations! As you begin your journey here, you’ve probably already realized that studying in the US is expensive. While many different types of scholarships, grants, and aid are available, you may still find the need to take up a student loan to cover the total cost of attendance.
So, how can you go about applying for student loans?
One avenue that US students will often mention is federal aid or loans, which is unfortunately unavailable to most international students.
Your US friends have probably mentioned the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form to apply for financial aid from U.S. federal and state governments. As an international student, you are not eligible for federal student aid or federal student loans, but may still need to fill out the FAFSA as some schools use it to determine institutional aid.
Most loans for non-US students will require a co-signer.
As a young college student lacking a credit history and a means of earning income, banks usually need the guarantee of someone they can trust to pay back the loan. A co-signer is a person who is legally bound on a loan application to pay the outstanding debt in case the applicant is unable to pay.
Your co-signer must be a US citizen or US permanent resident with good credit who has lived in the US for the past 2 years. One of the benefits of having a qualified co-signer is that it may give the borrower a better chance of approval and help lower the interest rate. If you don’t have a relative or friend who can act as a cosigner, you may need to look for a no co-signer loan.
Compare different loans!
As with any major financial decision, take a look at different options before making a choice. You can compare a few criteria:
The amount available to borrow
Length of repayment
Interest rate (Not only how high the interest rate is, but whether it is fixed or variable)
Where your funds will be disbursed; some loans will disburse funds directly to your college or university.
The option to pause payments if you run into financial trouble.
A co-signer release: an option to free your co-signer from the obligation of acting as guarantor after a certain number of payments.
Be sure to consult with your university’s office of financial aid and any other trusted advisors before making a final decision.