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Applying for Loans

What loans are available to graduate students?

What is entrance counseling?

Federal regulations state that you must complete online entrance counseling before your Federal Direct Loans can be disbursed. This is to ensure that you understand the terms and conditions of your loans and your rights and responsibilities as a borrower. Even if you completed entrance counseling at another school, you must do so again as a new borrower at Northwestern. Check your To Do List in CAESAR for further instructions.

How often do I have to apply for loans?

You must apply for loans each academic year. 

For students enrolled in programs through The Graduate School, the School of Communication and the Bienen School of Music, the academic year begins with the Fall quarter and ends with the Summer quarter.  
For students enrolled in programs through the McCormick School of Engineering and the School of Education and Social Policy, the academic year begins with the Summer quarter and ends with the Spring term.

See Priority Dates and Deadlines for more information. 

How do I apply for federal loans?

  • Each year you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on the Federal Student Aid website  and designate Northwestern University (school code 001739) as a recipient.
  • In addition to the FAFSA, returning students and all PhD students (new and returning) must complete a Request for Student Loans form. You can complete the form online via the link in your To Do List in CAESAR or complete the pdf.

When do I apply for federal loans?

  • We recommend that you complete your FAFSA by May 1st.
  • The FAFSA is aid-year specific, so it must be completed for each academic year for which you would like to be considered for federal aid. It is based on your prior, prior year's federal tax return.
  • See Dates and Deadlines for more information.

What happens after I submit my FAFSA?

  • Federal Student Aid will confirm receipt of your FAFSA application by email (if you provided your email address) and provide a link to your online Student Aid Report (SAR). If you did not provide your email address, the SAR will be sent through the mail.
  • The Student Aid Report (SAR) is a summary of the information you reported on your FAFSA. Review your SAR to ensure accuracy. Note: If you forgot to sign your FAFSA, you will receive a rejected SAR.
  • If you listed Northwestern University (school code 001739) as a recipient of your FAFSA data, we will receive the information electronically from Federal Student Aid within a week. You can confirm that your FAFSA was received by Northwestern by checking your To Do List on CAESAR.
  • If your SAR does not list Northwestern University, you can correct this on the FAFSA website or contact the U.S. Dept. of Education's Central Processor at 1-800-4-FED-AID and provide the DRN (Data Release Number) listed on your SAR.

What if I forgot to sign the FAFSA or notice a mistake after I have sent the form to be processed?

  • Students who have created an FSA ID can electronically sign their FAFSA on the FAFSA website. (If you do not have an FSA ID, visit the Federal Student Aid website to create one.
  • Alternatively, students can print the signature page, sign it and mail it to the Central Processor (CPS).
  • Corrections and updates can also be submitted online or through the mail to CPS.

How is the amount I can borrow in student loans determined?

The amount you may borrow in student loans is based on your Cost of Attendance which includes direct (fixed) expenses such as tuition, plus indirect (variable) expenses such as housing, food, books, and transportation. The total of all federal and non-federal financial aid (from all sources) cannot exceed your Cost of Attendance.

When can I apply for a private student loan, and how is it different from federal loans?

  • You can apply for a private student loan at any time. Some private lenders even offer loans for students who have left the university and have a recent past due balance. (Federal loans cannot be processed once a student no longer has in-school status.)  
  • Private loan funds are borrowed through private lending institutions. Federal loans are funded through the U.S. Department of Education (DOE).
  • The terms and conditions for private loans are set by the individual lender. Federal loan terms are set by the U.S. Congress and offer more flexible repayment plans, deferments and loan forgiveness.
  • Interest rates for private loans are usually variable and based on the creditworthiness of the applicant or cosigner. Interest rates for federal loans are fixed (set each July 1st by the U.S. Congress).
  • We recommend that you apply for federal loans (if eligible) prior to seeking a private loan. See the Federal Student Aid website for more information regarding federal vs. private loans.
  • For both private and federal loans, the amount borrowed (including all other sources of aid) cannot exceed your Cost of Attendance for the loan period.
  • Visit our private loan webpage for more information.

Who is my lender?

The lender is the institution from whom the loan money is actually borrowed. For federal student loans, that is the U.S. Dept. of Education in most cases. You can find the name(s) of your current loan holder(s) and servicing agents on the Federal Student Aid website.

Private loans will be listed on your credit report. You can obtain a free copy of your credit report on the Annual Credit Report website.

How do I choose a lender?

  • Only private loans require lender selection.
  • We provide a list of private loan programs and lenders based on a review of competitive interest rates and fees, quality of servicing, and borrower benefits. The list is intended only to help you start your research. Northwestern will process loans from any lender you select.
  • Federal Direct Loans are funded through the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) using funds obtained from the U.S. Treasury. Once your loan funds have disbursed, your loan(s) will be assigned to one of several federal loan servicers. You can find the name of your servicer on the Federal Student Aid website.