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How to get an emergency student loan

Where to get last-minute funds to cover the cost of going to college.

A family emergency or unexpected issue can often leave you scrambling to cover tuition costs and other expenses. If your financial situation has suddenly changed, there are several places you can look to find last-minute funding. But be aware that some options come with short repayment terms that can be difficult to afford as a college student.

What is an emergency student loan?

An emergency student loan is a short-term loan for college students to cover either an emergency personal expense or tuition and fees. Some schools offer interest-free student loans up to $500 a semester to students facing an emergency situation.

But if you need more or your school doesn’t offer emergency financing, you might also want to look into your federal aid options as well as private student loans.

How fast can I get an emergency student loan?

How quickly you can get your funds varies. It often depends on factors like your school, your lender and what you need the funds for. For example, you might be able to get funds the same day from Perdue, while UC Berkeley can take two or three days to process your application.

Talk to your financial aid office or lender about the urgency of your situation. If they can’t get you money fast enough, consider other options like a personal loan with a cosigner or a lender like Boro that considers your grades instead of your credit score.

Can I apply for an emergency student loan without a cosigner?

It depends on where you’re getting your funds and your personal finances. You can often qualify for an emergency student loan without a cosigner if you’re borrowing from your school or have more access to federal loans.

However, you might need to apply with a cosigner if you’re applying for a private student loan and you don’t have a full-time job, don’t have a strong personal credit score or are an international student.

How to get an emergency student loan in 5 steps

There are several places where you can get emergency funding as a college student. These include your school, the Department of Education and, as a last resort, private student lenders. Follow these steps to find the right option for your situation.

1. Talk to your financial aid office.

Your school’s financial aid office should be your first stop for emergency financing — especially when you need extra financial assistance after a natural disaster. They’ll have the best idea of what options are available to you and can point you in the right direction. Schedule a time to sit down with your advisor and come up with a strategy together.

2. Ask if your school has an emergency student loan program.

Some schools have an emergency student loan program that offers interest-free loans that you can use to cover personal expenses or tuition. These are typically more common with state schools. Emergency student loans from your school can be one of the more affordable financing, especially if you don’t have strong credit or a steady income.

Here’s how they typically work:

  • Borrowing limits: $500 per semester
  • Interest rates: None
  • Fees: Administrative fee
  • Repayment terms: One-time repayment due in 30 to 60 days
  • Eligibility requirements: Enrolled student making satisfactory academic progress and facing an emergency situation

3. Claim any unused federal student loans.

If you already have student loans, there’s a chance you’ve filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you haven’t, do that first and that ask your school’s financial aid office if you’re eligible for more funds that semester.

This option might not be the fastest — anyone who’s waited for federal aid to come through knows it isn’t always on time. But it could be a better choice if you can’t afford to repay a loan in a few weeks, since it’ll get added to your federal loan balance instead.

4. Ask for a professional judgment review.

Don’t have any more federal funds left according to your current financial aid package? Ask your financial aid office to reevaluate your needs to see if you’re able to qualify for more. This might not be the fastest choice, but you could end up with funding that you don’t have to repay, like scholarships or work study.

5. Consider private student loans.

As a last resort, students always have private student loans to fall back on. These typically come in much larger amounts, sometimes starting at around $5,000, and you often don’t have to start making full repayments until after you graduate.

However, these are generally more expensive than financing through your school or the government. And you might have to bring on a cosigner to meet the minimum credit and income requirements. Most private student lenders don’t advertise emergency student financing, so reach out to customer service to learn about your options before applying.

How to get federal student aid at the last minute

Even if the semester has started you can still apply for federal student aid. The deadline to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is usually June 30 of the year that you want to fund. So for the 2022-2023 academic year, the deadline to fill out the FAFSA is June 30, 2022.

Get started by going to the Federal Student Aid (FSA) website and setting up an account. Once you have an FSA ID, you can fill out the FAFSA. The whole process takes about 30 minutes to complete.

After you submit the FAFSA, let your financial aid office know so they can waive deadlines for tuition and fees. Once you’re approved, you should receive a financial aid award letter from your school with details about the federal student aid you’re eligble to receive.

Alternatives to getting an emergency student loan

Taking on more debt isn’t the only way to cover an emergency expense while you’re in school. In fact, a lot of universities and colleges offer some or all of the following options for students struggling financially.

  • Grants and scholarships. Private schools in particular offer grants or scholarships up to $500 per semester to students struggling with an unexpected cost. Some schools even offer larger amounts for specific needs. For example, Pomona offers up to $1,000 in legal support for DACA students and Harvard provides up to $5,000 per year for medical expenses.
  • Food pantries. Many schools offer free food to students in need who can’t afford a meal plan.
  • Nonprofits. Some nonprofits offer emergency funding to students or individuals in a particular situation. For example, the Gelt Foundation offers financial aid to individuals facing eviction.
  • Ask for an extension or payment plan. If you’re struggling to meet your school’s tuition deadline but have the money coming in soon, it may be willing to offer you an extension or set up a payment plan that you can afford in the meantime.

10 last-minute ways to pay for college

Bottom line

You have options when it comes to covering an emergency expense as a student — and they’re not necessarily limited to loans. But not all are available to every student. Generally, your financial aid office is a good place to start to find the best option for you.

To learn more about how paying for college works, check out our guide to student loans.

Frequently asked questions

How can I get an emergency student loan if I have bad credit?

If your school offers emergency student loans or you have access to federal aid, there’s good news: neither even look at your credit score.

If private student loans are your only option, you can still get a student loan with bad credit as long as you have a cosigner. Otherwise, personal loans from a lender like Boro consider factors like your grades and SAT scores instead of your credit rating. Learn more on how to get a student loan with bad credit.

How long are emergency student loan terms from a school?

It depends on your university or college. Typically, you have anywhere from 30 to 90 days to pay it back.

Can I get an emergency student loan from a bank?

Yes, if you’re applying for a private student loan. However, banks typically take longer than online lenders to get you your funds, so it might not be the best option if you’re in a pinch. Also, banks tend to have stricter credit and income requirements.

Picture: Shutterstock

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Anna Serio was a lead editor at Finder, specializing in consumer and business financing. A trusted lending expert and former certified commercial loan officer, Anna's written and edited more than 1,000 articles on Finder to help Americans strengthen their financial literacy. Her expertise and analysis on personal, student, business and car loans has been featured in publications like Business Insider, CNBC and Nasdaq, and has appeared on NBC and KADN. Anna holds an MA in Middle Eastern studies from the American University of Beirut and a BA in Creative Writing from Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, CUNY. See full bio

Anna's expertise
Anna has written 250 Finder guides across topics including:
  • Personal, business, student and car loans
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