You are getting ready to start a new semester at college and think you have everything planned. You’ve picked your classes, have a place to live, and your finances are all in place. Then, the unthinkable happens. You or one of your parents lose a job, your financial aid or scholarship falls through, or you find yourself with unexpected room and board, medical, or other expenses. Suddenly, you're looking for emergency student loans and financial aid.

How Quickly Can You Get a Student Loan?

Student loans are always an option to help pay for college expenses, but it can take a some time to get a federal student loan if you don’t have a loan application already in place. You need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which requires a lot of information about you and your parent’s financial situation.

Then the application is analyzed and sent to your college. It can take weeks to months to actually get the money. On the other hand, funds from private student loans may be available on a more accelerated timeline, depending on availability.

For a deeper breakdown on how long it may take to receive a student loan, you can check out this article: How Long Does It Take to Receive a Student Loan?

First Consider Emergency Financial Aid

The first thing you should do in this situation is talk to someone in your college financial aid office. They are trained in helping students find financial assistance and may be able to guide you to sources of emergency financial aid you didn’t even know existed. There may be scholarships and grants available immediately. Some colleges even have their own emergency financial aid funds to help students get through these types of situations. You won’t know until you ask.

Options for Emergency Student Loans

Have You Used Your Maximum Federal Student Loan Award?

Your college financial aid officer will also be able to check to see if you have exhausted your federal student loan award. If you had a lot of other scholarship funds or college savings you applied to your tuition payment, it is possible you didn’t accept the full amount of the federal student financial aid you were offered. In this case, your financial aid officer should be able to help you access and receive the rest of your federal financial aid offer relatively easily.

Is It Possible to Refinance Student Debt If You Didn’t Graduate?

If you have exhausted your federal student loan award but there has been a material change in your family's financial situation, you can appeal the amount of your federal student loan offer. You may be eligible to appeal your financial aid offer if a parent lost a job, became critically ill or permanently disabled, or died. Your college financial aid officer will be the one who processes the appeal, so they can advise you about the documentation that may be required.

Remember that although federal student loan funds cannot be used to pay for your car or medical expenses, they are available to pay for what is considered the full cost of college attendance (meaning tuition, books, room and board, as well as other expenses).

Private Student Loans for an Emergency

Private student loans also allow students to borrow an amount up to the full cost of attendance. There is usually a minimum amount a borrower can request. Unlike federal student loans, private student loans are based on the borrower’s credit history and income.

As a result, undergraduate students often find they don’t have a sufficient credit history to qualify for emergency student loans with no cosigner. In that case, a parent, grandparent, or other family member may serve as a cosigner on the loan. After filling out an online application for a private emergency student loan, the funds may be disbursed and available after only a few days.