Student Loan Options for College Athletes

two student-athletes talking with one another

If you’re wondering how student loans for college athletes work, you’ve come to the right place! While student-athletes usually don’t apply for student loans until after they’ve been accepted by a college (and after they’ve committed to their college’s athletic program!), 63% of parents wish they had more time to navigate the difficult and confusing process of paying for college.

Most families pay for college through a combination of scholarships, financial aid and federal and private loans. Whether you don’t qualify for financial aid or scholarships, or you’ve already applied all types of scholarships, aid and grants to your college tuition bill and are still left with a large balance, federal student loans and private student loan options offer a way to bridge that leftover cost gap.

What are student loans?

Unlike academic, athletic and merit scholarships and financial aid grants, which don’t have to be paid back, student loans—including federal and private loans—are money you or your cosigner borrows to pay for school now and money that you or your cosigner must pay back (with interest) within a certain period after graduating college.

While student loans can and do help athletes pay for college, students and their families should continue to only apply for student loans after they’ve exhausted all other types of “free money” like scholarships and grants and borrow only what they need, even if they’re offered a larger loan amount than what they owe. 

Insider Tip: Although it’s not required to have a cosigner to apply for a private student loan, most student-athletes need their parents or another adult to be the cosigner. Having a cosigner increases your chance of being approved for a loan and securing a lower interest rate.

How do student loans work?

Student loans allow you to borrow what you need to cover any remaining balance on your college tuition bill after you’ve exhausted all your scholarships, grants and other federal aid options.

Federal loans are offered based on need, or at least require families to complete and submit their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be eligible. Private student loans are typically credit based, so most students will require a creditworthy co-signer, such as a parent or legal guardian, to be approved.

Like any type of loan, student loans must be paid back, and with interest. The amount of interest, when it starts accruing and when students or their cosigners must start paying back the loan in monthly installments vary depending on the type of loan and a student or cosigners’ creditworthiness and other factors, like income or credit history.

How to apply for student loans

To apply for a federal loan, students must first complete (and submit!) their FAFSA. After your FAFSA results are sent to your college, your college will send you a financial aid offer, which may include a combination of federal and private grants and a list of which federal student loans you qualify for. Students do not have to accept the loan, and they can also choose to accept all or part of the loan depending on their needs.

To apply for private student loans, which are credit based, most students will require a creditworthy co-signer, such as a parent or legal guardian, to be approved. While each private student loan provider has different qualifications, to complete a private loan application, a student (and their cosigner, if applicable) must have the following information:

Keep in mind that student loan application providers can, at their discretion, always ask for additional ways to verify a student and/or their cosigner’s income and creditworthiness, like rent or mortgage payments, bank statements, paycheck stubs, W-2 forms, tax returns, divorce documents, savings and assets and more.

How much can students borrow for college?

How much students can borrow for college depends on the type of loan they choose. Federal loans are typically more restricted than private student loan options.

Federal student loans

Private student loans

Since private student loans are offered by private lenders, they tend to have higher lending limits than their federal loan counterparts. Each bank or lender will have its own annual limits, or the amount you can borrow per year, that typically range from $25,000 per loan to 100% cost of attendance (or even higher, if you anticipate higher indirect college costs, like travel fees).

Private student loan lenders typically take the following into account when determining the total amount that a student or an eligible cosigner can borrow:

Also, since Parent Plus Loans have the highest interest rates of all four federal student loan options, some parents—especially those with a strong credit score—may be able to save money by applying for a private parent student loan instead.

Student loan options

Fortunately, student-athletes and their families have a variety of student loan options to choose from to help pay for college and bring their average cost of college down. Families can choose from federal loans and private student loans, including federal and private student loans for parents.

Federal Direct Loans and PLUS Loans have one standard rate for all borrowers, while private student loan rates are typically based on the borrowers’ creditworthiness.

The U.S. Department of Education offers four types of federal loans:

Insider Tip: Keep in mind that because each student-athlete (and family!) has their own unique financial aid needs, it’s a good idea to explore multiple student loans or general loan options to find what works best for you and your family.