For the last six decades or so, securing a student loan has been a solid, reliable way to get an advanced education. Student loans often result in increased income potential for those able to secure them, and for the most part, the benefits far outweigh the risks.

How do students get loans, though? The process can be a bit of a labyrinth, and there are lender requirements and paperwork involved, so it’s important to know how the process works if you want to succeed.

Start by knowing the two types of student loans—federal and private. Federal loans are easier to get because you don’t need a credit history or a co-signer, and they offer more protections than private loans.

The application you need to submit is called a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It’s easy to complete, and it will tell you how much money you’ll be eligible to borrow, along with whether your eligible for grants, scholarships, and internship programs. Keep in mind that the federal loan process is generally weighted to favor those with significant financial need. This may or may not be a good reason to pursue a private loan, but its something you should know in advance.

Private student loans, meanwhile, are offered by banks, online lenders, credit unions, and so on. Private lenders usually want borrowers to have a solid credit history and an income to help support loan payments, and this is where your co-signer can often help out a great deal.

Because there are so many different types of private lenders, it’s important to shop around. Rates and terms can vary across the board, so you need to evaluate lenders using some of the same criteria they’re employing to assess you.

Also, there are firms and individuals that will help you find grants, scholarships, and work-study programs. Some of these companies and people also know a great deal about student loans, so they can be a valuable resource to help speed the process along.

Regardless of which option you select, know that there are plenty of choices when it comes to securing a student loan. That might be the best reason to go through the process carefully, so you can get the best rate and further your education once you’ve secured your student loan.