I applied to all 4 of GWU's preferred lenders for private loans--Citibank, Sallie Mae, Access Group, and THE. I have pretty good credit considering I'm only 22 years old, and I think I got the "best" student loan rates they had to offer without a co-signer.
-Citibank and SallieMae gave me Prime + 0% (~8% as of today).
-Access & THE gave me 3-month LIBOR + 1.7% (~5.4% + 1.7 = 7.1% as of today).
After countless hours of research, I found THE to be the best lender for my needs. They give you a 1.3% rate reduction as soon as you enter the repayment period whereas Citibank and SallieMae dont give you any rate reduction until you make 33 or 36 consecutive payments on time. And even worse, if you miss 1 payment, you lose this reduction completely through CB and SM. THE only discountinues the discount rate for 2 months and if you make those 2 payments on time you get the 1.3% discount back again. I am planning on paying back my loans within the first 3 years of graduation, so this works out the best for me...
As for the talk about "preferred lenders", I talked to the GW financial aid office today. I was told that its ok to go outside of their preferred, but a lot of them won't have the 0% origination fees. And she said at ALL COSTS, avoid any loans from state governments if you plan on having your money disbursed the 1st month of school! She mentioned they have more experience working with the preferred lenders so they are able to more quickly/efficiently take care of all the required paperwork.