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Graduate student loans

Compare federal and private student loan options to pay for higher education.

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Graduate students are eligible for fewer outside scholarships and federal loans than undergraduates. With low rates, and highly flexible repayment options, federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans are generally your best option. But if you’ve reached your limit, private lenders can offer a more competitive deal than a federal PLUS loan — in some cases.

Compare 7 graduate student loans

LoanLoan amountVariable APRFixed APRLoan termsFees
Federal Direct Unsubsidized LoanUp to $20,500 per year with a $138,500 federal loan lifetime limitNone4.3% interest10 to 25 years, depending on repayment plan1.059% fee
Federal Direct PLUS loanCost of attendanceNone7.08% interest10 to 25 years, depending on repayment plan4.236% fee
CommonBond Graduate Student Loan$2,000 to 100% of school-certified costs, with a $500,000 lifetime limit1.33% to 7.41% with autopay discount5.4% to 9.74% with autopay discount5, 10 or 15 yearsNone
College Ave Graduate Student Loan$1,000 to 100% of school-certified costs1.24% to 10.97% with autopay discount4.39% to 11.98% with autopay discount5 years to 15 yearsNone
Citizens Bank Graduate Student LoanUp to $150,0001.42% to 11.04% with discounts4.64% to 11.53% with discounts5, 10 or 15 yearsNone
Discover Graduate Student Loan$1,000 to 100% of school-certified costs2.74% to 11.99% with discountsVariable APRs: 1.24% - 10.99%
Fixed APRs: 4.49% - 12.39% with discounts
Up to 15 yearsNone
Sallie Mae Graduate School LoanUp to 100% of school-certified costs2.25% to 7.96% with autopay5.5% to 10.23% with autopayUp to 15 yearsNone

Rates accurate as of June 2020

Federal loans for graduate students

Unfortunately, the most competitive federal loans are only available to undergraduates. But you still have two choices to pick from when you’re in graduate school: a Direct Unsubsidized Loan or Direct PLUS Loan. You can find out how much you’re eligible for by completing the FAFSA as a graduate student.

Direct Unsubsidized Loan

A Direct Unsubsidized Loan is the least expensive federal option for graduate students, with lower rates and fees than a PLUS Loan. It doesn’t require a credit check, so it could be your only option if you don’t have a history of paying off debt yet.

However, the annual and lifetime limits might not be enough to cover your expenses, especially if you’re in law or medical school. If so, you might want to look into Direct PLUS Loans and private student loans after you’ve maxed out your Direct Unsubsidized funding.

Direct PLUS Loan

A Direct PLUS Loan could be a good choice for students who’ve already built a credit history and need to take on more debt than the Direct Unsubsidized program allows. However, with higher rates and fees, this option may not be your first choice.

If you have excellent credit and expect to enter a high-paying career after graduation, you might want to compare it with some private student loan providers — several offer lower rates to their most creditworthy customers.

Why apply for a federal loan first?

Aside from low fees and fixed rates set by Congress, federal loans offer benefits that private student loan companies simply can’t afford to provide. These include:

  • More flexible repayment plans
  • Multiple deferment options
  • Access to more forgiveness programs
  • No need for a cosigner

How federal student loans work

    Private loans for graduate students

    Private student loans are designed to pick up the expenses that federal loans can’t. If you’re on a student visa, you aren’t eligible for federal loans at all. This means private student loans are one of your few options — though you’ll likely need a cosigner. You might want to check out our guide to international student financing for more details.

    Students who need more money than a Direct Unsubsidized Loan can offer — and don’t qualify for a PLUS Loan — might also benefit from private student loans. And if you have good credit, you may want to compare your private loan options anyway to see if you can get a better deal.

    CommonBond Graduate Student Loan

    CommonBond offers one graduate student loan for all types of programs. While it has some of the lowest rates out there, it also only has terms up to 15 years. Borrow as much as you need to cover your costs, pause repayments for up to 12 months if you hit hard times and apply for cosigner release after two years of repayments.

    Eligibility requirements
    • Currently enrolled at least half-time
    • Attend an eligible Title IV or nonprofit school
    • Strong credit or creditworthy cosigner
    Repayment options

    Borrowers have a six-month grace period after they graduate or leave school. While you’re in school and during your grace period, you have a choice between four repayment plans:

    1. Deferred. Hold off on making repayments until after your grace period is up. Interest that accrues is added to your total loan balance, making it more expensive.
    2. Interest-only. Only pay the interest that adds up while you’re in school and during your grace period.
    3. Fixed. Pay $25 each month to keep interest from adding up. Any unpaid interest that accrues is added to your total loan balance.
    4. Full. Start making repayments on your loan’s interest and principal amount one month after your loan is disbursed.

    Read our review of CommonBond student loans

    College Ave Graduate Student Loan

    College Ave also offers a graduate student loan that you can use for any master’s, postgraduate, doctoral or professional degree. There are no origination fees, and you have a choice of terms ranging from five to 15 years. After making 24 on-time repayments in a row, you can apply for cosigner release.

    Eligibility requirements
    • Enrolled in a degree-granting program at an eligible school
    • US citizen, permanent resident or have a valid Social Security number
    • Satisfactory academic progress, as defined by your school
    • Good credit or creditworthy cosigner
    Repayment options

    College Ave Graduate Student Loans come with a nine-month grace period after you graduate or leave school. While you’re in school, you have four repayment options:

    1. Full principal and interest. Start making full repayments right away to save on interest.
    2. Interest-only. Pay off the interest that adds up on your loan each month while you’re in school and during the grace period.
    3. Flat. Pay $25 each month toward your loan to reduce the amount of interest that adds up. Any remaining interest that accrues is added to your total loan balance.
    4. Deferred. Hold off on all payments until your grace period ends. Interest accrues during this time and is added to your total loan balance, making this the most expensive option.

    Read about College Ave education loans

    Citizens Bank Graduate Student Loan

    Citizens Bank offers separate student loans for graduate students, MBA students, law students and students studying to be healthcare professionals. Graduate students are limited to borrowing up to $150,000, but other professions can borrow as much as $350,000, depending on their program.

    It’s one of the only lenders that offers multiyear approval, meaning you can secure funding for your entire grad school education with just one application. Plus, if you have an account with Citizens Bank and sign up for autopay, you could save a cool 0.5% off your interest rate.

    Eligibility requirements
    • Enrolled at least half-time in a degree-granting program at an eligible school
    • US citizen, permanent resident or international student with a US citizen or permanent resident as a cosigner
    • Age of majority in your state
    • Meet credit qualifications
    Repayment options

    You have a six-month grace period and three repayment options when it comes to Citizens Bank Graduate Student Loans:

    1. Immediate. Start making full repayments after your school receives its funds.
    2. Interest-only. Only pay interest on your student loans while you’re still enrolled and during your grace period.
    3. Deferred. Hold off on repayments until six months after you leave school. Interest accrues during this time and is added to your total loan balance.

    Read our review of Citizens Bank student loans

    Discover Graduate Student Loan

    Discover is one of the few lenders that gives discounts to students with good grades. If you have at least a 3.0 GPA during the semester that Discover provides funds, you’ll earn a 1% cashback reward. It’s also one of a handful of private student loan providers with terms that compare with federal loans, making it a more affordable option.

    Eligibility requirements
    • Enrolled at least half-time in a degree-granting graduate program at an eligible school
    • Satisfactory academic progress, as defined by your school
    • US citizen, permanent resident or international student with a US citizen or permanent resident as a cosigner
    • At least 16 years old
    • Pass a credit check or apply with a creditworthy cosigner
    Repayment options

    Discover offers borrowers a nine-month grace period after graduating or leaving school before full repayments begin. While you’re in school and during those nine months after, you have three repayment options:

    1. In-school interest-only. Only pay the interest that adds up on your loan while you’re in school and during the grace period. This option qualifies you for a 0.35% rate discount.
    2. In-school fixed. Pay $25 a month while you’re in school and during your grace period. Any unpaid interest accrues and is added to your total loan balance.
    3. Deferred. Don’t make any payments until after your grace period. This is the most expensive option, since interest accrues and is added to your total loan balance.

    Read our review of Discover student loans

    Sallie Mae Graduate Student Loan

    Sallie Mae’s graduate student loans are designed for master’s and doctoral students only. If you’re pursuing another degree, you might want to look into its other financing options for MBA students, law school students, medical professionals and more.

    Some of the perks that come with this loan include cosigner release after making one year of on-time repayments, 48 months of deferment during an internship or fellowship and 12 months of interest-only repayments if you hit a financial rough patch.

    Eligibility requirements
    • Attend a participating degree-granting institution or eligible study abroad program
    • US citizen, permanent resident or international student with a US citizen or permanent resident as a cosigner
    Repayment options

    Borrowers have a six-month grace period after graduating or leaving school before full repayments begin. While you’re in school and during the grace period, you have three repayment options:

    1. Deferred. Make no repayments until your grace period is over. Any interest that accrues is added to your total loan balance, making this the most expensive option.
    2. Fixed. Pay $25 a month while you’re in school and six months after. Any unpaid interest gets added to your loan’s principal at the end of your grace period.
    3. Interest-only. Only make payments on the interest that adds up while you’re in school and during the grace period. This option knocks 0.5% off your interest rate compared to the deferred repayment plan.

    Read our review of Sallie Mae student loans

    Compare more private student loan options for graduate school

    Data indicated here is updated regularly
    Name Product Min. Credit Score Max. Loan Amount APR
    Discover undergraduate student loans
    Not stated
    Cost of attendance
    Variable APRs: 1.24% - 10.99%
    Fixed APRs: 4.49% - 12.39%
    Get cash back for good grades with this private student loan provider.
    Sallie Mae Student Loans
    Not stated
    Cost of attendance
    4.25% to 12.35%
    Choose from over 8 different options for undergraduates, law students and more.
    College Ave undergraduate student loans
    Not stated
    Cost of attendance
    1.24% to 11.98%
    Rates start at 2.84% for residents of all 50 states.
    Earnest Student Loans
    650
    Cost of attendance
    Starting at 1.24%
    Undergrad and graduate financing with a nine-month grace period.
    SoFi Student Loans
    680
    Full cost of attendance
    1.90% to 11.76% with autopay
    Undergraduate financing with no late fees to US citizens with good credit.
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    Compare up to 4 providers

    Should I get a graduate student loan?

    A graduate degree can open you up to more career opportunities and higher salaries than you would have had before. And in some cases, these opportunities can outweigh the interest and fees you’ll pay on a student loan.

    But that’s not always the case. And student debt can come with hidden costs — like making credit cards, auto loans and mortgages more expensive. Make sure you’ve exhausted your free financing options first before you decide to borrow.

    What to look for in a graduate student loan

    Not sure where to start when comparing graduate student loans? Consider these features in your search for financing.

    • Eligibility requirements. Before you apply for any loan, make sure you qualify. Most US citizens and permanent residents are eligible for federal loans. But you might need a cosigner if your credit isn’t up to snuff and you’re applying for a private loan.
    • Loan amounts. Many private student loan providers can cover up to 100% of your school-certified costs, but some have limits. Others also have minimum amounts you can borrow, typically around $1,000.
    • Costs. What are the interest rates? Are there any fees? The best way to compare costs is to look at your loan’s APR, which includes both.
    • Terms. How long will you have to pay it back? Your loan term affects two things: The total cost of your loan and your monthly repayments. If you want to get out of debt faster, go for a shorter term. If you’re not sure you’ll be able to afford your repayments, a longer term could help.
    • Repayment plans. Federal loans have by far the most comprehensive repayment options. But if you’re looking for a private loan, try to find one that’s flexible enough to fit your needs while you’re in and out of school.
    • Deferment and forbearance. Are you planning on getting another degree after you finish this one? You might want to look for a lender that offers in-school deferment.

    Can I defer undergraduate student loans while in grad school?

    In most cases, yes. You can defer your federal student loans by filling out the In-school Deferment Request form and submitting it to your servicer. Contact your servicer to learn what the deferment process is like if you have private student loans. If your private lender doesn’t offer in-school deferment, consider refinancing with a lender that does.

    Bottom line

    If you didn’t take on student debt when you were in college, it’s likely you’ll need a loan if you go back to school. Federal loans are usually more competitive, though you might not want to ignore private student loans if the Direct Unsubsidized Loan isn’t enough.

    To learn more about how it all works, read our comprehensive guide to student loans.

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