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How to get student loans for a second degree

Private and federal financial aid available to second-time undergrads.

Changing careers? Getting funding for the new bachelor’s or associate degree you need to get ahead isn’t quite as easy as it was the first time around. You won’t have as many options, and you could hit your lifetime limit for both federal and private student loans.

What are my federal loan options?

You technically still have access to the same federal student loans as any bachelor’s or associate degree student. However, you might not be able to fund your entire degree with a Direct Subsidized or Unsubsidized Loan if you’ve already taken one out — these come with lifetime limits.

Here’s a quick look at what’s available to you:

Federal loanAvailable for second degrees?Lifetime limit for undergrad degree
Direct Subsidized Yes$23,000
Direct UnsubsidizedYes$57,500 — including subsidized loans
Parent PLUSYesUp to 100% of your school’s cost of attendance

Parent PLUS Loans for a second degree

Already reached your limit? One solution is asking a parent to take out a Parent PLUS Loan. As the table above shows, you can use these loans to pay for the full cost of attendance — including living expenses — with no lifetime cap.

But this might not be available to most second-degree borrowers. That’s because you need to qualify as a dependent by Department of Education standards. So if you’re over 23, married or have been a member of the armed forces, Parent PLUS loans are off the table.

Do I need to complete the FAFSA for a second degree?

You do if you want to receive any kind of federal student aid, including student loans. Since federal funding is typically more affordable and widely available than private loans and scholarships, the Department of Education and private lenders alike typically recommend completing the FAFSA before applying for any other type of funding.

What are my private loan options?

When federal loans aren’t an option, you can always apply for private student loans. Like Parent PLUS Loans, these typically cover up to 100% of your school’s cost of attendance.

While some private student loan providers have lifetime limits for undergraduate students, they’re typically higher than federal student loans. For example, Citizens Bank undergraduate student loans come with borrowing limits of up to $90,000.

How else can I pay for a second degree?

Taking out a loan isn’t the only way you can pay for a second degree. Before you apply, you might want to consider these options as well:

  • Work-study. Students applying for a second degree are still eligible for work-study programs. These are part-time jobs — usually on campus — that can help you cover day-to-day expenses.
  • Personal loans. If you’re currently employed, have a strong credit history and plan on working through your degree, a personal loan could help cover school-related costs that student loans can’t.
  • Scholarships. In-school and outside scholarships are free and available to anyone.
  • Income-share agreements (ISAs). Some schools and lenders offer loans or free tuition in exchange for a percentage of your income over several years. ISAs could be a good deal if you’re planning on going into a low-paying field of work.
  • Retirement accounts. Already have an IRA? You can take out funds from your retirement account without having to pay early withdrawal fees if you need help covering education-related expenses.

Can I get a federal grant for a second undergraduate degree?

Probably not. The most popular federal grant programs aren’t available if you’re getting a second bachelor’s degree. Both the Federal Pell Grant and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) are only available to first-time undergraduates. And you likely won’t qualify for the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant, either.

However, anyone under 24 with a parent or guardian who died while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11 may be eligible for an Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant (IASG).

How do I pay off my current loans while in school?

Generally, you can put your student loans on hold by applying for deferment or forbearance while you’re in school. However, your options depend on whether you have federal or private student loans:

  • Federal student loans. You can defer your loans while you’re enrolled at least half time in an eligible program and hold off on repayments for up to six months after dropping below half time. This means you won’t have to make repayments.
  • Private student loans. Some lenders might allow you to go into forbearance while enrolled in school, but not all offer this option. Many private student loan companies don’t advertise deferment or forbearance, so you might have to reach out to learn what’s available to you.

Bottom line

While you generally have the same pick of student loans to fund your second degree, they might not go as far thanks to lifetime limits. And you won’t have access to most federal grants.

Read our student loans guide to learn more about how it all works and compare private lenders.

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