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Student Loans

Best Graduate Student Loans

The Department of Education and private lenders offer graduate student loans to help students pay for education beyond a bachelor’s degree. Here are the best graduate student loans.

LenderBest forOur rating
Dept. of EducationFederal student loansNot rated
College AvePrivate student loans5/5
Sallie MaeCosigners4.8/5
EarnestLarge loans4.7/5
SoFiMember benefits4.7/5

Federal graduate student loans

To qualify for federal loans, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is also required to obtain loans from the Department of Education and many grants and scholarships the government or your school provides.

Can you get Subsidized Loans for grad school?

You cannot get Direct Subsidized Loans as a graduate student. Direct Subsidized Loans are only available to undergraduate students with financial need. 

However, as a grad student, you may be eligible for two different types of federal student loans:

  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans
  • Grad PLUS Loans

Here’s a quick comparison of these two types of student loans. 

Direct UnsubsidizedGrad PLUS
Rates (APR)7.05%8.05%
Annual borrowing limits$20,500Up to cost of attendance
Lifetime borrowing limits$138,500 None 
Fees1.057%4.228%
Credit check?
Eligibility requirementsEligible for federal aidEligible for federal aid, no adverse credit

Anyone eligible for federal aid can borrow Direct Unsubsidized Loans, as they don’t have a credit requirement. Grad PLUS Loans, by contrast, require that you don’t have adverse credit, such as a bankruptcy or default in your past. If you do have adverse credit, you may still be able to qualify by applying with an endorser

Best private graduate student loans

Unlike federal student loans, private student loans don’t just come from one source and don’t have one fixed interest rate.

Multiple lenders, including banks, credit unions, and online lenders, offer private student loans to grad students. Interest rates and terms vary, so you should shop around to find the best lender for your needs.

Here are our picks for the best graduate student loans.

Company
Best for…
Rating (0-5)
Best Overall
5.0
Best for Cosigners
4.8
Best for Large Loans
4.7
Best for Member Benefits
4.7

College Ave: Best overall

LendEDU rating: 5 out of 5

  • 6 different graduate student loans
  • Cover up to 100% of your school-certified cost of attendance
  • Receive a credit decision in just 3 minutes

College Ave is an online student lender offering several different products with low interest rates, including medical school loans, law school loans, and MBA loans. The company’s graduate school loans are available in various academic disciplines, allowing students to borrow up to 100% of their school-certified educational costs.

You can borrow up to your school’s cost of attendance and choose repayment terms of five, eight, 10, or 15 years. While you can start making small or full payments immediately, College Ave offers the option of deferring payments while you’re in school and nine months after graduation. 


Sallie Mae: Best for cosigners

LendEDU rating: 4.8 out of 5

  • Multiple graduate student loan options
  • Cosigners can be released after 12 on-time payments
  • Lower your rate by 0.25% by enrolling in automatic payments

Sallie Mae is one of the most well-known private student loan lenders in the U.S. In addition to its basic graduate student loan, it has specific loans for medical school, law school, dental school, health professions programs like pharmacy school, and other options.

You can borrow as much as you need to pay for school, but you’ll only have a single repayment term option of 15 years. Like College Ave, Sallie Mae offers a six-month grace period.


Earnest: Best for no fees

LendEDU rating: 4.7 out of 5

  • 4 different graduate student loans
  • Skip a payment once per year, if needed
  • No fees

Earnest is a national student lender offering graduate student loans in various degree programs. A cosigner is not required, though Earnest makes adding one to your loan simple. Borrowers can also skip up to one payment per year after graduation, though that payment will be tacked onto the end of your repayment term.

Earnest lends up to your school’s cost of attendance and offers a nine-month grace period. Your repayment term options are five, seven, 10, 12, or 15 years. 


SoFi: Best for member benefits

LendEDU rating: 4.7 out of 5

  • No fees
  • Get access to financial advisors, networking, and more
  • Check your rate without impacting your credit

SoFi is an online lender that offers student loans for all levels of education. Its graduate student loan comes with several benefits that include no fees, an online application process, and exclusive member benefits. These member benefits include interest rate discounts, financial planning, and more.

Repayment terms are five, 10, or 15 years, and you can use a SoFi loan to cover 100% of your school-certified costs. SoFi’s graduate student loans generally come with a six-month grace period

Which is the best graduate school student loan?

First, consider all the federal student loan options available to you before you turn to private loans. Federal loans can help you pay for Ph.D., Master’s, or other graduate school programs with a fixed interest rate and don’t have a minimum credit score requirement.

Federal loans also offer benefits that private loans don’t, such as income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs. Once you’ve exhausted all your federal student loan funding, you can then turn to private graduate loans to cover the difference.

Our top-rated pick, College Ave, offers loans with fixed or variable interest rates to pay for law school, medical school, business school, and more.

What can graduate student loans be used for?

You can use graduate student loans to cover various education-related expenses, such as tuition, fees, books, housing, and meal plans. You can even use your loan to cover necessary equipment, such as a new laptop for classes.

If you are taking out federal student loans, however, you may reach your annual and/or aggregate loan limits before meeting all of your expense needs. In this case, private loans may help cover the difference.

What is the maximum amount I can borrow for graduate school?

Your borrowing limits depend on the type of loan you take out for graduate school. Creditworthy borrowers can often take out private loans for up to 100% of their certified expenses, though some lenders set lower limits.

As for federal loans, graduate students can borrow up to $20,500 in unsubsidized federal loans each year with an aggregate limit of $138,500. Grad PLUS loans are available up to your school-certified cost of attendance minus any other financial aid you receive. 

Ask the expert

Erin Kinkade

CFP®

There are two main differences between undergrad and grad loans: 1. In grad loans, your income does not play as much of a factor, if any.  2. Your FAFSA application as a grad student does not include your parent’s income anymore. This could open opportunities to borrow more, especially since grad school can cost more than undergrad. However, grad student loans are typically shorter (grad school is approximately two years vs. four years for traditional undergrad), resulting in potentially higher interest rates for the grad school loan. 

How do I apply for graduate student loans?

Applying for graduate student loans can be a lengthy process, so it’s important to start early.

1. Fill out the FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is an important form for eligible students to complete before the deadline each year. This form will help determine how much financial aid you’re eligible to receive and is a requirement if you’ll be borrowing federal student loans for graduate school.

2. Exhaust federal loan options

If needed, take out all Direct Unsubsidized Loans available to you for the school year. This ensures you can lock in important loan benefits and fixed interest rates.

3. Consider other funding sources

If you have college savings or plan to work while you’re in school, be sure to factor that money into your budget. This will show you how much more you need to borrow to pay for tuition, housing, and books or equipment for class.

4. Apply for a Grad PLUS or private loan

Once you know how much you need beyond Direct Unsubsidized Loans (if anything), you can begin applying for other options, such as a Grad PLUS Loan or private graduate school loan. 

Grad PLUS loans may come with more benefits and the potential for loan forgiveness, but a private loan could have a better interest rate and lower fees. Many private lenders offer a quick online application or prequalification process, which will give you an answer in just a few minutes. 

After you find the loan and terms that work best for you, you can proceed with your loan of choice.

5. Add a cosigner

In many cases, adding a cosigner to your private loan can be helpful if not required. A creditworthy cosigner can not only unlock better loan terms and lower rates but may also enable you to borrow the full amount you need for school.

6. Get funded

Once you’ve completed all necessary forms for your new lender and your school has certified the amount, your lender will send your loan funds to the school. After the school applies these funds to outstanding charges, such as your tuition bill, it will refund the difference to you.

How does repayment of graduate student loans work?

All student loan repayment works roughly the same way. First, you borrow money while in school to pay for your necessary educational expenses. After you graduate, your repayment period will begin, and you’ll be responsible for making your monthly loan payments as agreed.

However, repaying federal loans can look different from repaying private loans. Plus, you could make in-school payments to cover interest charges or make a dent in your principal balance. 

Private graduate student loan repayment

When you repay private student loans, your terms will vary by lender. Many private lenders offer at least five-, 10- or 15-year repayment terms. Your payments are always structured to allow you to pay off your loan by the end of the loan term. Most private lenders don’t offer options for income-based repayment or loan forgiveness.

While you can change your payment plan with federal student loans, you can’t switch payment plans or change your loan term once you’ve taken out a private graduate school loan. If you want to change the way you pay back your private loan debt, you must refinance the loan.

Federal graduate student loan repayment

Many federal student loan repayment plans are available, including the following:

  • Standard repayment plan: Loans are repaid over 10 years on a fixed repayment schedule.
  • Graduated repayment plan: Loans are repaid over 10 years (or up to 30 years if you consolidate your loans), and payments increase every two years.
  • Extended repayment plan: You can either choose from a fixed or graduated repayment schedule, and your loans are repaid over 25 years.
  • SAVE: Payments are capped at 10% of discretionary income but will be reduced to 5% for undergraduate loans and a weighted average for a mix of both starting in July 2024. Any outstanding balance on your loans is forgiven after 10 to 25 years of payments, depending on how much you borrowed. 
  • PAYE: Monthly payments are capped at 10% of discretionary income, but the payment can’t exceed the amount you’d have paid under the standard repayment schedule. Any outstanding balance on your loans is forgiven after 20 years of payments.
  • Income-Based Repayment: Payments are capped at either 10% or 15% of monthly income, and any outstanding balance on your loans is forgiven after 25 years.
  • Income-Contingent Repayment: Monthly payments equal the lesser of 20% of discretionary income or the amount you’d pay on a fixed payment schedule over 12 years. Any outstanding loan balance is forgiven after 25 years.
  • Income-sensitive Repayment: Monthly payment is based on annual income, but your loan is repaid in 10 years.

Many of these repayment plans have specific requirements you will need to meet, so be sure to talk with your loan servicer to choose the right one.

Ask the expert

Erin Kinkade

CFP®

If you have undergrad loans, you can begin paying on them when you graduate (following the original terms), or you may have the option to defer paying until you graduate grad school. However, interest will still accrue which will end up leaving you with a higher debt repayment after grad school graduation. To avoid this, I would recommend paying the undergrad loans as you go through grad school (by obtaining a part-time job or some side gig that is flexible and provides income) and then focus on repaying the remainder of the loan and the grad school loans after school is completed. Remember that as you apply for undergrad school loans, you may want to go to grad school, so overborrowing is definitely something you want to avoid.

Recap of the best graduate student loans

LenderBest forOur rating
Dept. of EducationFederal student loansNot rated
College AvePrivate student loans5/5
Sallie MaeCosigners4.8/5
EarnestLarge loans4.7/5
SoFiMember benefits4.7/5