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Student Loans

Non-Degree Seeking Student Loans

There are many reasons to pursue an education beyond just earning a degree. You can attend classes for personal development or find a certificate program to expand your professional skills.

If you’re pursuing an education that doesn’t offer a degree, you may still qualify for financial aid like student loans. Read below to learn about your options.

In this guide:

Federal student loans

Generally, federal student loans are reserved for graduate and undergraduate students getting a degree at an accredited school. This includes students attending either two-year or four-year institutions, as well as graduate and professional schools like medical, veterinary, pharmacy, dental, and law school.

However, there are some exceptions:

  • Certificate programs that are required for a specific career, like a cosmetology school. The government’s college navigator tool can help you find certificate programs eligible for financial aid.
  • Coursework that you need to complete before attending college, like prerequisite classes you must take to qualify for a degree.

If you meet one of the above criteria, you may be eligible for federal Direct Loans. These loans have low interest rates, multiple income-driven repayment plans, and may qualify for loan forgiveness.

You may be able to qualify for a Direct Subsidized Loan and/or a Direct Unsubsidized Loan. Interest will not accrue on a Direct Subsidized Loan while you’re in school and during any deferment periods, while interest will accrue on a Direct Unsubsidized Loan. Only students with demonstrated financial need will qualify for a Direct Subsidized Loan.

To find out what federal assistance you can get, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Before applying for federal student loans, you should also apply for as many scholarships and grants as possible to minimize how much you have to borrow.

You should max out your federal student loans before turning to private student loans. Federal loans offer more benefits for borrowers. For example, since the Covid-19 pandemic began in March 2020, federal loan payments have been suspended with a 0% interest rate, while private lenders have continued charging interest.

Private student loans

Each private lender sets its own eligibility and program requirements. Unlike federal loans, you or your cosigner will usually need a good credit score to qualify. You may also need a source of income to prove that you can afford to repay the loans.

Many private lenders have specific types of loans for cosmetology school, trade school, or other certificate programs. Here are some of our top picks.

College Ave Career loan

Editorial Selection: Best Overall

  • Earn $150 cash back when you complete your program of study
  • Choose between 16 different repayment schedules
  • Apply in just 3 minutes

College Ave offers a variety of student loans, including a Career Loan for students who are not getting a degree.

  • Variable rates (APR): 0.94%13.95%
  • Fixed rates (APR): 3.39%14.96%
  • Loan amount: $1,000 – 100% of the cost of attendance
  • Repayment terms: 5, 8, 10, or 15 years
  • Repayment options: Full principal and interest payments, interest-only payments, $25 monthly payments, or deferred payments
  • Discounts: 0.25% interest rate discount for automatic payments

What stands out about College Ave’s Career Loan

College Ave offers five, eight, 10, and 15-year repayment terms, so borrowers have the freedom to pick a term that works for their budget. Borrowers who have to add a cosigner can remove that cosigner after meeting certain repayment conditions.

If you complete your degree, College Ave will provide a $150 bonus. You can put that money toward your loans, a new laptop, or anything else you need.

Eligibility requirements for College Ave’s Career Loan

You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to qualify. International students need to have a Social Security number to be eligible. Students can add a cosigner to their loan application if they do not qualify or want to receive a lower interest rate.

Sallie Mae Career Training loan

Editorial Selection: Best for Cosigners

  • Make partial payments while studying or defer payments until you complete your program
  • No origination or prepayment fees

Sallie Mae’s Smart Option Student Loan for Career Training will cover a year’s worth of professional training or a trade certificate course.

  • Variable rates: 2.00%12.83% APR
  • Fixed rates: 3.75%14.08% APR
  • Loan amount: $1,000 – 100% of the total cost
  • Repayment terms: Not disclosed
  • Repayment options: Interest-only payments, $25 monthly payments, and deferred payments
  • Discounts: 0.25% interest rate discount for automatic payments

What stands out about Sallie Mae’s Career Training loan

Borrowers can take out the full cost of their program. There are no origination fees or prepayment penalties. Sallie Mae also provides a six-month grace period, so borrowers have some wiggle room before payments are due.

Sallie Mae says the application process takes around 10 business days from start to finish, so students can get funding relatively quickly.

Eligibility requirements for Sallie Mae’s Career Training loan

Sallie Mae will run a credit check to determine if you’re a responsible borrower. Students will need to add a cosigner if they are not a U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident. A cosigner could also help any borrower get a lower interest rate.

Ascent’s Career and Professional Training loan

Editorial Selection: Best for a Soft Credit

  • Non-U.S. citizens can apply for a loan
  • Choose between starting repayment while in your program or deferring until after you finish
  • Prequalify without impacting your credit

Ascent is a student loan company providing loans for undergraduates, graduates, and parents. It also offers career training loans for specific software boot camp programs. Ascent specializes in offering student loans without always requiring a cosigner.

  • Variable rates: Not available
  • Fixed rates (APR): 9.47% – 15.16%
  • Loan amount: $2,000 – 100% of the total cost
  • Repayment terms: 5, 7, or 10 years
  • Repayment options: Deferred payments, interest-only payments, and immediate payments 
  • Discounts: 0.25% interest rate discount for automatic payments

What stands out about Ascent’s Career and Professional Training loan

Borrowers can choose from a 60-month, 84-month or 120-month loan term. In general, longer repayment terms will have higher interest rates and lower monthly payments, while shorter terms will have lower interest rates and higher monthly payments.

If you sign up for deferred or interest-only payments, you will have a three-month grace period when you will not have to make any payments.

Borrowers are allowed to add a cosigner if they don’t have a good credit history or if they want to receive a lower interest rate.

Eligibility requirements for Ascent’s Career and Professional Training loan

Students must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or have DACA status, and not have defaulted on any student loan before.

Students must also attend one of the following schools:

  • Strayer University – Devmountain
  • Strayer University – Hackbright Academic
  • Kenzie Academy from Southern New Hampshire University

If you’re interested in attending a different coding bootcamp academy, Ascent offers a separate loan program.

How do I know which student loan is the best for non-degree programs?

The best student loan available depends on what you can qualify for, the type of education, and your financial situation. Generally, most borrowers should look for loans with low interest rates, flexible repayment terms, and generous grace periods.

Why is it harder to get a student loan for a non-degree program?

When you take out a loan, the lender will evaluate your credit score, income, and other factors to determine how likely you are to repay the loan on time. Students not getting a full degree may not be as appealing to a lender since many high-paying jobs require college degrees.

Is taking out a student loan for a non-degree program a good idea?

If you’re considering a non-degree program, you have to decide whether borrowing money to complete the program makes sense. Before taking out a loan, you should answer the following questions.

  • Are you confident that you’ll be able to complete the program? Certificate programs can be difficult to finish on top of working full-time, so only students who are certain they can finish the program should take out any loans.
  • Will the certificate increase your income? Not every training or certificate will result in a huge salary jump. If you won’t see a large increase in income, you may want to reconsider or find an alternative funding option.
  • Is there an opportunity cost? Can you keep working while in the program or do you have to stop working to study? Not being able to work means you may have to take out more loans to cover your living expenses.
  • Even if the certificate increases your income, is the increase worth the debt? Borrowing $25,000 to make an extra $1,000 per year is worse than borrowing $50,000 to earn an extra $20,000 per year.
  • Do you have a plan for repaying the loan? You’ll have to pay back the loan after you leave school, so make sure you will have room in your budget to afford the payments.
  • Is the loan within your debt limit? If you are a first time non-degree student, a good “rule of thumb” is to try to limit your total student loan debt to 50% of a first year salary for the job you are seeking and never more than 100% of a first year salary for the job you are seeking.

Certificates can be highly valuable. However, the source of the certificate matters. Those who receive certificates from for-profit institutions usually pay more and earn less than people who earn certificates from non-profit institutions, like community colleges.

You should also consider how interested you are in the program. Students who are passionate about switching careers may be more likely to finish and use their newfound education than those who are ambivalent.

Other student loan resources for non-degree-seeking students

If you’re considering a non-degree program, LendEDU has many resources to find loans to cover your educational costs.

Alternatives to non-degree-seeking student loans

If you’re looking for another way to pay for a certificate or non-degree education program, there are other options available.

  • Talk to someone at your school’s financial aid office. They may be able to help you set up a payment plan.
  • Some employers have programs that will pay for your certificate program if it’s related to your job. You may have to stay with your employer for a period of time after finishing the program to qualify. If you leave before that time, you may have to repay the money.
  • Look for scholarships for the program you want to attend.
  • Consider borrowing money through a home equity loan or HELOC.