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Student Loans

Student Loans for Certificate Programs

Updated Aug 04, 2023   |   9-min read

Certificate programs are a great way to get a leg up in your career or to help you move into a new type of job. With a student loan from College Ave (our top pick), you can help pay for your certificate program.

Best student loans for certificate programs

Many certificate programs cost less than a college education, but that doesn’t mean they’re cheap. One of the challenges of earning a certificate is figuring out how to pay for it.

Federal student loans are an option. But if that doesn’t fit the bill, private student loans for certificate programs can also provide the funds you need to get through school.

In this guide:

Federal student loans for certificate programs

If you’re considering a certificate program, one of the first things you should do is fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA can help you get federal loans or financial aid to pay for qualifying certificates.

After filling out the FAFSA, you’ll find out if you qualify for any federal grants. Grants don’t need to be paid back. So, you’ll want to take advantage of these before taking out any loans.

But if you’re taking out a loan, federal student loans are preferred over private student loans. With lower interest rates and more flexible repayment benefits, federal student loans are a bit easier on the budget. The three types of federal loans you might gain access to include:

Direct Subsidized Loans

Direct Subsidized Loans are available for undergraduate students with demonstrated financial need.

A key feature is the lack of interest accrual for students enrolled at least half-time. If you qualify for these subsidized loan options, take advantage of them before turning to another loan type. After the six-month post-graduation grace period, you’ll be on the hook for interest.

The total amount you can borrow is determined by your program’s cost of attendance minus any financial aid you receive. You can only borrow a maximum of $23,000 in subsidized loans.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available to undergraduate and graduate students seeking an eligible degree or certificate. There’s no need to prove financial need.

Unlike the Direct Subsidized Loan, these loans accrue interest while you are attending classes. You can choose to make interest payments while in school. But otherwise, the interest will accumulate for a large payment post-graduation.

Grad PLUS loans

Grad PLUS loans are available to graduate or professional students enrolled at least half-time in an eligible certificate program. In order to qualify, you can’t have an adverse credit history.

You can borrow up to the cost of attendance minus any financial aid you receive. Interest starts to accrue immediately. But you have the option to make interest payments while in school.

Federal student loans come with a suite of borrower protections. But there are limits to how much you can borrow. If you tap out your federal options, it’s time to turn to private lenders.

Private student loans for certificate programs

Many private student loan lenders let borrowers use their loans to pay for certificate programs, not just college costs. That makes private lenders a good place to look if you need help paying for a certificate.

Keep in mind that many private lenders require a good credit score, so you’ll want to ensure you have solid credit before applying. You can also qualify by having a cosigner who has a good credit history.

The following lenders offer private student loans for certificate programs.

College Ave

Editorial Selection: Best Overall

  • Earn $150 cash back when you complete your program
  • Covers up to 100% of costs
  • Choose between 16 different repayment schedules

College Ave offers career loans that have reasonable fixed and variable interest rates. Funding is available for various levels in your educational journey, including associate, bachelor’s, and graduate degree programs. You can score a $150 cash back bonus when you complete the program.

The lender lets you add a cosigner to improve your approval chances. But if you add a cosigner, you can remove them from the loan after meeting certain repayment conditions.

  • Eligibility requirements: U.S. Citizen or permanent resident
  • Variable rates (APR): 0.94%13.95%
  • Fixed rates (APR): 3.24%14.96%
  • Repayment terms: 5, 8, 10, or 15 years
  • When repayment begins: Six months after graduation or immediately. You can immediately make full principal and interest, interest-only, or flat-fee payments.
  • Discounts offered: 0.25% automatic payment discount
  • Key features:
    • You choose your repayment schedule
    • Multiple payment options

Sallie Mae

Editorial Selection: Best for Cosigners

  • Release your cosigner after 12 consecutive, on-time payments
  • Covers up to 100% of the total costs

Sallie Mae is a well-known private student lender. The company offers career training loans for certificate programs, with coverage for all program-related costs and multiple repayment options.

The lender offers a Smart Option Student Loan, which allows you to apply once for the annual cost of your training program. That means you can rest easy knowing that school is covered for the year.

  • Eligibility requirements: U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Variable rates (APR): 2.00%12.83%
  • Fixed rates (APR): 3.75%14.08%
  • Repayment terms: 10 – 15 years
  • When repayment begins: Six months after graduation or immediately. Immediate repayment involves either a flat $25 or paying the interest each month while in school.
  • Discounts offered: 0.25% automatic payment discount
  • Key features:
    • Choose flat or interest-only payments while in the program
    • Cover all program-related costs, including meals, travel, and technology


Editorial Selection: Best for a Soft Credit Check

  • Covers up to 100% of the costs
  • Check your rate without impacting your credit

Ascent provides another opportunity to pay for your certificate program. You can choose between their career loans or Bootcamp loans.

Each loan option is designed for students attending certification programs across the county. You’ll need to borrow at least $2,000, up to the maximum cost of attendance.

  • Eligibility requirements: U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or DACA recipient
  • Fixed rates: 8.00% – 14.00% 
  • Repayment terms: 5, 7, or 10 years
  • When repayment begins: Three months after graduation or immediately. Immediate repayment involves making full interest and principal payments or paying just the interest charges.
  • Discounts offered: 0.25% autopay discount
  • Key features:
    • Don’t need to be a U.S. citizen to apply
    • Credit requirements not disclosed

What to consider with student loans for certificate programs

Sorting through your federal and private student loan options for a certificate program can be complicated. Explore the tips below to streamline your loan comparison process:

  • If you’re applying for a loan for a certificate program, the first thing to look at is whether your program is eligible. Some student lenders won’t offer loans for certificate programs, though the companies we’ve listed above do.
  • Many lenders have other eligibility requirements, such as minimum income or credit scores. If you can’t meet those requirements on your own, you’ll need to apply with a cosigner. If you just barely meet them, a cosigner might still be a good idea to help you secure a lower interest rate.
  • Interest rates are incredibly important when comparing loans. Other than the loan amount, the interest rate of a loan is the main determinant of the loan’s total cost. In general, you want to choose the loan with the lowest interest rate to keep the loan’s cost as low as possible. Low interest rates and no accrual during school make Direct Subsidized federal loans one of the most attractive options. But you may need to borrow more than your subsidized loan limit to finish up your certificate.
  • The loan’s repayment term is another factor in the affordability of the loan. Longer loan terms leave you with lower monthly payments but mean that interest has more time to accrue. That increases the total cost of the loan. Shorter terms mean higher monthly payments, but a lower cost for the loan overall.
  • Borrower protections are another thing to consider. Although no one anticipates falling on hard times, repayment flexibility can come in handy. Federal loans offer plenty of benefits to help you adjust or pause your payments in periods of financial distress.
  • Finally, think about when you have to start repaying the loan. Some loans require you to start making payments immediately. Others give you a few months after finishing your certificate before you have to start making payments.

Alternatives to student loans for certificate programs

Student loan alternatives are out there for certificate programs. Start by looking for grants and scholarships that don’t need to be paid back.

If a loan is the only option, then consider the following before you apply for a loan to earn a certificate.

  • Will the certificate improve your income or career prospects enough to justify the cost?
  • If the lender requires immediate payments, do you have the resources to make those payments while working on the certificate?
  • Are there other ways you can cover the cost of the certificate, such as saving up money, picking up a side gig, or exploring scholarship opportunities?

It’s also worth checking with your employer to see if they will cover the cost of your certificate. If the certification you want to earn is related to your industry, many employers will use funds that they dedicate to employee training.

Other opportunities include working out a payment plan with the school and taking out a personal loan. Or you could even commit to an income share agreement for a particular period of time.

Funding the certificate program shouldn’t be what stands between you and significant career advancement. The short path to a career leap can definitely pay off. Check out both federal and private lenders for funding to make it to the finish line.