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Student Loans

Student Loans for Certificate Programs

Certificate programs are designed to prepare you for specialized career paths. You might obtain a certificate in addition to a college degree or as a precursor to one. Sometimes, you may need to complete a certificate program to be considered for specific jobs. 

Costs for these programs can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, and while federal student loans should always be the first go-to, private student loans can also help. Learn how to use private student loans to pay for certifications and which lenders offer them. 

Does financial aid cover certificate programs? 

Financial aid is money a student receives to help pay for school. There are four main types of financial aid you might qualify for:

  • Loans
  • Grants
  • Work-study 
  • Scholarships

Student loans must be repaid, while grants, scholarships, and work-study funding typically don’t have that requirement. 

If you’re applying for federal aid, you can use your aid package to pay for certificate programs with one caveat. You must be enrolled in an eligible program at an eligible school that the Department of Education approves. Private student lenders can establish requirements for determining which schools or programs are eligible.

Federal student loans for certificate programs

If you’re considering a certificate program, you’ll want to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your eligibility for federal aid. The FAFSA allows you to list up to 20 schools when you apply, but you can update the form later to add more schools if necessary.

It’s also wise to check with your school to determine whether your program is eligible for federal aid. The Department of Education considers the number of clock hours, semester hours, and quarter hours a program requires along with whether the school itself is eligible. A program with less than 16 semester hours would not qualify for federal aid.

Examples of ineligible programs can include:

  • Accounting analytics
  • Building construction technology
  • Criminal justice technology
  • Human resources
  • Medical office administration
  • Nail technology
  • Therapeutic diagnostic services

You should also note that certificate programs must typically come from a degree-granting institution to be eligible.

Earning an online certificate in coding through a boot camp program, for example, typically wouldn’t qualify you for federal aid. However, the boot camp may offer its own aid program to enrollees.

If you’re planning to use loans to pay for a certificate program, federal student loans are recommended first if you qualify.

Federal student loans have fixed interest rates, income-based repayment options, and other protections, such as deferment and forbearance. Here are the three types of federal loans you can access.

Federal loanRates (APR)
Direct Subsidized  and Unsubsidized Loans (undergraduate)5.50%
Direct Unsubsidized Loans (graduate or professional)7.05%
Grad PLUS loans8.05%

Direct Subsidized Loans

Direct Subsidized Loans are available for undergraduate students with demonstrated financial need. To use them for certificate programs, you must be enrolled or planning to enroll in a school that participates in the Direct Loan Program. 

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 unless your loans are in deferment.

The total amount you can borrow is determined by your program’s cost of attendance minus any financial aid you receive. There are annual and aggregate limits for Direct Subsidized Loans. Annual limits depend on your year of enrollment, while the aggregate limit is $23,000.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available to undergraduate and graduate students seeking an eligible degree or certificate regardless of financial need. Again, you’ll need to be enrolled or planning to enroll at a school that participates in the Direct Loan Program. 

Unlike Direct Subsidized Loans, these loans accrue interest while you are attending classes. You can choose to make interest payments while in school to help reduce what you owe once you graduate. Interest also accrues on unsubsidized loans during periods of deferment or forbearance, which could result in a larger balance to repay.

Grad PLUS Loans

Grad PLUS Loans are available to graduate or professional students enrolled at least half-time in an eligible certificate program. Parents can also apply for PLUS loans on behalf of eligible dependent undergraduate students. A credit check is required, and 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 to reduce what you owe. 

As mentioned, federal student loans come with a suite of borrower protections, but there are limits to how much you can borrow. If you exhaust your loan eligibility, don’t qualify for grants or work-study, or your certificate program is ineligible for federal aid, private student loans can help to fill the gap.

Private student loans for certificate programs

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

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.

LenderAPR rangeLoan limitsBest for
College Ave4.07% – 16.69%Up to 100% of the cost of attendanceCareer student loans
Sallie Mae4.50%16.34%Up to 100% of the cost of attendance, less other financial aid receivedBorrowers with a cosigner
Ascent8.00%14.00%$200,000 aggregate for undergrads; $400,000 aggregate for gradsSoft credit check

College Ave: Best overall career student loan

LendEDU rating: 5 out of 5

  • Career loans cover up to 100% of costs
  • Borrowers do not need to be seeking a degree to qualify
  • Minimum loan amount is $1,000

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 don’t need to seek a degree to qualify; certificate programs are eligible for loan funding. 

You can add a cosigner that could improve your approval chances or help you secure more favorable loan terms. College Ave does allow cosigner release when certain conditions are met. You and your cosigner must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents. 

Repayment terms span 5, 8, 10, or 15 years, with repayment beginning six months after graduation. You can choose your repayment schedule, and CollegeAve offers a 0.25% discount when you enroll in automatic payments. 

Sallie Mae: Best career loan for cosigners

LendEDU rating: 4.8 out of 5

  • Career training loans cover up to 100% of certificate program costs for one year
  • Cosigners are accepted, with release available after 12 consecutive, on-time payments
  • No prepayment penalties or origination fees

Sallie Mae offers career training loans for certificate programs, covering all program-related costs for one year. The Smart Option Student Loan for career training has no origination fees or prepayment penalties, and you can choose a repayment term that best fits your budget. 

You can choose from fixed or variable rates, with repayment terms extending 10 to 15 years. Sallie Mae accepts cosigners, which could make it easier to qualify if you have a limited or poor credit history. You can apply for cosigner release after completing your certificate program and meeting other conditions.

You can begin making payments while in school or defer payments until six months after graduation. Like other private student loan lenders, Sallie Mae offers a 0.25% autopay discount. Loans are available for U.S. citizens and permanent residents. 

Ascent: Best career loan for a soft credit check

LendEDU rating: 4.3 out of 5

  • Choose from certificate program loans or bootcamp loans
  • Check your rate without affecting your credit
  • Minimum loan is $2,000

Ascent offers private student loans for certificate programs as well as bootcamp loans to help you cover tuition costs. The minimum loan is $2,000, and it’s possible to borrow up to 100% of the attendance costs. Ascent has generous aggregate borrowing limits for undergraduates and graduate students.

These loans are available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents, but Ascent also accepts applications from DACA recipients. You have the option to add a cosigner, and you can apply for cosigner release after meeting minimum requirements.

Repayment begins three months after graduation, and you have the option to make payments while enrolled in your program of study. A 0.25% rate discount is offered to students who choose to make automatic payments. 

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:

1. Check your eligibility 

If you’re considering private student loans for certificate programs, you first need to make sure your program is eligible. Some student lenders won’t offer loans for certificate programs, or they may limit the scope of programs accepted. (The companies we’ve listed above do.)

Next, consider your ability to qualify for a loan. If you cannot meet a lender’s minimum credit score or income requirements, you may need to apply with a cosigner. You may also need to dig to find a lender that will accept you if you’re an international student or DACA recipient. 

2. Compare loan rates and terms

Interest rates are crucial when comparing loans. The interest rate helps determine 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. 

The loan’s repayment term is another factor in its affordability. Longer terms leave you with lower monthly payments but mean the interest has more time to accrue, increasing the total cost of the loan. Shorter terms mean higher monthly payments but a lower overall cost.

3. Review borrower protections and benefits

Borrower protections are important. No one anticipates falling on hard times, but 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.

With private student loans, it’s up to the lender to decide what benefits or protections to offer. They may include:

  • Hardship forbearance or loan deferment
  • Grace periods
  • Autopay discounts
  • Cashback rewards or referral benefits
  • Cosigner release

The more benefits a lender offers, the more attractive a loan becomes. 

4. Check repayment time frames

It’s helpful to consider when you need to start repaying any federal or private student loans for certificate programs. Some loans require you to start making payments immediately, while others give you a few months after finishing your certificate.

Keep in mind that making payments while you’re in school can help to reduce what you’ll owe when you graduate. Even making interest-only payments could help chip away at the loan balance and prepare you to make the transition to full monthly payments later. 

Alternatives to student loans for certificate programs

Student loans are one way to pay for certificate programs, but they’re not the only option. It’s worth looking into other possibilities to pay for career training or education before committing to a loan. 

Here are some of the alternatives you might consider:

  • Scholarships. Scholarships provide you with money for school, typically with no repayment required. Some scholarships may, however, expect a work commitment in exchange for funding. The Department of Education offers tips on how to find college scholarships.
  • Grants. Like scholarships, grants typically do not need to be repaid. If you’re completing the FAFSA, you’ll be considered for Pell Grants. Keep in mind that many grants require you to have a demonstrated financial need to receive funding. 
  • Payment plans. Many schools offer tuition payment plans that allow you to pay your costs of attendance in installments. It’s worth a call to your school’s financial aid office to find out if such a program exists and if so, how to qualify. 
  • Ask your employer. If you’re already employed, you might be able to get help with certificate program costs on the job. Your HR department should be able to explain any education-related benefits you might be eligible for, including tuition assistance or student loan repayment assistance.
  • Personal loans. Personal loans let you borrow money for personal needs. Some personal loans have limits as high as $200,000. If you’re considering a personal loan to cover a certificate program, be sure to check with the lender first to make sure there are no restrictions on how you use the money. 
  • Ask friends and family. You might ask people in your personal circle to help you pay for school. They may be willing to offer you a zero-interest loan. If so, it’s a good idea to draft a written loan agreement so everyone is clear on the repayment terms. 
  • Credit cards. Using a credit card to pay for a certificate program usually isn’t ideal since you may end up paying a double-digit APR on the balance. However, it’s something you might consider if you’ve exhausted all other options to pay for school. 

If a loan is your only option, 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?
  • Can you cover the cost of the certificate in other ways, such as saving up money, or picking up a side gig?

Funding the certificate program and significant career advancement shouldn’t be what stands between you. Check out both federal and private lenders for funding to make it to the finish line.

Recap of student loans for certificate programs

Federal loanRates (APR)
Direct Subsidized  and Unsubsidized Loans (undergraduate)5.50%
Direct Unsubsidized Loans (graduate or professional)7.05%
Grad PLUS loans8.05%
College Ave4.07%16.69%
Sallie Mae4.50%16.34%