Many or all companies we feature compensate us. Compensation and editorial
research influence how products appear on a page.
Student Loans

How Much Can I Get in Student Loans?

College is expensive. Many students turn to student loans to pay for tuition and their living expenses while they study, and how much you can borrow depends on a wide variety of factors. In most cases, lenders won’t allow you to borrow more than your school-certified cost of attendance. 

If you’re getting federal student loans, undergraduates can borrow up to $12,500 per year and $57,500 in total. Graduate students can borrow $20,500 per year and $138,500 in total. Private student lenders may approve you for different amounts depending on how they evaluate you and, if applicable, your cosigner’s credentials. 

How much can I get in federal student loans?

Many students can get federal loans from the Department of Education. The way these loans work offers several advantages over private loans, but federal borrowing limits may not always be high enough to cover your full cost of education.

The Department of Education and your school determine the amount of federal student loans you qualify for. First, you’ll fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

The government has a standardized formula to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). It’s based on your family’s assets, income, size, and other factors. Your school will then calculate your Cost of Attendance (COA) and subtract your EFC from it. 

The remaining amount—your financial need—is what the government estimates you must pay on your own, and it’s also how it calculates your individual borrowing limit for federal student loans.

Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized undergraduate loan limits

The two types of Direct Loans borrowers can get from the government are Subsidized and Unsubsidized. If you attend school at least half-time, you may qualify for one or both types of loans. 

Click the federal loan type from the list below to jump right to our discussion of it—or keep reading to see each loan type’s specific limits:

Direct Subsidized Loans are only available to undergraduate students with a financial need. While you attend school, the government covers interest payments on these loans, meaning your loan balance won’t grow while you’re getting your education. If you borrow $10,000, that’s what you’ll start repaying later. 

Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available for all undergraduate or graduate students, up to the total borrowing limit for all combined Direct loans each year. These loans accrue interest while you’re in school, meaning your loan balance will be larger than the amount you borrowed when you start repaying it later.

How much you can get with each Direct loan type also depends on whether you’re considered a dependent student or an independent student.

Dependent undergraduate students

The government considers you dependent on your parents for financial support in certain cases, such as if you’re under the age of 24 and unmarried. 

If your parents still claim you as a dependent on their taxes, you’re often considered a dependent undergraduate, and the government adjusts your federal student loan borrowing limits accordingly:

Year of studyDirect Subsidized loan borrowing limitDirect Unsubsidized + Subsidized combined limit
3 and beyond$5,500$7,500
Total aggregate limit$23,000$31,000

Independent undergraduate students

The government doesn’t consider your parents to be contributing as much to your education if you’re an independent student, which it defines in several ways. 

Borrowers who are married, over the age of 24, or whose parents aren’t eligible to take out a Parent PLUS loan for their own education are considered independent students and may be able to access higher Unsubsidized loan limits:

YearDirect Subsidized loan borrowing limitDirect Unsubsidized + Subsidized combined limit
Total aggregate limit$23,000$57,500

Graduate and professional federal student loan limits

If you’re pursuing a graduate or professional degree, you may qualify for two types of federal student loans: Direct loans or PLUS loans. Unlike undergrad students, graduate students can’t get subsidized interest on Direct loans:

Direct Unsubsidized borrowing limit
Annual limit$20,500
Total aggregate limit$138,500, including any Direct loans from undergraduate study

Direct PLUS loan limits

The two types of PLUS loans are Parent PLUS and Graduate PLUS loans. Parent PLUS loans are for parents who want to borrow for their kids’ education, and Graduate PLUS loans are helpful for borrowers looking to fill any last funding gaps for their education.

Maximum annual borrowing limit
Parent PLUSUp to 100% of your cost of attendance, minus any financial aid
Graduate PLUSUp to 100% of your cost of attendance, minus any financial aid

How much can I get in private student loans?

Private student loans come from individual banks and lenders, each of which sets different qualifications and offers varying terms and loan amounts. Most private student loan lenders advertise their maximum loan limits, but that doesn’t always mean you can borrow that much. 

Private student loan lenders will check with your school’s financial aid office when you apply for a loan to verify your cost of attendance, and they generally won’t allow you to borrow more than this. 

If you have a cosigner on your loan, your maximum private student loan amount may also vary depending on their credit and income. If your cosigner has good credit and a high income, you may be able to borrow more than if they have a lower income and are struggling to build good credit. If you don’t have a cosigner, the same applies to your individual credit score and income.

Here’s a list of popular private lenders and their maximum loan amounts for undergraduates. (Typically, graduate students can borrow more.) You can visit our guide to the best private student loans to see our top choices.

LenderMaximum loan amount*
Citizens Bank$150,000
College Ave100% of your school-certified cost of attendance
Custom Choice$99,999 per academic year
Discover100% of school-certified costs
Earnest100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
ELFI100% of your school-certified cost of attendance
EDvestinU100% of your school-certified cost of attendance
FundingU$20,000 per academic year
INvested100% of your school-certified cost of attendance
ISL Education Lending100% of your school-certified cost of attendance
LendKey100% of your school-certified cost of attendance
MEFA100% of your school-certified cost of attendance
Nelnet Bank$500,000
Sallie Mae100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
SoFi100% of school-certified cost of attendance
Union Federal$99,999

*Confirmed in December 2023

How much should you borrow in student loans?

When you borrow money, you have to pay it back. Plus, you have to pay interest on the loan, and most loans accrue interest even while you’re in school and not making payments.

So you should only borrow money you need. Do what you can to keep your expenses low while you’re in college because every dollar you don’t borrow will save you multiples down the road.

If you’re trying to figure out how much you need to borrow, consider the following questions.

  • Have you maxed out other forms of financial aid? Grants, scholarships, and work-study offer free money that can help you kick-start your career with fewer strings attached.
  • Can you afford repayment? The more you borrow, the more it will cost to repay your loans. Before accepting a loan, figure out what your monthly student loan payment will be and decide whether you can afford it given your potential future income.
  • Is there a less expensive college you can attend? Many people want to attend a dream college, but private schools and even public universities charge more for education than community colleges, where you can get most of your basic studies done. 

>> Read more: What is a reaffirmation letter for student loans?

What to do if you don’t qualify for the amount you need

College can be expensive, and it’s not uncommon to find out you don’t qualify for sufficient student loans to cover the cost of your education. Don’t panic; you still have options. 

A good first step is visiting your school’s financial aid office. The staff can help you investigate whether you’re receiving all the funding you’re entitled to and advise on next steps.

Most students will need to take out multiple student loans throughout their college career, so you may need to apply with different private student loan lenders for supplemental funds. Here are other ideas to consider:

  • Look for more scholarships and grants to apply for
  • Consider a work-study program or part-time employment
  • Drop out for a semester or two to work and save additional funds