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Student Loans

Student Loans for Continuing Education

Whether you never finished your degree, you’re changing careers, or you just want to further your professional skills, continuing education courses can be a great way to accomplish your goals.

The only challenge? Those courses don’t come for free, and usually, traditional student loans won’t cover them. Fortunately, there are other options. If you’re thinking of going back to school, here’s a look at how you might foot the bill.

In this guide:

Federal student loans for continuing education

There’s a chance you may be eligible for various federal loans, but you’ll need to be enrolled at least half-time—meaning you’re taking at least six credits per semester. You’ll also need to be participating in an eligible degree or certification program. You can find potential certificate programs using the National Center of Education Statistics’ College Navigator tool.

Here are the three federal loans you might be able to use for continuing education:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans: With these loans, you won’t pay interest while in school. You do have to prove financial need, though.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans: You’ll have to pay interest on unsubsidized loans from day one, but you can qualify without proving any sort of financial need. Repayment of the principal balance begins after a grace period.
  • Plus Loans: These loans are for graduate and professional students. Eligibility is based on a credit check, so you can’t have any adverse events on your report (like a bankruptcy, for example).

You’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to check your eligibility for federal loans. After your application is reviewed, you’ll get an award letter detailing the types of financial aid for which you qualify.

If you’re awarded any Pell Grants or other federal grants, make sure to use them before turning to federal student loans. Grants do not require interest, nor do they need to be repaid. Student loans do, on both counts.

Private student loans for continuing education

For many continuing education students, school is not the only responsibility on your plate. The pressures of other obligations make dropping below half-time student status tempting. But that choice triggers your federal student loan payments.

If federal loans aren’t an option (or you’ve exhausted all the loans for which you qualify), then private student loans can help with the remainder of these costs. But private student loans don’t offer an escape from payments as a half-time student.

Some private student loan lenders expect you to start making payments right away, even if you are a full-time student. However, many private lenders give you some repayment choices. You might start making payments immediately or defer your payments until after graduation.

Student loans issued by private lenders and financial institutions often come with higher interest rates than federal options. And to be eligible for a private student loan, you usually need a good credit score. Without one, you might need a high-credit cosigner to help you qualify for the loan. Also remember that credit score and income affect the interest rate you secure.

The following lenders can be a good match if you’re considering a private loan for your continuing education costs.

College Ave

Editorial Selection: Best Overall

  • Receive a $150 reward when completing your degree
  • Up to 100% of school costs are covered
  • Your choice between 16 different repayment schedules

College Ave offers a Career Loan for students pursuing various associate, bachelor’s, and graduate degree programs. A range of loan terms and repayment options gives you more control over your post-graduation finances.

You’ll score a $150 cash back bonus when you complete your program.

College Ave eligibility requirements

Any student over the age of 16 enrolled in an eligible school in the US who has a Social Security number is eligible to apply for a loan with College Ave. The lender also requires students to meet satisfactory academic progress guidelines determined by your school.

You can borrow enough to cover the school’s cost of attendance, which usually includes funds for living expenses on top of school bills.

  • Variable rates (APR): 0.94%13.95%
  • Fixed rates (APR): 3.39%14.96% 
  • Repayment terms: 5, 8, 10, or 15 years
  • When repayment begins: Six months after graduation or immediately. If you choose immediate repayment, full principal and interest, interest-only, and flat-fee options are available.
  • Discounts offered: Autopay rate discount of 0.25%
  • Key features: Multiple repayment options, a $150 cash back reward when you complete the program, and an easy application process.

Sallie Mae

Editorial Selection: Best for Cosigners

  • Cosigners can be released after making 12 consecutive, on-time payments
  • Covers up to 100% of certified costs

Sallie Mae is a private lender that offers undergraduate loans, certificate loans, and specialized graduate student loans for a variety of professions. You can take out a loan specifically designed to meet your needs, such as for culinary school, aviation, and technical programs.

The Smart Option Student Loan feature for Career Training means you’ll just apply once for an entire year of trade school or professional training costs. Plus, you’ll have the chance to release a co-signer after 12 months of on-time payments.

Sallie Mae eligibility

You may qualify for Sallie Mae’s career training loans even if you’re not a full-time or half-time student. But you’ll need to meet the financial requirements, such as a good credit score. Adding a cosigner is an option if you need help qualifying.

  • 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. If you choose immediate repayment, you can pay a flat $25 or pay the interest each month.
  • Discounts offered: Autopay rate discount of 0.25%
  • Key features: Non-U.S. citizen students are eligible with a U.S. citizen as a co-signer, flexible deferment options, and cosigner release available after 12 months of on-time principal and interest payments.


Editorial Selection: Best for a Soft Credit Check

  • Can cover up to 100% of total costs
  • Check your rate without impacting your credit

Ascent advertises that it offers more opportunities than other lenders to get the funding you need. If you are looking for student loans for continuing education, you have two options—bootcamp loans and career loans.

These loan options are for students attending professional training and certification programs at select schools. There’s a minimum loan amount of $2,000. The maximum amount you may borrow is the total tuition for the program, or in some cases, you can also borrow the estimated living expenses required to complete the program.

Ascent eligibility

Although Ascent doesn’t disclose a rock bottom credit score, it does mention that student borrowers without cosigners must have at least two years of credit history. Also, there’s a 5% origination fee to take into account.

  • Fixed rates: 8.00% – 14.00% 
  • Repayment terms: 5, 7, or 10 years
  • When repayment begins: Three months after graduation or immediately. If you choose immediate repayment, you can make full interest and principal payments or pay just the interest charges. Finally, the Outcomes-based loan option defers payments until you receive a qualifying job offer.
  • Discounts offered: Autopay rate discount of 0.25%
  • Key features: Cosigner and non-cosigner options available, considers more than your credit score, and U.S. permanent residents, DACA residents, and U.S temporary residents are able to apply.

Other student loan resources related to continuing education

If you’re looking for additional help financing your continuing education, we have more resources to assist you.

See below for a variety of program-specific loans and financing products:

Alternatives to student loans for continuing education

There are a number of alternative financing methods you can also explore as a continuing education student. First, ask your employer if you qualify for any educational benefits. Many companies will cover all or some of the costs of continuing ed courses if they’re directly related to your job.

You can also look for scholarships and grants specific to continuing education for your chosen career path. Finally, personal loans, home equity loans, and HELOCs can help if you exhaust all other options.