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Student Loans

Student Loans for Physical Therapy School

Updated Jul 05, 2023   |   8-min read

If you started physical therapy school during the 2021 – 2022 school year, you could expect to spend about $69,826—all expenses included—by the time you graduate from a three-year DPT program at a public school. This is according to CAPTE, the leading physical therapist trade group. (For programs at private schools, the price was nearly double: $120,656.)  

Given that cost, it’s easy to understand why 90% of grads from physical therapy school have student loan debt. In 2020, the average graduate had $116,183 in student loan debt for physical therapy school, and that bumped up to $142,489 if you factor in student loans from undergrad studies. 

Those high numbers can sound scary, but we’ve researched ways to make your student loans for physical therapy school more manageable. Here’s how to develop a game plan. 

In this guide:

Can student loans be used for physical therapy school?

Yes, you can use student loans for physical therapy school as long as it’s an accredited program. The main types of loans you can get are federal and private student loans. 

Federal student loans are always the best first choice because they come with important borrower protections, such as student loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment plans. They’re more readily available to students with limited credit histories, which is most traditional students. 

Private student loans are best for bridging gaps in your plan to pay for physical therapy school. Private student loans don’t come with as many borrower protections and can be expensive without good credit. Many borrowers rely on a creditworthy cosigner to help, but not everyone has access. 

Federal student loans for physical therapy school

If you’re using federal student loans for physical therapy school, you’ll have two different types available. We’ve broken them out in the table below.

Federal student loan typeInterest rateLoan feeLoan limitCredit check required?
Direct Unsubsidized Loan6.54% for graduate borrowers1.057%$20,500 per year, up to $138,500 for all Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans combined, including undergraduate studies.No
Direct PLUS Loans for Graduates7.54%4.228%Up to school-certified cost of attendance, minus any other financial assistanceYes. No minimum credit score requirement, but you may need an endorser if you have adverse credit events.

If you took out federal student loans for your undergraduate study, you might notice two popular federal loans aren’t available here: Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans for Parents. These types of loans aren’t eligible for graduate study. 

Private student loans for physical therapy school

If you’ve applied for as much financial assistance as possible in the form of scholarships, grants, and federal student loans and you still have a balance on your student bill, or you’re not able to secure any more federal funds by the time you need them, it might be time to consider private student loans.

Taking out private student loans for physical therapy school isn’t any more difficult than any other type of degree. 

We’ve researched five popular lenders you might consider.

Sallie Mae

Graduate School Loans for Health Professions

  • Borrow up to 100% of your school-certified costs.
  • Up to 48 months of deferment.
  • 6-month grace period after graduation

The Sallie Mae Graduate School Loan for Health Professions can provide complete coverage for all school-certified expenses. 

No maximum aggregate applies to a graduate school loan from Sallie Mae.

Key features:

  • Variable interest rate (APR): 5.87% – 15.47%
  • Fixed interest rate (APR): 5.25% – 14.48
  • Loan fee: None
  • Loan term: 15 years
  • Loan amounts: Up to the school-certified cost of attendance
  • In-school repayment options: Interest-only, fixed $25, or deferred payments


Graduate Student Loans

  • 9-month grace period after graduation
  • No fees 
  • Skip 1 payment per year 

Earnest, a Navient subsidiary, offers private student loans at competitive rates.

It stands out because it offers a variety of loan repayment options, uses a broader method of evaluating a borrower’s eligibility beyond credit scores, and has an easy-to-use mobile app.

Key features:

  • Variable and fixed interest rates (APR): Starting at 4.79%
  • Loan fee: None
  • Loan term: 5 – 20 years
  • Loan amounts: Up to the school-certified cost of attendance
  • In-school repayment options: Full, interest-only, fixed $25, or deferred

College Ave

Graduate Health Professions Student Loans

  • Competitive interest rates
  • Choose your repayment term
  • 4 in-school repayment options

Delaware-based College Ave was founded in 2014 by former executives of Sallie Mae. 

It offers a Graduate Health Professions Student Loan for physical therapy school.

Key features:

  • Variable interest rate (APR): 3.99%12.99%
  • Fixed interest rate (APR): 4.24%12.99%
  • Loan fee: None
  • Loan term: 5 – 15 years
  • Loan amounts: $1,000 up to the school-certified cost of attendance
  • In-school repayment options: Full, interest-only, fixed $25, or deferred payments


Health Professions Student Loans

  • Borrow up to 100% of your school-certified costs.
  • No origination, application, late payment, or prepayment fees.
  • Graduate students enjoy an extended grace period.

Many of us know Discover for its credit cards, but Discover Student Loans is one of the market’s biggest private student loan lenders.

Discover’s Health Professions Student Loans offer competitive rates and terms, as well as solid benefits.

Key features:

  • Variable interest rate (APR): 6.62% – 11.47%
  • Fixed interest rate (APR): 5.99% – 10.99%
  • Loan fee: None
  • Loan term: 20 years
  • Loan amounts: $1,000 up to the school-certified cost of attendance
  • In-school repayment options: Interest-only, fixed $25, or deferred payments


Graduate Student Loans

  • Excellent customer service reviews on Trustpilot
  • Fast approval process
  • Deferment options

The Rhode Island Student Loan Authority (RISLA) is a nonprofit that aims to offer affordable education financing to qualified borrowers.

RISLA’s Graduate Student Loans are available to students in and out of Rhode Island.

Key features:

  • Fixed interest rates (APR): Starting at 4.99%
  • Loan fee: None
  • Loan term: 10 – 15 years
  • Loan amounts: $1,500 – $45,000 per year
  • In-school repayment options: Full or deferred payments

Remember, private student loans are best as a last resort when you’ve exhausted your federal student loan options. 

Private student loans tend to:

  • Be more expensive
  • Have more requirements
  • Offer less flexibility to accommodate your life post-graduation
  • Be less likely to be forgiven or placed into forbearance, as is the case with a federal loan

How to apply for physical therapy school loans

It’s always best to apply for financial aid, including student loans for physical therapy school, as soon as possible, so you have time to find the lowest-cost option.

You’ll be more likely to get scholarships and grants available on a first-come, first-served basis. 

Here’s a solid step-by-step plan to pay for your DPT degree:

  1. Fill out the FAFSA: You can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid as soon as October 1 for the upcoming academic year. This will match you up with financial aid from your school, federal grants, and student loans. 
  2. Accept scholarships and grants: Your school will send you a financial aid award letter detailing your expected costs and what financial aid the school can offer. Scholarships and grants are the best first choice because you don’t have to pay them back. (Ensure you’re also applying for outside scholarships and grants.) 
  3. Accept federal student loans: If you have a balance left on your student account, accept as much as you need in federal student loans before looking for private student loan money. 
  4. Apply for private student loans: If you still have an outstanding balance, private student loans are the next best option. Many borrowers use them to bridge remaining gaps in funding each semester to pay for school. 

Applying for private student loans is different than for federal student loans. You’ll need to shop for rates and apply for the loan on your own rather than receiving it from your school. 

Private student loans can be tougher to get because they’re often credit-based. Many traditional students don’t have credit and must apply with a cosigner. As part of your private student loan application, you and your cosigner will need to submit certain information:

  • Your school, degree type, and major
  • Your citizenship and contact information 
  • Your income and employment information
  • Your academic term and expected graduation date
  • Your Social Security number and a copy of your ID

Physical therapy school student loan repayment

You won’t start repaying federal student loans until you drop below half-time status, drop out, or graduate. You’ll have a six-month grace period before your first payment is due. Everyone starts on a standard 10-year repayment plan. 

If you’re struggling with your federal student loan payments, you may qualify for an income-driven repayment plan with more affordable payments. A major benefit of federal loans is the possibility of loan forgiveness if you work for a qualifying public employer or are on an income-driven repayment plan. 

Physical therapy school private student loan repayment

If you take out private student loans, you won’t have as much luck. Repayment will be dictated by the terms of the contract you signed, and these can vary. Some lenders allow you to make smaller payments while you’re in school, and many will let you defer payments. 

You’ll often need to start repaying private student loans pending a short grace period after dropping out, graduating, or dropping below half-time status. Some lenders also have a time limit, after which you’ll need to start repaying your loans—regardless of whether you’re ready. 

Private student loan lenders are less flexible when it comes to repayment assistance. You may get several months of forbearance if you have problems or even refinance your student loans for more affordable terms if you have a good credit score. 

But it’s often difficult to find income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness among private student loan lenders. It’s also tough to discharge private student loans in bankruptcy. Depending on the interest rates and terms of repayment, you could look at other financing options, such as a personal line of credit. We recommend only taking out private student loans for physical therapy school as a last resort.