Federal student loans may not be enough to help fund an advanced degree — but private graduate student loans could help fill the gap.
Federal and private graduate student loans are intended to help you cover the costs of earning an advanced degree, including tuition, fees, books and supplies, room and board, and personal expenses.
Before seeking a private loan for your graduate studies, it’s critical to first use federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans, which come with key protections like income-based repayment options. While Direct Unsubsidized Loans don’t require a credit check, they come with annual and lifetime borrowing limits, and sometimes have higher interest rates compared to private loans.
If you need to supplement your graduate school funding with private student loans, comparing lenders can help you find the best option for your needs. Scholarships are also available for graduate students. View the latest listing here: New Scholarships for First-Year Graduate Students.
7 of the best graduate student loan lenders of 2021
As a graduate student, you’re not eligible for federal subsidized student loans. And you’re only eligible to borrow up to $20,500 annually in federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans — though your school will determine the actual amount you can borrow each year.
You may also be eligible for a Direct PLUS Loan equal to the cost of attendance less any other financial aid you’ve received. But if you have negative marks on your credit history, such as a bankruptcy, repossession, foreclosure, collections, or delinquencies, it may be harder to get a PLUS Loan.
If you’ve maxed out your federal student loan amounts, you may turn to private graduate student loans to help fund your advanced degree. These seven Credible lender partners met nine different rating criteria to make our list of best private lenders for graduate student loans
Graduate students can apply for three different private student loans from Ascent, including two that don’t require a cosigner. The loans are fee-free, and available for terms as short as five years or as long as 20.
- Options for graduate students who don’t have a cosigner
- No application, origination, or disbursement fees
- Rate discounts and one-time reward for 1% of your loan balance degree earned within five years of taking out an Ascent loan
- Deferral may be your only repayment option, depending on type of loan and your credit score, and interest will continue to accrue during the deferment period.
- May need a cosigner to get the best rates
- Credit scores lower than 540 may disqualify you from a loan, even with a cosigner
Makes loans in very high amounts for students pursuing a high-cost advanced degree like a medical doctorate. It doesn’t charge some of the more common loan fees.
- Offers high loan amounts for parents or students looking to fund a high-cost degree, or refinance existing student loans
- You may be able to refinance existing loans even if you didn’t get a degree
- Five repayment terms and competitive interest rates
- Can’t apply for cosigner release until after 36 consecutive on-time payments
- Cosigner release not available at all for certain refinance loans
- Lack of transparency around minimum income and credit requirements
Offers both private student loans and student loan refinancing. Because it’s a fintech, College Ave has no branch offices.
- Flexible options for in-school repayment
- Wide selection of loan terms
- Generous deferment periods for students with medical and dental school loans
- Lack of transparency around eligibility requirements such as minimum required credit score or income
- Can’t request cosigner release until after half repayment period (for example, not before five years for a 10-year repayment period)
- May need a high credit score to qualify for the best rates and terms
Private student loans offer just three loan terms of seven, 10, and 15 years, but waives some common student loan fees. You’ll need to be enrolled at least half time at an eligible school to qualify for an EdvestinU loan.
- Higher autopay discount than many other lenders
- International students may qualify with a cosigner who’s a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
- Flexible repayment options
- 750 minimum credit score and $30,000 minimum income for borrower or cosigner
- Most borrowers need a cosigner to qualify
- Cosigner release only after 36 consecutive on-time payments, plus meet credit score and income requirements
Offers student loan refinancing for students in any state, you’ll need to be living or attending college in Indiana to qualify for a new private student loan. Although the lender charges a fee of 5% for late payments, there are no application, origination, or disbursement fees.
- 2% reduction in principal for graduating within six years
- Funding up to 100% of cost of attendance
- Ample repayment plan options
- Must live or attend school in Indiana to qualify for new loan
- Only three loan term options — five, 10, or 15 years
- Can’t apply for cosigner release until after making 48 consecutive on-time payments, have a FICO score of 670, and monthly income of $3,333 (or debt-to-income ratio no higher than 30%)
Only offers a single loan term of 15 years, although you have the option to defer payments until six months after leaving school.
- Can borrow up to the cost of attendance, less other financial aid received
- Low minimum income requirement
- Flexible repayment plans
- Only one term, 15 years, available for graduate student borrowers
- Cosigner release only after 48 consecutive on-time payments
- Only available to students enrolled at least half-time at an eligible nonprofit school.
Offers a choice of fixed or variable interest loans, a range of repayment options and no penalty for paying off a loan early. The lender also offers specialized loans for students pursuing MBAs; medical, dental or health advanced degrees; and those attending law school.
- Competitive interest rates and repayment options
- Comparatively short term for cosigner release applications
- Specialized loans for certain higher cost degrees, such as an MBA
- Lack of transparency around minimum credit score requirements
- Will probably need to enroll in autopay to qualify for the best rates
- May need a credit check to get personalized rate quote
Tips for comparison shopping graduate student loan lenders
Comparison shopping is almost always a smart move, especially when you’re committing to a financial product — like a graduate student loan — that will affect your financial wellbeing for years to come. When you’re comparing lenders, key points to weigh include:
Loan types and rates: Does the lender offer variable- or fixed-rate products? Are multiple loans available, or does the lender offer specialized loans based on the degree you’re pursuing? What are the requirements for getting the best APR?
Available loan amounts: Does the lender limit how much you can borrow? Will you be able to cover all your funding needs with a single loan?
Eligibility requirements: Typically, graduate student lenders require borrowers or their cosigners to be either U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Some loans may only be available to undergraduate students. And lenders typically require borrowers or their cosigners to have good to excellent credit.
Loan repayment plans and terms: How many choices does the lender provide for repayment terms? Will you likely be able to repay the loan within the term? What are its practices around deferral, in-school payments, and post-graduation repayment?
Available discounts: A discount for enrolling in autopay is fairly standard among student loan lenders. Some lenders may offer additional discounts or incentives, such as a one-time cash reward for graduating on time.
Fees and penalties: Does the lender charge or waive common fees such as an origination fee? Is there a penalty for missing a payment or for prepaying?
Cosigner requirements and cosigner release terms: Graduate and undergraduate borrowers often need cosigners in order to qualify for a loan. What are the minimum credit score and income requirements for cosigners? How long will it be before you can ask the lender to release your cosigner from the loan?
Selecting the best graduate student loan lender for you
With so many borrowing options for student loans, it’s important to find the lender and graduate student loan that are right for your individual needs. Some loans might be a better fit for you than others, based on the amount you need to borrow, your financial situation, and your course of study.
Good for all borrowers: Federal unsubsidized loans
Although graduate students aren’t eligible for federal subsidized loans, which tend to be the least expensive type of student loan, they could be eligible for unsubsidized federal student loans.
Schools determine the actual amount each graduate student can borrow each year in unsubsidized federal loans. But generally, you’re limited to $20,500 annually.
Good for borrowers with no credit or cosigner: Federal Grad PLUS Loan
Graduate or professional students enrolled at least half-time in an eligible school can apply for a Grad PLUS Loan from the federal government. These loans have several advantages, including:
- Competitive fixed interest rate (5.30% until July 1, 2021)
- Income-driven repayment plans available
- Loan terms of 10 to 25 years
- All or part of loan may be forgiven, cancelled, or discharged under certain conditions
The most significant advantage of Graduate PLUS Loans, however, is that you may be able to qualify for one even if you don’t have sufficient credit history or a cosigner. You can have a low credit score and still qualify as long as you don’t have adverse credit history, such as high delinquent balances, bankruptcies, repossessions, foreclosures, or certain other adverse information.
Good for high-balance loans: Citizens Bank, College Ave, Sallie Mae
Earning an advanced degree can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, especially if you’re pursuing a healthcare professional degree. Citizens Bank offers loans up to $350,000, while College Ave and Sallie Mae offer the option of covering 100% of your school’s cost of attendance.
If you need to borrow more than the limit available to you through federal student loans, these three lenders could be a good option.
Best for good credit: EdvestinU
With a minimum credit score requirement of 750, EdvestinU may be a good option if your credit is good or even excellent. Generally, people with higher credit scores qualify for better interest rates and terms on credit products.
A credit score higher than 750 could put you in the running for EdvestinU’s best interest rates.
Graduate student loan Frequently Asked Questions
What is the maximum amount I can borrow for graduate student loans?
As a graduate student, you’re limited to borrowing just $20,500 per year in unsubsidized federal student loans — although you may be able to borrow up to your school’s cost of attendance with Grad PLUS Loans. But tuition and fees for the average graduate degree costs more than twice that amount, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. If you turn to private student loans, you may be able to borrow up to 100% of the cost of attendance, depending on the lender.
How do I apply for a graduate student loan?
You have many options for applying for a graduate student loan, depending on the lender. You may be able to apply through the lender’s website. Or, you may be able to apply through a website that connects borrowers with lenders. Generally, you’ll also need to fill out the FAFSA.
What is a cosigner release?
To qualify for a student loan, student borrowers often need cosigners — a parent, other relative, friend or other creditworthy individual. A cosigner release allows your cosigner to exit the loan after you’ve demonstrated you’re able to make the payments without their help. Lenders typically specify a number of payments you must make on time before you can apply to have your cosigner released from the loan.
How do I find the best student loan rates for graduate school?
Doing your homework to understand each lender’s individual requirements, interest rates, and terms is critical to finding the best student loan for your needs.