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Best Graduate Student Loans

Graduate school can open the door to a higher salary or an entirely new career path. Although the investment will likely pay off, the upfront costs are considerable. Private student loans offer a financial solution to cover your grad school costs.

Best Graduate Student Loans
Eric Rosenberg
Written by:Eric Rosenberg
Financial Writer

When covering grad school expenses, federal unsubsidized loans can make a dent in your financial obligations as a grad student. But the costs can often exceed those limits. That’s when private student loans are a good way to fill the gap.

With an unsecured online loan, you can use the funds as you see fit. Whether you need to pay for tuition or general living expenses while in school, these unsecured loans can help. Our team of financial experts reviewed and ranked more than 30 online lenders to help you get funded. Explore the best graduate student loan options with us below.

Our Top Picks for The Best Graduate Student Loans

 sofi_logo_sl
  • No maximum loan limit
  • Prequalify without a credit check
  • Unemployment protection
  • Flexible repayment terms
Min. Credit Score
Min. Credit Score 650
Loan Amounts
Loan Amount $5K up to the cost of attendance
Fixed APR
Loan Repayment 5-15 years
 splashfinancial_logo-sl
  • Checking rates will not show up on a credit report
  • No fee to check your rate or apply for a loan
  • Lots of lender options
Min. Credit Score
Min. Credit Score Not disclosed
Loan Amounts
Loan Amount $5K up to the cost of attendance
Fixed APR
Loan Repayment 5 to 20 years
 salliemae_logo_sl
  • Loans for a wide variety of educational programs
  • Fund supplemental educational costs, such as books, housing, meals
  • Fewer fees than some of its competitors
Min. Credit Score
Min. Credit Score Not specified
Loan Amounts
Loan Amount $1K up to the cost of attendance
Fixed APR
Loan Repayment 10-15 years

How to Choose the Best Graduate Student Loan?

Graduate student loans are not created equally. The right loan for you varies based on your financial situation. But here are some factors to consider in your search. These are the very factors that our experts used to find the best graduate student loans.

  • Loan Features: The loan use limitations are the first consideration. Many online personal loans have no limitations on how you can spend the funds. But it’s important to verify that detail. Additionally, look at the loan term and amount options. You’ll need enough to cover your expenses with a loan term that fits your budget.
  • Interest rates and fees: Every loan has interest rates and fees attached. A few common fees include late payment penalties, origination fees, and early prepayment costs. Make sure that you are comfortable with the fees charged. Also, shop around for the lowest interest rate you can find.
  • Application process: The application process for online loans varies based on the lender. Before applying, consider the invasiveness of application information requirements and funding time. Also, consider the impact on your credit score in the form of a hard-pull or soft-pull credit inquiry.
  • Qualification process:  Many lenders outline their eligibility qualifications. You can look to see if you qualify before applying. A few things to look for include a minimum credit score, income requirements, or membership requirements. Also, check to see if the lender allows co-signers.
  • Customer support: It’s natural to have questions at some point in the loan repayment process. Check that the lender has a readily available customer support team that can answer your questions.
  • Online user reviews: Find out what current customers think of the service through reviews on sites like Trustpilot and the Better Business Bureau.
  • Perks and Bonuses: The right perk can make all of the difference. A few features to seek out include payment flexibility and available technology to monitor your loan.

Best Graduate Student Loans for 2022 - Full Overview

Ready to explore the best student loan options for graduate students? Here’s a look at the top contenders.

1. SoFi - Best for excellent credit borrowers

SoFi offers loans for graduate students, law students, and business students. A smooth online application process comes with no fees attached. If you choose to work with SoFi, you can take advantage of several benefits, including rate discounts, career services, and financial advisors. You can choose to defer your repayment until after you graduate. With the deferred option, there are no payments due until six months after graduation.
Pros
Access to SoFi member benefits
No late fees
Competitive rates
Get an estimated rate without a hard check
Cons
High rates for lower credit scores
Relatively stringent requirements

sofi

As you consider your options, here’s a quick look at SoFi’s features:

  • Loan terms: 5, 7, 10, or 15 years
  • Loan amounts: $1,000 to cost of attendance
  • Interest rates: 4.75% to 13.30% fixed APR; 2.59% to 11.98% variable APR
  • Credit score requirements: Not disclosed
  • Late payment fees: No
  • Enrollment requirements: Half-time or more

The Bottom Line

SoFi offers flexible repayment choices which allow you to set up your costs exactly how you want to. If you can lock in a competitive rate, SoFi’s extra perks are worthwhile.

Try SoFi

2. Splash Financial - Best for comparison shopping

Splash Financial is a platform that can help you quickly explore your student loan opportunities. After providing a little bit of information, Splash Financial finds a lending partner that might be a good fit for your situation. Since Splash Financial works with a variety of lending partners, the platform can help you find the loan terms and rates you are looking for. Depending on the lender you choose, you can add a co-signer, defer payments, or select a flexible repayment schedule for your needs.
Pros
Explore your options in just three minutes
No hard credit inquiry
Great rates possible
Low fees
Cons
Must finalize the loan with a third-party
Loan features vary based on the lender

splash financial

As you consider your options, here’s a quick look at Splash Financial’s features:

  • Loan terms: Varies by lender
  • Loan amounts: Minimum $5,000. No maximum is listed.
  • Interest rates: 2.29% to 8.63% fixed
  • Credit score requirements: Varies by lender
  • Late payment fees: Varies by lender
  • Enrollment requirements: Not specified

The Bottom Line

Importantly, Splash Financial runs a soft credit inquiry. With that, there is no negative impact on your credit score. It takes just three minutes to explore a wide range of options.

3. Sallie Mae - Best for post-graduation needs

Sallie Mae offers some of the best private graduate student loans. That’s especially true if you are done attending school full-time. Many lenders require at least half-time enrollment to obtain a loan. But Sallie Mae understands that sometimes your educational costs don’t end at the graduation stage. For many professional students, there is a final cost hurdle. For example, after finishing law school, students must study for and pass the bar exam. And medical school graduates often relocate for a residency. Sallie Mae allows you to borrow the funds you need if you’ve graduated from a participating allopathic, osteopathic, podiatric, or accredited law school in the past 12 months.
Pros
Options for professional school graduates
48 months of forbearance available
High loan limit available
Cons
Lack of transparency
No rate estimate without hard inquiry
Only one loan term

sallie mae
As you consider your options, here’s a quick look at Salle Mae’s features:

  • Loan terms: 15 years
  • Loan amounts: $1,000 to cost of attendance
  • Interest rates: 4.25% to 12.92% APR fixed, 2.50% to 12.22% variable
  • Credit score requirements: Not specified
  • Late payment fees: Yes
  • Enrollment requirements: Half time, or graduated within 12 months

The Bottom Line

Sallie Mae is a useful option for professional school students with specialized needs. Whether you need to cover education-related costs after graduation or want forbearance options, Sallie Mae can help.

4. Earnest - Best for extra breathing room

When you take out a grad student loan, you’ll often have a bit of breathing room after graduation. Many lenders offer a grace period of six months. So, six months after your graduation, you’ll start repaying the loan. Earnest takes things a step further by offering a nine-month grace period. The extended grace period gives your budget some wiggle room as you figure out post-grad finances. Plus, you’ll have the option to skip a payment once per year.
Pros
No fees
Skip a payment every year
Long grace period
Cons
No cosigner release option
Must submit to a hard credit check for rate

earnest

As you consider your options, here’s a quick look at Earnest’s features:

  • Loan terms: 5, 7, 10, 12, or 15 years
  • Loan amounts: Up to cost of attendance
  • Interest rates: 3.24% APR and up for fixed rates; 0.94% APR and up for variable rates
  • Credit score requirements: 650
  • Late payment fees: No
  • Enrollment requirements: Full time

The Bottom Line

Earnest offers reasonable rates and flexible repayment terms. The ability to skip a payment might come in handy!

5. Discover - Best for cash rewards

When Discover says it doesn’t charge fees on its student loans, it’s not kidding. The lender doesn’t charge application, origination, or late fees. If the flexible repayment options aren’t enough to sway you, the cash reward for good grades might. For students that maintain a 3.0 GPA in grad school, you can score a one-time cash reward on each new Discover student loan. You can earn 1% on your loan amount.
Pros
Cash reward for good grades
International students are eligible
Many hardship repayment options
Cons
No co-signer release option
Only 20-year term option

discover
As you consider your options, here’s a quick look at Discover’s features:

  • Loan terms: 20 years
  • Loan amounts: $1,000 to cost of attendance
  • Interest rates: 4.49% to 13.99% APR fixed, 2.49% to 12.49% APR variable
  • Credit score requirements: Not disclosed
  • Late payment fees: No
  • Enrollment requirements: Half-time

The Bottom Line

Discover offers rates that are a bit higher than average. But you can get a discount on the rate if you agree to make interest-only payments high in school and throughout the grace period. The added cash rewards opportunity makes this a worthwhile option.

6. College Ave - Best for part-time students

Committing to graduate school full-time isn’t an option for everyone. If you are balancing a career or other responsibilities, you might not have the bandwidth to commit to half enrollment status. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make progress towards your degree. College Ave is one of the few lenders that understand your predicament. You are eligible to borrow from College Ave if you are a graduate student enrolled in a degree program and making satisfactory progress according to your school. So, as long as you are chipping away at the degree, you can take out a loan. College Ave allows you to start making principal and interest or just interest payments while in school. You can also choose to make $25 payments towards the interest or defer all repayment until you graduate.
Pros
Less than half-time students eligible
Interest rate estimate without hard inquiry
Flexible repayment options
Cons
Co-signer release after halfway through term

college ave

As you consider your options, here’s a quick look at College Ave’s features:

  • Loan terms: 5, 8, 10, or 15 years
  • Loan amounts: $1,000 to cost of attendance
  • Interest rates: 3.99% to 11.98% APR fixed, 1.99% to 10.97% APR variable
  • Credit score requirements: Not disclosed
  • Late payment fees: No
  • Enrollment requirements: Any amount to make progress towards the degree

The Bottom Line

The limited enrollment requirements set College Ave apart. But the flexible repayment options are helpful for all students.

7. Ascent Funding - Best for borrower hardship protections

Ascent Funding allows you to start making payments of $25 or the entire interest payment while in school. But you can also defer the entire payment until up to 9 months after graduation. For those graduating with an Ascent Dental loan, there’s a 12-month grace period. Medical students have up to a 36-month grace period. If you run into financial hardship, you can request deferment and forbearance options. A few of the reasons Ascent grants forbearance include active-duty military, in-school, residencies, internships, temporary hardships, administrative, and natural disasters. The willingness to work out a deferment or forbearance option is relatively rare among private lenders.
Pros
Extensive deferment options
Extenstive forbearance options
Check your rate without hard credit inquiry
Cons
Late fees
Relatively high APRs

ascent
As you consider your options, here’s a quick look at Ascent’s features:

  • Loan terms: 7, 10, 12, or 15 years
  • Loan amounts: $2,001 to cost of attendance with a $200,000 total cap
  • Interest rates: 1.75% to 11.12% APR fixed, 5.00% to 14.96% APR variable
  • Credit score requirements: Not disclosed
  • Late payment fees: 5% of the overdue amount or $25, whichever is lower
  • Income requirements: Minimum gross income of $24,000 for the past year and current year
  • Enrollment requirements: Half-time

The Bottom Line

Ascent offers a range of options to help you tackle your grad student funding needs. The readily available hardship protections could make this the right choice for you.

8. Credible - Best for exploring your options

Credible is a student loan marketplace that can help you find the right lender. When you shop with Credible, your credit score won’t be affected. A few of their lending partners include Sallie Mae and College Ave. It takes just a few minutes to enter your information. Credible will take it from there to find a loan that meets your needs.
Pros
Quick comparison shopping
Completely free to use
No origination fees
Cons
Must finalize offer with lender
Final offer might change

credible

As you consider your options, here’s a quick look at Credible’s features:

  • Loan terms: Varies by lender
  • Loan amounts: Varies by lender
  • Interest rates: 0.94% to 12.99% APR variable, 3.20% to 14.54% APR fixed
  • Credit score requirements: Varies by lender
  • Late payment fees: No
  • Income requirements: Varies by lender
  • Enrollment requirements: Varies by lender

The Bottom Line

If you want to shop around quickly, Credible is a good place to start. It only takes three minutes to see your options.

9. ELFI - Best for customer feedback

ELFI, or Education Loan Finance, offers some of the best student loans for master's degrees. The company’s 4.9 out of 5-star rating on Trustpilot speaks for itself. Borrowers are happy when they work with ELFI. Although the credit score requirement is on the higher side, the interest rates are appealing.
Pros
No application fees
No origination fees
Cons
No cosigner release
680 credit score required

elfi

As you consider your options, here’s a quick look at ELFI’s features:

  • Loan terms: 5 to 15 years
  • Loan amounts: $1,000 to cost of attendance
  • Interest rates: 3.20% APR and up fixed, 1.30% APR and up variable
  • Credit score requirements: 680
  • Late payment fees: 5% of the past due amount or $50, whichever is lower
  • Income requirements: $35,000, can be a cosigner’s income
  • Enrollment requirements: Half time

The Bottom Line

ELFI is an option for anyone enrolled in grad school half time. But it’s likely a better option for those with an available co-signer. With a cosigner, you can take advantage of reasonable rates.

Try ELFI

10. RISLA - Best for income-based repayment

RISLA, or Rhode Island Student Loan Authority, offers low interest graduate student loans. But one of the unique features of RISLA is the income-based repayment option. If your student loan payments are unmanageable after graduation, you can switch to an income-based repayment plan. Another payment flexibility option is partial loan forgiveness for eligible internships and interest forgiveness for some nurses. RISLA is able to offer these features because it’s a quasi-governmental agency. Also, these loans are available to students outside of Rhode Island.
Pros
Income-based repayment options available
Relatively low interest rates
Partial forgiveness opportunities
Cons
Relatively high credit score requirements
Maximum annual loan amount of $45,000

As you consider your options, here’s a quick look at RISLA’s features:

  • Loan terms: 10 or 15 years
  • Loan amounts: $1,500 to $45,000 per year
  • Interest rates: 5.24% to 7.19% APR fixed
  • Credit score requirements: Not disclosed
  • Late payment fees: 6% of late payment amount
  • Income requirements: Minimum income of $40,000 per year, can be a cosigner’s income
  • Enrollment requirements: Half time

The Bottom Line

If you are looking for graduate student loans with low interest rates, RISLA is worth looking into. The policies leave some wiggle room if your budget hits rough times.

Try RISLA
Read more in the full RISLA review.

Best Graduate Student Loans - Feature Comparison

Company Name

Est. APR

Min. credit score

Loan Amount

Loan term

SoFi

4.75% to 13.30% fixed APR; 2.59% to 11.98% variable APR

Not disclosed 

$1,000 to cost of attendance

5, 7. 10, or 15 years

Splash Financial

2.29% to 8.63% fixed

Varies

Minimum: $5,000

No maximum listed

Varies by lender

Sallie Mae

4.25% to 12.92% APR fixed, 2.50% to 12.22% variable

Not disclosed 

$1,000 to cost of attendance

15 years

Earnest

3.24% APR and up for fixed rates; 0.94% APR and up for variable rates

650

Up to the cost of attendance

5, 7, 10, 12, or 15 years

Discover

4.49% to 13.99% APR fixed,2.49% to 12.49% APR variable

Not disclosed

Up to the cost of attendance

20 years

College Ave

3.99% to 11.98% APR fixed, 1.99% to 10.97% APR variable

Not disclosed

$1,000 to cost of attendance

5, 8, 10, or 15 years

Ascent Funding

1.75% to 11.12% APR fixed, 5.00% to 14.96% APR variable

Not disclosed

$2,001 to cost of attendance; with $200,000 cap

7, 10, 12, or 15 years

Credible

0.94% to 12.99% APR variable, 3.20% to 14.54% APR fixed

Not disclosed

Varies by lender

Varies by lender

ELFI

3.20% APR and up fixed, 1.30% APR and up variable

680

$1,000 to cost of attendance

5 to 15 years

RISLA

5.24% to 7.19% APR fixed

Not disclosed

$1,500 to $45,000 per year

10 or 15 years

How Do Graduate Loans Work?

Graduate student loans are similar to undergraduate student loans. You’ll have both federal and private student loan options as a grad student.

In general, Direct Unsubsidized federal loans are the best option. You can qualify with relative ease for these loans with lower interest rates, flexible repayment terms, and significant borrower protections.

The federal government also offers Grad PLUS loans. As a grad student, you’ll find higher loan limits for each year up to your school’s cost of attendance. You can borrow up to a lifetime limit.

A final option is to borrow from a private lender, which usually involves a credit check and more stringent borrower requirements.

Although federal student loans are a great option, they might not cover everything you need as a student. It’s common to piece together both federal and private student loans to fund your grad school endeavors.

Types of Graduate School Loans

Paying for graduate school often involves taking out student loans.

The choice boils down to three different categories of loans: Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Grad PLUS loans, and private loans. With the help of one of these loans, or a combination of the three, you can cover your grad student expenses.

Here’s a closer look at each.

Direct Unsubsidized Loan

Grad students can access Direct Unsubsidized loans through the government. As an Unsubsidized loan, the government will not pay interest on the loans while you are in school or while your loans are in deferment after graduation.

Although you are on the hook for all of the interest, Direct Unsubsidized loans are still a good option due to the relatively low interest rates.

  • Loan limits: $20,500 per academic year; Lifetime limit of $138,500.
  • Interest rates: 6.94%, as of 2022
  • Repayment timeline: Standard 10-year term. But access to flexible repayment plans based on your income.
  • Borrower protections: Six-month grace period after graduation. Forgiveness programs are available, including the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Forbearance options are available.
  • Advantages: Fixed interest rate for all students, flexible repayment options, and extended borrower protections.
  • Disadvantages: Loan amount limits. Your loan servicer is assigned to you, and may not be an ideal fit.

Grad PLUS Loan

Grad PLUS loans are available to graduate students through the federal government. Although there isn’t a grace period after graduation, the flexible loan limits should help you make it through.

  • Loan limits: Maximum amount is the cost of attendance for your school, minus any financial assistance you receive.
  • Interest rates: 7.54%, as of 2022
  • Repayment timeline: Terms range from 10 to 25 years.
  • Borrower protections: Forgiveness programs are available, including the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Forbearance options are available.
  • Advantages: You can borrow up to your school’s cost of attendance,
  • Disadvantages: No grace period after graduation, higher interest rates, origination fees.

Private Loan

Private student loans are the final option for graduate students seeking funding. Depending on your situation, these loans might be the best fit for your grad school needs.

Generally, they are an especially good fit if you are looking to borrow more than your federal loan limit and want more control over your loan terms. Additionally, borrowers with excellent credit scores can find attractive rates through private loan options.

  • Loan limits: Varies based on the lender and your credit score.
  • Interest rates: Varies
  • Repayment timeline: Varies
  • Borrower protections: Varies. Some lenders offer unemployment protection. Others offer no grace periods or forbearance.
  • Advantages: Possibly get a better interest rate, avoid origination fees, and borrow more than your federal limits.
  • Disadvantages: Limited borrower protections and an unmovable repayment schedule.

Comparing the Different Types of Graduate School Loans


Direct Unsubsidized Loan

Grad PLUS Loan

Private Loan

Eligibility

Must be a half-time student and meet federal lending requirements.

Must be a half-time student and meet federal lending requirements.

Meet the eligibility criteria of a lender based on your income, credit score, and citizenship status. 

Credit Check

No

Yes

Yes, usually

Interest Rates

6.94%

7.54%

Varies. Borrowers with high credit scores can tap into lower rates. 

Origination Fees

Yes

Yes

No, usually

Borrowing Limits

$20,500 per academic year; Lifetime limit of $138,500. 

The maximum amount is the cost of attendance for your school, minus any financial assistance you receive. 

Varies based on your credit qualifications 

Co-Signers

No

Yes

Varies, but usually yes

How to Get a Graduate School Student Loan

If you need a loan to get through graduate school, there are plenty of options out there. But how to get one varies a bit based on your choice between federal or private student loans.

For federal student loans, here’s what the process looks like:

  • FIll out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form: The information in your FAFSA determines how much you can borrow for your school costs.
  • Review your financial aid package: Your school will send you a financial aid package with details about what scholarships and grants you received. Plus, it will include information about what federal loans you qualify for.
  • Apply online: You apply for federal student loans online. If this is your first time receiving a federal student loan, you’ll need to sign a Master Promissory Note.
  • Accept funds: If you meet the eligibility criteria, the federal government will disburse the funds to your school. Excess money not needed to cover tuition and fees will be refunded to you.

The private student loan process is a bit different. Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • Compare rates across lenders: Private lenders offer very different interest rates. Shopping around can help you save big.
  • Submit your application: When you find a lender with a loan that meets your needs, submit your application. At this point, the lender will complete a hard credit check.
  • Submit follow-up documents: The lender will need to verify your financial picture. Be prepared to submit bank statements and paystubs.
  • Accept funds: Private lenders may send the funds to either you or your school.

Conclusion

The best graduate student loans allow you to pay for your education without crippling your future finances. It’s critical to explore all of your options. You don’t want to get stuck overpaying for your student loans because you didn’t shop around.

It’s easy to compare your options with our comprehensive list above. If you find a lender that works for your needs, then don’t hesitate to move forward with your application.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the best student loan for graduate school?

The best loan for graduate school varies based on your financial situation. If you have a good credit score, tapping into low rates offered by a private lender could save you thousands. But many grad students choose federal student loans due to the extensive borrower protections.

How do grad PLUS loans differ from other loan options?

You can use Grad PLUS loans to borrow beyond your Direct Unsubsidized student loan limit. But even with the higher loan limits, you’ll enjoy borrower protections unique to the federal government. The catch is the higher interest rates attached to these loan types.

Does student loan forgiveness cover graduate school?

Private student loans are not eligible for federal student loan forgiveness programs. But graduate school loans through the federal government are eligible.

For example, you can pursue forgiveness of Direct Unsubsidized and Grad PLUS loans through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Your eligibility is based on qualifying employment experience and payments.

How much should I borrow in graduate student loans?

Grad school can be a path to a higher income. But it’s an expensive hurdle to overcome. As a graduate student, you’ll need to borrow enough to cover school costs and living expenses.

It’s a good idea to limit your borrowing as much as possible. Otherwise, you could be stuck with an unmanageable debt loan after graduation. Get creative to limit your borrowing. Consider picking up a part-time job, starting a side hustle, or working for a company that covers tuition costs.

What credit score do you need to get a student loan for grad school?

If you are seeking a federal student loan, there isn’t a credit check for the Direct Unsubsidized option. If you want to get a private student loan for grad school, plan to have a credit score in the mid-600s. A higher credit score leads to higher approval odds, plus lower interest rates.

What is the maximum amount students can borrow for graduate school?

For Direct Unsubsidized loans, there is a $20,500 limit per academic year and a lifetime limit of $138,500. For Grad Plus loans, the limit is your school’s cost of attendance minus any financial aid you receive. With private student loans, the limits are more variable.

What determines the interest rate for a private grad school loan?

Your credit score plays a big role in determining the interest rate for a private grad school loan. Other factors include your income and financial history. Beyond your details, lenders look at the prime rate when determining your rate.

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 Eric Rosenberg

Eric Rosenberg

Financial Writer

Ten years of experience in banking, corporate finance, and corporate accounting primarily at large, public companies.

More about me