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The average student loan debt for graduate school in 2015-16 was $71,000, according to the most recent data available from the National Center for Education Statistics.
That average reflects debt for master’s degrees, Ph.D.s and other graduate school loans borrowed only for advanced degrees. Including undergraduate loans increases the average debt for graduate students to $82,800.
With a total debt of $82,800, the average graduate student would repay $949 each month and $113,936 overall, assuming current federal interest rates and a standard 10-year repayment term.
What influences graduate student debt?
The average total student loan debt of $82,800 for graduate students includes all advanced degrees. But you should expect to borrow more for some graduate programs than others.
For example, master’s degree graduates leave school owing $64,800 on average, while doctors with professional degrees — who enroll in longer programs — owe $183,200.
The type of graduate school affects indebtedness as well. For example, getting a master’s at a public school results in an average student loan debt of $42,300 for that degree alone; that number increases to $56,400 for master’s recipients at private nonprofit institutions.
The College Scorecard has average debt data for certain graduate degree programs; search by the school’s name to see if this is available. If a school or program you’re interested in isn't included, ask its financial aid or admissions office for this information.
Graduate degrees by average debt
Here’s how debt stacks up for graduates with specific advanced degrees, based upon the latest available data for each. Totals include undergraduate loans, unless otherwise indicated. The average undergraduate debt is $29,200, according to The Institute for College Access & Success.
Sources: American Dental Education Association, Association of American Medical Colleges, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, NCES.
Limiting graduate school student loan debt
Roughly 54% of students take out loans for graduate school, according to the NCES. Debt is almost unavoidable for some programs — more than 84% of doctors in professional degree programs take out medical school loans, for example — but graduate students can take steps to limit their borrowing.
Exhaust free aid programs. Scholarships, fellowships and grants are the best ways to pay for graduate school. Ask your school about institutional awards and search for professional organizations focused on the field you’re interested in, for example, to see if they offer graduate scholarships.
Use your wages. Attending graduate school part-time while working can help you pay as you go, and avoid borrowing. Plus, if you plan to work while enrolled, your company may help pay for your degree via a tuition reimbursement program. Ask your human resources department for details. If you work for the university, your salary or stipend may help with your living expenses.
Borrow only what you need. There aren't subsidized loans for grad school, so you'll always pay interest on what you borrow. Graduate PLUS loans can cover up to your school’s cost of attendance, which can include expenses graduate students may face like child care and transportation. But before borrowing for all of your costs, see if you can use savings or income from part-time work to help minimize your debt.
Have a repayment plan. Federal loans offer income-driven plans that can keep graduate loan payments manageable if you don’t make a lot of money, and you may qualify for loan forgiveness by pursuing a public service career. Graduate degree holders with strong earning power — like doctors or MBAs — can be good candidates to refinance student loans at a lower interest rate.