Graduate students can take out federal direct unsubsidized loans, federal Grad PLUS loans or private student loans.
Summary of Best Graduate Student Loan Options of January 2020
Our pick for
Our picks for
Borrowers without credit or a co-signer
Our picks for
Borrowers with good credit or a co-signer
Which type of graduate student loan is best for you?
The best graduate school loan for you will likely be a federal student loan. These loans offer protections like income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs that private loans lack. Those benefits can come in handy depending on how much you owe — the average graduate student debt is $82,000, including undergraduate loans — and your career plans.
That future profession should also play a part in helping you decide which graduate loan is right for you. Higher earners may be more comfortable taking on private graduate school loans:
- Best medical school loans.
- Best law school loans.
- Best MBA student loans.
- Best veterinary school loans.
Use private student loans for graduate school if you don't need access to federal benefits and if you have excellent credit or a co-signer who does. If you plan to use a co-signer, look for a lender that offers a co-signer release program. Compare your options above or on NerdWallet’s private student loan page to find the lowest rate you qualify for.
Federal direct grad PLUS loans vs. unsubsidized loans
Borrowers can choose from two types of federal student loans for graduate school: grad PLUS loans and unsubsidized direct loans.
- Federal direct unsubsidized loans limit the amount you can borrow to $20,500 annually and $138,500 overall, including undergraduate loans. But these loans have lower interest rates and fees than PLUS loans, so opt for unsubsidized loans before graduate PLUS loans.
- Federal grad PLUS loans have higher interest rates and fees than direct unsubsidized loans, but you can borrow more money in PLUS loans — up to your total cost of attendance, minus other aid received. Use grad PLUS loans if you’ve maxed out your federal direct unsubsidized loans and still want to use federal loans to pay for graduate school.
How to defer student loans while in grad school
You can often postpone payments on undergraduate and graduate school loans while you’re enrolled in school at least half-time through a process called deferment. However, if you can afford to make full or interest-only payments during graduate school, you should. Interest will accrue on all student loans for graduate school — federal and private — during deferment, increasing the total amount you’ll pay over time.
If your graduate school loans are federal, your loan servicer may put them into deferment automatically, or you can call the servicer and/or your school’s financial aid office to request a deferment. For private graduate student loans, contact your lender or servicer to ask about in-school deferment. Many, but not all, private student lenders offer this feature; look for lenders that do when comparing graduate school loans.
Last updated on December 17, 2019
To recap our selections...
NerdWallet's Best Graduate Student Loan Options of January 2020
- Federal Subsidized/Unsubsidized Loan: Best for All borrowers
- MPOWER Private Student Loan: Best for Borrowers without credit or a co-signer
- Ascent Private Student Loan: Best for Borrowers without credit or a co-signer
- Prodigy Private Student Loan: Best for Borrowers without credit or a co-signer
- College Ave Private Student Loan: Best for Borrowers with good credit or a co-signer
- CommonBond Private Student Loan: Best for Borrowers with good credit or a co-signer
- RISLA Private Student Loan: Best for Borrowers with good credit or a co-signer
- Wells Fargo Private Student Loan: Best for Borrowers with good credit or a co-signer
- Sallie Mae Private Student Loan: Best for Borrowers with good credit or a co-signer