Best of

Best Graduate Student Loans

Teddy NykielSeptember 11, 2019

At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

Graduate students can take out federal direct unsubsidized loans, federal Grad PLUS loans or private student loans.

Our pick for

All borrowers

Federal Grad PLUS Loan
Check Rate

on Department of Education's website

Federal Grad PLUS Loan

Federal Grad PLUS Loan
Fixed APR 
7.08-7.08% 

Variable APR 
 

Min. Credit Score 
None 

Check Rate

on Department of Education's website


Key facts

Best for bad credit or no credit, making loan payments based on income and applying for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Rating and Review

Pros

  • More flexible repayment options for struggling borrowers compared with private lenders.

  • All borrowers who attend a school authorized to receive federal aid qualify.

Cons

  • May have higher interest rates compared with private lenders.

  • You pay an origination fee.

  • You can’t see if you’ll qualify without a hard credit check.

Qualifications

  • Grad PLUS loan borrowers must not have adverse credit history.

  • Borrowers with adverse credit history can still receive a grad PLUS loan by enlisting a co-signer without adverse credit history or documenting extenuating circumstances for their credit history.

  • Loan amounts: Total cost of attendance minus other financial aid.

Available Term Lengths

10 to 25 years once repayment begins, depending on the repayment plan.

Disclaimer

Read Full Review

Our picks for

Borrowers without credit or a co-signer

Ascent Private Student Loans
Check Rate

on Ascent's website

Ascent Private Student Loans

Ascent Private Student Loans
Fixed APR 
3.97-12.93% 

Variable APR 
3.63-12.90% 

Min. Credit Score 
600 

Check Rate

on Ascent's website


Key facts

An option for graduate students with no credit, income or co-signer

Rating and Review

Pros

  • Forbearance of 24 months is longer than many lenders.

  • You can make biweekly payments via autopay.

  • For co-signed option, multiple in-school repayment options are available, including interest-only, flat-fee and deferred.

  • For non-co-signed option, no co-signer or credit history is required.

Cons

  • Fewer repayment term lengths than other lenders for fixed-rate loans.

  • You can’t see if you’ll qualify and what rate you’ll get without a hard credit check.

  • Non-co-signed option is only available to college juniors, seniors and graduate students.

Qualifications

  • Typical credit score of approved borrowers or co-signers: Did not disclose for co-signed option. For non-co-signed option, Ascent emphasizes future earnings over income or credit score.

  • Minimum income: $24,000 for co-signed option.

  • Loan amounts: For co-signed option, $2,000 minimum to $200,000 over the lifetime of a borrower. The amount for each loan period cannot exceed the total cost of attendance. For non-co-signed option, $2,000 to total cost of attendance.

  • Non-co-signed borrowers must maintain 2.5 GPA or higher.

Available Term Lengths

5, 10 or 15 for cosigned option or 10 or 15 for non-co-signed option

Disclaimer

6 Ascent Student Loans are funded by Richland State Bank (RSB), Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: www.AscentStudentLoans.com/Ts&Cs. Rates are effective as of 07/01/2019 and include a 0.25% discount applied when a borrower in repayment elects automatic debit payments via their personal checking account. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: www.AscentStudentLoans.com/Rates. 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Click here for details.

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MPOWER Private Student Loan
Check Rate

on MPOWER's website

MPOWER Private Student Loan

MPOWER Private Student Loan
Fixed APR 
7.52-13.63% 

Variable APR 
 

Min. Credit Score 
 

Check Rate

on MPOWER's website


Key facts

Best for international students and students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, status.

Rating and Review

Pros

  • Offers a hard-to-find option: non-co-signed student loans for international and DACA students.

  • Borrowers are assigned a dedicated student loan advisor.

  • Forbearance of 24 months is longer than many lenders offer, and borrowers can access national disaster forbearance as well.

Cons

  • Payment required while in school and during the grace period.

  • Offers only one repayment term: 10 years.

Qualifications

  • MPOWER considers future income potential but does not factor in credit scores.

  • Loan amounts: Minimum $2,001. Maximum loan is $50,000, limited to $25,000 per academic period.

Available Term Lengths

10 years

Disclaimer

Read Full Review
Prodigy Private Student Loan
Check Rate

on Prodigy's website

Prodigy Private Student Loan

Prodigy Private Student Loan
Fixed APR 
 

Variable APR 
7.52-12.00% 

Min. Credit Score 
 

Check Rate

on Prodigy's website


Key facts

Rating and Review

Pros

  • Offers a hard-to-find option: non-co-signed student loans for international students.

  • You can see if you’ll qualify and what rate you’ll get without a hard credit check.

  • No late fees.

Cons

  • No fixed interest rates.

  • No formal deferment/forbearance options.

  • Not available to borrowers in all 50 states including: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming.

Qualifications

  • Prodigy Finance considers future income, rather than current income or credit score.

  • Loan amounts: $15,000 to $220,000.

Available Term Lengths

7, 10, 15 or 20 years

Disclaimer

Read Full Review

Our picks for

Borrowers with good credit or a co-signer

College Ave Private Student Loan
Check Rate

on College Ave's website

College Ave Private Student Loan

College Ave Private Student Loan
Fixed APR 
4.72-12.94% 

Variable APR 
3.70-11.98% 

Min. Credit Score 
Mid-600s 

Check Rate

on College Ave's website


Key facts

Best for students who want to make payments while they're still in school.

Rating and Review

Pros

  • You can see if you’ll qualify and what rate you’ll get without a hard credit check.

  • International students can qualify with a co-signer.

  • More flexible repayment options than other lenders.

Cons

  • No formal forbearance options.

Qualifications

  • Typical credit score of approved borrowers: Mid-700s.

  • Minimum income: $35,000 per year.

  • Loan amounts: $1,000 to $80,000.

Available Term Lengths

5, 8, 10 or 15 years

Disclaimer

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply. As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Flat Repayment Option with an 8-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 7.78% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 54 monthly payments of $25 while in school, followed by 96 monthly payments of $176.21 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $18,266.38. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. Information advertised valid as of 9/3/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.

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RISLA Private Student Loan
Check Rate

on RISLA's website

RISLA Private Student Loan

RISLA Private Student Loan
Fixed APR 
3.64-5.59% 

Variable APR 
 

Min. Credit Score 
680 

Check Rate

on RISLA's website


Key facts

Best for Rhode Island students who may need wiggle room on payments in the future.

Rating and Review

Pros

  • Income-based repayment plan available, with forgiveness after 25 years.

  • You can see if you’ll qualify and what rate you’ll get without a hard credit check.

  • Partial loan forgiveness for eligible internships; interest forgiveness for qualifying nurses.

Cons

  • Loans available only to Rhode Island residents or those who attend school there.

Qualifications

  • Typical credit score of approved borrowers: 768.

  • Minimum income: $40,000.

  • Loan amounts: $1,500 to $45,000.

Available Term Lengths

10 or 15 years

Disclaimer

Read Full Review
Earnest Private Student Loan
Check Rate

on Earnest's website

Earnest Private Student Loan

Earnest Private Student Loan
Fixed APR 
4.69-12.78% 

Variable APR 
3.35-11.44% 

Min. Credit Score 
650 

Check Rate

on Earnest's website


Key facts

An option for borrowers who want flexible repayment.

Rating and Review

Pros

  • Option to skip one payment every 12 months.

  • No late fees.

  • Nine-month grace period is longer than most lenders offer.

Cons

  • You can’t see if you’ll qualify and what rate you’ll get without a hard credit check.

  • Loans aren't available in Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Hampshire, Texas and Virginia.

Qualifications

  • Typical credit score of approved borrowers: Did not disclose.

  • Minimum income: $35,000.

  • Loan amounts: $1,000 up to your total cost of attendance.

Available Term Lengths

5, 7, 10, 12 or 15 years

Disclaimer

Read Full Review
Sallie Mae Private Student Loan
Check Rate

on Sallie Mae's website

Sallie Mae Private Student Loan

Sallie Mae Private Student Loan
Fixed APR 
4.74-11.35% 

Variable APR 
3.25-10.65% 

Min. Credit Score 
Does not disclose 

Check Rate

on Sallie Mae's website


Key facts

Best for part-time students and those who want flexibility with repayment.

Rating and Review

Pros

  • One of the few lenders to provide loans to part-time students.

  • Borrowers can access online tutoring and free credit score tracking.

  • Non-U.S. citizens, including DACA students, can apply with a co-signer.

Cons

  • You can't see if you’ll qualify and what rate you’ll get without a hard credit check.

  • Information not available on minimum qualifying credit scores or income.

Qualifications

  • Typical credit score of approved borrowers or co-signers: Does not disclose.

  • Minimum income: Did not disclose.

  • Loan amounts: $1,000 up to 100% of the school-certified expenses.

Available Term Lengths

5 to 15 years

Disclaimer

Lowest rates shown include the auto debit discount: Fixed 4.74% - 11.35% APR and Variable 3.25% - 10.65% APR. Interest rates for Fixed and Deferred Repayment Options are higher than interest rates for the Interest Repayment Option. You're charged interest starting at disbursement, while in school, during your separation/grace period, and until the loan is paid in full. The repayment option that is selected will apply during the in-school and separation/grace periods. When you enter principal and interest repayment, Unpaid Interest will be added to your loan's Current Principal. Variable rates may increase over the life of the loan. Advertised variable rates reflect the starting range of rates and may vary outside of that range over the life of the loan. Advertised APRs are valid as of 08/26/2019 and assume a $10,000 loan to a freshman with no other Sallie Mae loans. Additional information regarding the auto debit discount: Borrower or cosigner must enroll in auto debit through Sallie Mae. The rate reduction benefit applies only during active repayment for as long as the Current Amount Due or Designated Amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. This benefit may be suspended during periods of forbearance or deferment, if available for the loan Loan amounts: $1000 up to 100% of the school certified expenses: Loan amount cannot exceed the cost of attendance less financial aid received as certified by the school. Sallie Mae reserves the right to approve a lower loan amount than the school-certified amount. Repayment term of 5 to 15 years: This repayment example is based on a typical Smart Option Student Loan made to a freshman borrower who chooses a fixed rate and the Fixed Repayment Option for a $10,000 loan, with two disbursements, and a 8.44% fixed APR. It works out to 51 payments of $25.00, 119 payments of $156.04 and one payment of $118.97, for a Total Loan Cost of $19,962.73.

Read Full Review

Summary of Best Graduate Student Loans

LenderFixed APRVariable APRMin. Credit ScoreLearn More
Federal Grad PLUS Loan

Federal Grad PLUS Loan

Check Rate

on Department of Education's website

7.08-7.08%

N/A

None

Check Rate

on Department of Education's website

Ascent Private Student Loans

Ascent Private Student Loans

Check Rate

on Ascent's website

3.97-12.93%

3.63-12.90%

600

Check Rate

on Ascent's website

MPOWER Private Student Loan

MPOWER Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on MPOWER's website

7.52-13.63%

N/A

N/A

Check Rate

on MPOWER's website

Prodigy Private Student Loan

Prodigy Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on Prodigy's website

N/A

7.52-12.00%

N/A

Check Rate

on Prodigy's website

CommonBond Private Student Loan

CommonBond Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on CommonBond's website

5.45-9.74%

3.66-9.64%

660

Check Rate

on CommonBond's website

College Ave Private Student Loan

College Ave Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on College Ave's website

4.72-12.94%

3.70-11.98%

Mid-600s

Check Rate

on College Ave's website

RISLA Private Student Loan

RISLA Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on RISLA's website

3.64-5.59%

N/A

680

Check Rate

on RISLA's website

Wells Fargo Private Student Loan

Wells Fargo Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on Wells Fargo's website

5.94-11.96%

5.04-10.93%

Does not disclose

Check Rate

on Wells Fargo's website

Citizens One Private Student Loan

Citizens One Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on Citizens Bank's website

4.40-12.19%

3.29-11.62%

Does not disclose

Check Rate

on Citizens Bank's website

LendKey Private Student Loan

LendKey Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on LendKey's website

5.36-10.49%

4.10-10.61%

660

Check Rate

on LendKey's website

Navy Federal Private Student Loan

Navy Federal Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on Navy Federal's website

6.49-12.84%

5.32-11.72%

Does not disclose

Check Rate

on Navy Federal's website

PNC Private Student Loan

PNC Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on PNC's website

5.61-11.79%

5.15-11.30%

670

Check Rate

on PNC's website

SunTrust Private Student Loan

SunTrust Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on SunTrust's website

4.30-11.05%

3.50-10.55%

600

Check Rate

on SunTrust's website

Earnest Private Student Loan

Earnest Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on Earnest's website

4.69-12.78%

3.35-11.44%

650

Check Rate

on Earnest's website

Sallie Mae Private Student Loan

Sallie Mae Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on Sallie Mae's website

4.74-11.35%

3.25-10.65%

Does not disclose

Check Rate

on Sallie Mae's website

LenderFixed APRVariable APRMin. Credit ScoreLearn More
Federal Grad PLUS Loan

Federal Grad PLUS Loan

Check Rate

on Department of Education's website

7.08-7.08%

N/A

None

Check Rate

on Department of Education's website

Ascent Private Student Loans

Ascent Private Student Loans

Check Rate

on Ascent's website

3.97-12.93%

3.63-12.90%

600

Check Rate

on Ascent's website

MPOWER Private Student Loan

MPOWER Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on MPOWER's website

7.52-13.63%

N/A

N/A

Check Rate

on MPOWER's website

Prodigy Private Student Loan

Prodigy Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on Prodigy's website

N/A

7.52-12.00%

N/A

Check Rate

on Prodigy's website

CommonBond Private Student Loan

CommonBond Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on CommonBond's website

5.45-9.74%

3.66-9.64%

660

Check Rate

on CommonBond's website

College Ave Private Student Loan

College Ave Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on College Ave's website

4.72-12.94%

3.70-11.98%

Mid-600s

Check Rate

on College Ave's website

RISLA Private Student Loan

RISLA Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on RISLA's website

3.64-5.59%

N/A

680

Check Rate

on RISLA's website

Wells Fargo Private Student Loan

Wells Fargo Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on Wells Fargo's website

5.94-11.96%

5.04-10.93%

Does not disclose

Check Rate

on Wells Fargo's website

Citizens One Private Student Loan

Citizens One Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on Citizens Bank's website

4.40-12.19%

3.29-11.62%

Does not disclose

Check Rate

on Citizens Bank's website

LendKey Private Student Loan

LendKey Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on LendKey's website

5.36-10.49%

4.10-10.61%

660

Check Rate

on LendKey's website

Navy Federal Private Student Loan

Navy Federal Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on Navy Federal's website

6.49-12.84%

5.32-11.72%

Does not disclose

Check Rate

on Navy Federal's website

PNC Private Student Loan

PNC Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on PNC's website

5.61-11.79%

5.15-11.30%

670

Check Rate

on PNC's website

SunTrust Private Student Loan

SunTrust Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on SunTrust's website

4.30-11.05%

3.50-10.55%

600

Check Rate

on SunTrust's website

Earnest Private Student Loan

Earnest Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on Earnest's website

4.69-12.78%

3.35-11.44%

650

Check Rate

on Earnest's website

Sallie Mae Private Student Loan

Sallie Mae Private Student Loan

Check Rate

on Sallie Mae's website

4.74-11.35%

3.25-10.65%

Does not disclose

Check Rate

on Sallie Mae's website

Which type of graduate student loan is best for you?

The type of graduate student loan that’s best for you depends on your credit score, access to a co-signer and whether or not you want to take advantage of income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs.

  • Federal direct unsubsidized loans have lower interest rates and fees than PLUS loans, but there are limits to the amount you can borrow. Use this type of loan if you have bad credit or no credit, and/or if you want the option to make loan payments that are based on your income or apply for programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
  • Federal Grad PLUS loans have higher interest rates and fees than direct unsubsidized loans, but you can borrow more money in PLUS loans. Use Grad PLUS loans if you’ve maxed out your federal direct unsubsidized loans and you still want to use federal loans to pay for graduate school.
  • Private student loans don’t qualify for income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs like federal loans do. Use these loans if you don't need access to those benefits and if you have excellent credit or a co-signer who does. Compare your options above or on NerdWallet’s private student loan page to find the lowest rate you qualify for.

Your future profession should also play a part in helping you decide which graduate loan is right for you:

How to defer student loans while in grad school

You can often postpone payments on undergraduate and graduate student 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. Except for on subsidized federal loans, interest will accrue on loans during deferment and increase the total amount you’ll pay over time.

If the 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 student loans, contact your lender or servicer to ask about in-school deferment — many, but not all, private student lenders offer it.

Last updated on September 11, 2019

To recap our selections...

NerdWallet's Best Graduate Student Loans