BEST OF

11 Best Graduate Student Loan Options of February 2023

Graduate students should max out federal unsubsidized loans before turning to federal PLUS or private loans to cover their remaining costs.

By Cecilia Clark 

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The federal government and private lenders offer graduate student loans. Max out federal unsubsidized loans — likely the cheapest option — before covering remaining costs with federal grad PLUS loans or private student loans.

Grad PLUS loans don't require credit and come with multiple repayment options, which will likely make them best for most borrowers. But you may pay less with a private graduate school loan if you or a co-signer has excellent credit.

Here are our picks for the best loans for graduate school, as well as information on how to choose between them and manage debt while you're in school.

Best Graduate Student Loan Options

Our pick for

All borrowers as a first option

Graduate students can take out up to $20,500 annually in unsubsidized federal student loans.

Federal Subsidized/Unsubsidized Loan

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Federal Subsidized/Unsubsidized Loan

Min. credit score

None

Fixed APR

4.99-6.54%

Variable APR

N/A

Variable APR

N/A

Key facts

Graduate school borrowers qualify for unsubsidized student loans only.

Pros

  • More flexible repayment options for struggling borrowers than other lenders.

  • Subsidized loans do not collect interest while in school or during deferment.

  • Lower interest rates compared with private lenders.

Cons

  • You pay an origination fee.

Qualifications

  • No credit check or minimum income is needed to borrow.

  • Loan amounts for undergraduates: $5,500 year one, $6,500 year two, $7,500 year three and thereafter, up to a total of $31,000

  • Independent students and graduate students have higher loan limits.

  • Undergraduate interest rate fixed at 3.73%, while grad students get higher 5.28% rate

Available Term Lengths

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

Read Full Review

Our pick for

Borrowers without credit or a co-signer

Graduate PLUS loan interest rates aren't based on your credit score: All eligible borrowers receive the same fixed rate.

Federal Grad PLUS Loan

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Federal Grad PLUS Loan

Min. credit score

None

Fixed APR

7.54-7.54%

Variable APR

N/A

Variable APR

N/A

Key facts

Best for graduate students who need to borrow beyond the federal unsubsidized loan limit.

Pros

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

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

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Our pick for

Borrowers with good credit or a co-signer

College Ave Graduate Student Loan
Check rate

on College Ave's website

College Ave Graduate Student Loan

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
College Ave Graduate Student Loan

Min. credit score

Mid-600s

Fixed APR

4.24-12.99%

Variable APR

3.99-12.99%
Check rate

on College Ave's website


Variable APR

3.99-12.99%

Key facts

Best for graduate students who'll need extra time before starting repayment.

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.

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

Cons

  • You must be at least halfway through your repayment term before you can request a co-signer release.

Qualifications

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

  • Minimum income: $35,000 per year.

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

Available Term Lengths

5, 8, 10 or 15 years

Disclaimer

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through Firstrust Bank, member FDIC, First Citizens Community 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. Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. 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 12/21/2022. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on the creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.

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Ascent Graduate and Health Professions Student Loan
Check rate

on Ascent's website

Ascent Graduate and Health Professions Student Loan

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Ascent Graduate and Health Professions Student Loan

Min. credit score

Varies

Fixed APR

5.62-16.43%

Variable APR

6.31-15.32%
Check rate

on Ascent's website


Variable APR

6.31-15.32%

Key facts

Best for graduate students who want flexible payment options.

Pros

  • Forbearance of 24 months is longer than many lenders offer.

  • Grace period of 9 months is longer than many lenders offer.

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

Cons

  • You must be enrolled at least half-time to qualify.

Qualifications

  • Typical credit score of approved borrowers or co-signers: Not available.

  • Minimum income: Not available.

  • Loan amounts: up to $400,000.

Available Term Lengths

7, 10, 12 or 15 years

Disclaimer

Ascent Student Loans are funded by Bank of Lake Mills, 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.AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs. Rates are effective as of 1/1/2023 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes-based loans). Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: AscentFunding.com/Rates. 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest APRs require interest-only payments, the shortest loan term, and a cosigner, and are only available to our most creditworthy applicants and cosigners with the highest average credit scores.

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Earnest Private Student Loan
Check rate

on Earnest's website

Earnest Private Student Loan

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Earnest Private Student Loan

Min. credit score

650

Fixed APR

4.49-13.95%

Variable APR

4.49-13.25%
Check rate

on Earnest's website


Variable APR

4.49-13.25%

Key facts

An option for borrowers who want flexible repayment.

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 Nevada.

Qualifications

  • Typical credit score of approved borrowers: 758.

  • 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

Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 4.49% APR to 13.95% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 4.49% APR to 13.25% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Although the rate will vary after you are approved, it will never exceed 36% (the maximum allowable for this loan). Please note, Earnest Private Student Loans are not available in Nevada. Our lowest rates are only available for our most credit qualified borrowers and contain our .25% auto pay discount from a checking or savings account. It is important to note that the 0.25% Auto Pay discount is not available while loan payments are deferred.

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Custom Choice Loan, Powered by Cognition
Check rate

on Cognition's website

Custom Choice Loan, Powered by Cognition

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Custom Choice Loan, Powered by Cognition

Min. credit score

Varies

Fixed APR

3.65-12.47%

Variable APR

5.16-13.75%
Check rate

on Cognition's website


Variable APR

5.16-13.75%

Key facts

Best for students at four-year universities who are confident they can take advantage of the 2% Grad Reward.

Pros

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

  • No late fees.

  • Principal reduction of 2% if you graduate.

  • Stands out for features that enable faster loan repayment.

Cons

  • Doesn't apply extra payments to the principal balance by default.

  • Forbearance program is less generous than others.

Qualifications

  • Typical credit score of approved borrowers: 747.

  • Minimum income: No minimum, but borrowers must demonstrate positive income.

  • Loan amounts: $1,000 up to $99,999.

Available Term Lengths

7, 10 or 15 years

Disclaimer

Before applying for a private student loan, Citizens and Cognition Financial recommend comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. The Custom Choice Loan® is made by Citizens (“Lender”). All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to Lender’s underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions and other terms and conditions apply. LENDER AND COGNITION FINANCIAL CORPORATION EACH RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. TERMS, CONDITIONS AND RATES ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. Interest rates and APRs (Annual Percentage Rates) depend upon (1) the student’s and cosigner’s (if applicable) credit histories, (2) the repayment option and repayment term selected, (3) the expected number of years in deferment, (4) the requested loan amount and (5) other information provided on the online loan application. If approved, applicants will be notified of the rate applicable to your loan. Rates and terms are effective as of 1/1/2023 The variable interest rate for each calendar month is calculated by adding the 30-Day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (“SOFR”) index , or a replacement index if the SOFR index is no longer available , plus a fixed margin assigned to each loan. The SOFR index is published on the website of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York . The current SOFR index is 4.01% as of 1/1/2023. The variable interest rate will increase or decrease if the SOFR index changes or if a new index is chosen. The applicable index or margin for variable rate loans may change over time and result in a different APR than shown. The fixed rate assigned to a loan will never change except as required by law or if you request and qualify for the auto pay discount. APRs assume a $10,000 loan with one disbursement. The high APRs assume a 15-year term with the Full Deferment option, a 31 month deferment period, and a six-month grace period before entering repayment. The low APRs assume a 7-year term, and the Immediate Repayment option with payments beginning 30-60 days after the disbursement via auto pay. Auto pay yields a 0.25% interest rate reduction which is applied after the Servicer validates your bank account information and will continue until (1) three automatic deductions are returned for insufficient funds during the life of the loan (after which the discount cannot be reinstated) or (2) automatic deduction of payments is canceled. The auto pay discount is not available when reduced payments are being made or when the loan is in a deferment or forbearance, even if payments are being made.Custom Choice Loan® is a registered trademark of Cognition Financial Corporation.Citizens is a brand name of Citizens Bank, N.A. Member FDIC.

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RISLA Private Student Loan

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
RISLA Private Student Loan

Min. credit score

680

Fixed APR

4.99-6.86%

Variable APR

N/A

Variable APR

N/A

Key facts

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

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

  • Fewer repayment terms available than other lenders.

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

Read Full Review

Advantage Education Private Student Loan

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Advantage Education Private Student Loan

Min. credit score

Does not disclose

Fixed APR

2.84-6.23%

Variable APR

N/A

Variable APR

N/A

Key facts

Best for nontraditional or part-time students.

Pros

  • Forbearance of 24 months is twice as long as most lenders.

  • Loans are available if you’re enrolled less than half time.

Cons

  • Loans may not be available depending on where you live or go to school.

  • Fewer repayment terms than other lenders offer.

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

Qualifications

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

  • Minimum income: Does not disclose.

  • Loan amounts: Minimum $1,000. Maximum depends on creditworthiness and debt-to-income ratio.

Available Term Lengths

10 years

Read Full Review

ISL Private Student Loan

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
ISL Private Student Loan

Min. credit score

670

Fixed APR

3.85-7.91%

Variable APR

4.44-8.89%

Variable APR

4.44-8.89%

Key facts

Best for low-interest loans with consumer-friendly features, like a generous forbearance policy.

Pros

  • Forbearance of 24 months is longer than many lenders offer.

  • No late fees.

Cons

  • Only offers 2 loan terms.

Qualifications

  • Typical credit score of approved borrowers or co-signers: 670.

  • Minimum income: No minimum income.

  • Loan amounts: $1,001 or $2,001, based on residency and school location, up to cost of attendance minus other aid received.

Available Term Lengths

10 or 15

Read Full Review

Our pick for

International borrowers without credit or a co-signer

International students don't qualify for federal aid and have fewer private options without a co-signer who's a U.S. citizen.

MPOWER Private Student Loan
Check rate

on MPOWER's website

MPOWER Private Student Loan

4.0

NerdWallet rating 
MPOWER Private Student Loan

Min. credit score

N/A

Fixed APR

13.72-15.01%

Variable APR

N/A
Check rate

on MPOWER's website


Variable APR

N/A

Key facts

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

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.

  • Borrowers can request forbearance of up to 24 months, which is longer than many lenders offer.

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 $100,000, limited to $25,000 per academic period.

Available Term Lengths

10 years

Disclaimer

Note: Our loan does not support Canadian citizens studying in Canada. Canadian Permanent Residents and U.S. citizens are considered “international” when studying in Canada. International students, U.S. citizens, U.S. permanent residents, and DACA recipients in the U.S. or Canada. ‘International’ means you are a non-U.S. citizen or U.S. non-permanent resident studying at a university in the U.S., or you are a non-Canadian citizen or Canadian non-permanent resident studying at a university in Canada. ‘DACA’ means the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals Program initiated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2012. In order to qualify as a DACA Student, you must have applied for, and been granted, DACA status by USCIS. As a graduate student, you can borrow with a fixed interest rate of 12.99% (13.98% APR¹). This is the maximum rate and will not increase. However, MPOWER offers borrowers a way to qualify for a discount; a 0.25% rate discount is possible by making your loan payments through automatic withdrawal from your bank account. If you qualify for this discount, your rate will be 12.74% (13.72% APR²). ¹[International graduate student with regular interest rate] The APR is calculated using the following assumptions: A loan is approved in the amount of US$10,000 with a 5% origination fee of US$500. The student will start making payments 45 days after loan disbursement. Payments will be interest only until graduation, plus an additional 6-month grace period. The remaining months of repayment are calculated using a 120-month amortization schedule. All payments are made on-time, a forbearance is never utilized, and there is no pre-payment of any principal. At an APR of 13.98%, the monthly payment amount is US$113.66 for the first 30 months. For the next 120 months, the monthly payment amount is about $156.71. ²[International graduate student with discounted interest rate] The APRs with discounts are calculated using the following assumptions: A loan is approved in the amount of $10,000 with a 5% origination fee of US$500. The student will start making payments 45 days after loan disbursement. The borrower signs up for automatic debit immediately after the loan is disbursed and remains on it for the life of the loan, which reduces the rate by 0.25%. At an APR of 13.72%, the monthly payment is US$111.47 for the first 30 months. For the last 120 payments, the monthly amount is US$155.17. Undergraduate Students in the U.S. or Canada Note: Our loan does not support Canadian citizens studying in Canada. Canadian Permanent Residents and U.S. citizens are considered “international” when studying in Canada. International students, U.S. citizens, U.S. permanent residents, and DACA recipients in the U.S. or Canada. ‘International’ means you are a non-U.S. citizen or U.S. non-permanent resident studying at a university in the U.S., or you are a non-Canadian citizen or Canadian non-permanent resident studying at a university in Canada. ‘DACA’ means the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals Program initiated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2012. In order to qualify as a DACA Student, you must have applied for, and been granted, DACA status by USCIS. As an undergraduate student, you can borrow with a fixed interest rate of 13.99% (15.01% APR³). This is the maximum rate and will never increase. However, MPOWER offers borrowers a way to qualify for a discount; a 0.25% rate discount is possible by making your loan payments through automatic withdrawal from your bank account. If you qualify for this discount, your rate will be 13.74% (14.75% APR⁴). ³[International undergraduate student with regular interest rate] The APR is calculated using the following assumptions: A loan is approved in the amount of $10,000 with a 5% origination fee of $500. The student will start making payments 45 days after loan disbursement. Payments will be interest only until graduation plus an additional 6-month grace period. The remaining months of repayment are calculated using a 120-month amortization schedule. All payments are made on-time, a forbearance is never utilized, and there is no pre-payment of any principal. At an APR of 15.01%, the monthly payment amount is $122.41 for the first 30 months. For the next 120 months, the monthly payment amount is $162.97. ⁴[International undergraduate student with discounted interest rate] The APRs with discounts are calculated using the following assumptions: A loan is approved in the amount of US$10,000 with a 5% origination fee of US$500. The student will start making payments 45 days after loan disbursement. The borrower signs up for automatic debit immediately after the loan is disbursed and remains on it for the life of the loan, which reduces the rate by 0.25%. A forbearance is never utilized and there is no prepayment of any principal. At an APR of 14.75%, the monthly payment is US$120.22 for the first 30 payments. For the last 120 payments, the monthly amount is US$161.39.

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Our pick for

Income-based private loan

Edly Private Student Loan

4.0

NerdWallet rating 
Edly Private Student Loan

Min. credit score

None

Fixed APR

N/A

Variable APR

N/A

Variable APR

N/A

Key facts

Best for upperclassmen and graudate students with no co-signer or credit history.

Pros

  • No credit history required.

  • Available to students without a co-signer.

  • No payment required if borrower's income is less than $30,000 per year.

Cons

  • Borrowers have to repay 2.25X the borrowed amount if they want to pay off the loan early.

  • Not available to freshmen and sophomores receiving a four-year degree.

  • Not available to borrowers in Colorado, Maine, Vermont and West Virginia.

Available Term Lengths

5 years of payments and up to 10 years with deferment periods.

Read Full Review

What are the best loans for graduate school?

1. Federal graduate student loans

Borrowers are eligible for two types of federal loans for graduate school: unsubsidized direct loans and grad PLUS 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 — 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.

No one can get subsidized loans for graduate school. Certain professional students may be eligible for a federal health professions student loan as well.

You can apply for federal loans for graduate school by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

2. Ascent Graduate Student Loan

Ascent's graduate student loan is a good option if you or a co-signer has excellent credit.

While federal interest rates are historically low for the 2020-21 academic year, you still may get a better rate with a private graduate student loan. You'll almost certainly pay less in fees: Grad PLUS loans come with an origination fee of more than 4%, while most private lenders don't charge these fees.

Ascent's graduate student loan stands out due to its flexibility. The lender offers a nine-month grace period and 24 months of forbearance — both of which are longer than many other lenders provide.

3. College Ave Graduate Student Loan

College Ave is a good choice if you're working your way through graduate school. Unlike many lenders, including the federal government, College Ave offers graduate student loans if you're attending school less than half-time.

In addition to Ascent and College Ave, graduate students looking at private student loans may want to consider Discover, SoFi, RISLA and Wells Fargo. It's best to get quotes from multiple lenders before applying to ensure you get the best rate possible.

4. Prodigy Graduate Student Loan

Prodigy is a good choice for international graduate students who don't have a U.S. citizen co-signer. You can qualify for a Prodigy graduate student loan without a co-signer; lending decisions are based on your future income, rather than your current financial situation. Prodigy only offers variable-rate loans, which are riskier than fixed-rate options, and doesn't lend to borrowers in all 50 states.

5. Stride Funding Income Share Agreement

An income share agreement, or ISA, is not a student loan, but graduate students may be able to use one to finance their education. Stride Funding prioritizes lending ISAs to graduate students, particularly those in STEM and health care fields.

With an ISA, you promise to pay a percentage of your future income in exchange for upfront funding. You may repay more or less than you receive. Be sure to compare ISAs and student loans to understand their potential costs before borrowing.

Which graduate student loan is best for you?

If you need loans to pay for graduate school, the best option will likely be federal student loans. These offer protections that private graduate school loans lack, including income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs.

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. For example, you may want to pursue Public Service Loan Forgiveness if you plan to get a Ph.D. and work at a university.

If you won't work at a nonprofit or need federal benefits, compare private student loans to see what interest rate you'd qualify for. Many lenders have specific graduate student loan products based on the degree you're pursuing:

Most lenders won't require you to pay student loans while in graduate school, provided you're enrolled at least half-time. But depending on how much you get paid as a graduate student, making payments can save you money because all graduate school loans accrue interest, increasing the amount you owe.

STUDENT LOAN RATINGS METHODOLOGY

Our survey of more than 29 banks, credit unions and online lenders offering student loans and student loan refinancing includes the top 10 lenders by market share and top 10 lenders by online search volume, as well as lenders that serve specialty or nontraditional markets.

We consider 40 features and data points for each financial institution. Depending on the category, these include the availability of biweekly payments through autopay, minimum credit score and income requirement disclosures, availability to borrowers in all states, extended grace periods and in-house customer service.

The stars represent ratings from poor (one star) to excellent (five stars). Ratings are rounded to the nearest half-star.

Last updated on December 2, 2022

To recap our selections...

NerdWallet's Best Graduate Student Loan Options of February 2023

Frequently asked questions

Further reading