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Can You Get Federal Student Loans for Graduate School?

Graduate students can take out federal unsubsidized loans and graduate PLUS loans to pay for school.
Dec. 17, 2019
Loans, Student Loans
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Students enrolled at least half-time can get federal student loans to pay for graduate school. They can receive federal unsubsidized loans and graduate PLUS loans.

Graduate students may also be eligible for other federal student aid, including grants for prospective teachers and work-study funds. Exhaust these options and other money you don’t have to repay before turning to graduate student loans.

If you take out loans, choose federal unsubsidized loans first. Once you’ve borrowed the maximum, use federal grad PLUS loans unless you have great credit and are entering a stable, high-paying profession that would make cheaper private student loans worth giving up federal benefits like income-driven repayment.

Can you get subsidized loans for graduate school?

You cannot receive subsidized loans — where the government pays the interest while you’re in school — for graduate school. Grad students in the past were able to take out federal subsidized loans, but this type of aid was phased out July 1, 2012. Undergraduate students can still get subsidized loans.

Grad students in the past were able to take out federal subsidized loans, but this type of aid was phased out July 1, 2012.

Graduate students can borrow up to $20,500 a year in federal unsubsidized loans. You cannot take out more than $138,000 in unsubsidized and subsidized loans. That maximum includes any loans you received as an undergraduate.

» MORE: How much student loan can I get?

Can you get a parent PLUS loan for graduate school?

Parent PLUS loans aren’t available for graduate school. Only parents of undergraduate students can get these loans.

Graduate students can take out graduate PLUS loans. These are like parent PLUS loans but in the student’s name, not the parent’s. There is no specific dollar limit for grad PLUS loans, like with unsubsidized loans. You can borrow up to your school’s cost of attendance, minus other aid you’ve received.

Parents who want to help pay for advanced degrees can take out or co-sign private graduate school loans for their children. Private student loans have lower fees than PLUS loans and may come with lower interest rates, depending on your credit history.

But opting for a private loan means forgoing benefits like income-driven repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Before passing on PLUS loans, consider whether you’ll need those options based on your graduate degree and career path.

How to take out a loan for graduate school

You can apply for federal student loans for graduate school by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Graduate students don’t have to include their parents’ income information on the FAFSA.

Your school will send you a financial aid award letter based on your FAFSA. Even if that award letter includes a graduate PLUS loan, you’ll still need to submit a separate application to receive this funding.

» MORE: How to get a student loan

You must not have an adverse credit history to take out a PLUS loan for graduate school. If you’re ineligible because of your credit, you can appeal this decision or reapply with an eligible endorser. An endorser, like a co-signer, will share responsibility for the PLUS loan. All graduate students can receive unsubsidized loans, regardless of their credit.

If you want to take out a private graduate student loan, apply directly with the lender. You may need a co-signer to qualify.

Which graduate student loan is right for you?

The average student loan debt for graduate school alone is $71,000, according to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics. But some students take on much more for advanced degrees; dentists average $285,184 in debt, for example.

Federal loans are usually the best choice for grad students because programs like income-driven plans can help keep payments manageable. However, if you have good credit and are entering a profession with strong earning potential, private loans may cost less in the long run.

Many lenders offer student loans for graduate school. Some also have loan programs for specific professional degrees. Evaluate all your options to get the best deal possible.

» MORE: How to get a health professions student loans