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You have three options for graduate school loans:

  • Federal direct unsubsidized loans
  • Federal grad PLUS loans
  • Private graduate student loans

Federal loans are easy to get and offer great borrower protections like income-driven repayment. But if you or a cosigner have strong credit, you can often qualify for lower interest rates on private grad school loans.

Before making up your mind about student loans for graduate school, request rates from the private lenders below, and compare them with rates on federal loans.

In this post:

Best lenders for graduate school loans

LenderFixed Rates From (APR)
Variable Rates From (APR)Get Rates
Federal direct unsubsidized loans

6.08% (2019-20)n/aCheck rates
On Department of Education website
Federal grad PLUS loans7.08% (2019-20)n/aCheck rates
On Department of Education website
ascent
4.21%+3.22%+Get Rates
Ascent review
citizens
4.40%+¹2.73%+¹Get Rates
Citizens Bank review
collegeave
4.89%+2
2.84%+2Get Rates
College Ave review
discover
5.09% - 12.49%6
3.47% - 11.62%6Get Rates
Discover review
edvestinu
4.50%+
3.78%+
Get Rates
EDvestinU review
invested
4.63%+3.38%+Get Rates
INvested review
mefa
3.95%+n/aGet Rates
INvested review

4.74% - 11.35%9
2.75% - 10.22%9
Get Rates
Sallie Mae review

3.82%7
2.52%7
Get Rates
SunTrust Bank review
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Lowest APRs reflect autopay, loyalty, and interest-only repayment discounts where available | 1Citizens Bank Disclosures | 2,3College Ave Disclosures | 6Discover Disclosures | 7SunTrust Bank Disclosures | 9Sallie Mae Disclosures


Citizens Bank Student Loan Rate Disclosure

Variable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate ("LIBOR") published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of December 1, 2019, the one-month LIBOR rate is 1.70%. Variable interest rates range from 2.73%-11.06% (2.73%-10.91% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Fixed interest rates range from 4.40%-12.19% (4.40% - 12.04% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Lowest rates shown requires application with a co- signer, are for eligible applicants, require a 5-year repayment term, borrower making scheduled payments while in school and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of the loan.

Best graduate student loans for all borrowers

As was the case when you were an undergraduate, it’s usually best to max out on more affordable federal student loans before turning to private loans. But there are two types of federal loans for grad school, each with different interest rates, fees, and borrowing limits.

1. Federal direct unsubsidized loans

Federal direct unsubsidized loans carry higher rates than loans to undergraduates, but can still be the best student loans for graduate school — until you hit your borrowing limits.

Interest rates and fees

  • Fixed rate: 6.08% (2019-20)
  • Upfront fee: 1.059% (before October 1, 2020)

Loan details and eligibility

  • Annual borrowing limit: $20,500
  • Total borrowing limit: $138,500 ($224,000 for med school students)
  • Eligibility: no credit check

Pros

  • Access to all federal repayment plans
  • Potential loan forgiveness after 10, 20 or 25 years of payments
  • Rights to deferral or forbearance

Cons

  • May not cover the full cost of tuition and expenses
  • Higher interest rates than federal loans to undergraduates
  • Interest not subsidized while in school

Learn More: Hidden Costs of Federal Direct Unsubsidized Student Loans

2. Federal grad PLUS loans

Federal grad PLUS loans have the highest interest rates and fees of any federal loan. But you can borrow up to your school’s cost of attendance. Depending on how long you take to repay your loan, the 4.236% up-front fee — which is taken out of your loan proceeds — can have the same effect as adding a full percentage point to your annual percentage rate (APR).

Interest rates and fees

  • Fixed rate: 7.08% (2019-20)
  • Upfront fee: 4.236% (before October 1, 2020)

Loan details and eligibility

  • Annual borrowing limit: none
  • Total borrowing limit: School’s cost of attendance, minus other aid received
  • Minimum credit score: None, but must pass a basic credit check with no adverse credit history

Pros

  • Access to all federal repayment plans
  • Potential loan forgiveness after 10, 20 or 25 years of payments
  • Rights to deferral or forbearance

Cons

  • Highest interest rates and fees of any federal loan
  • Your ability to repay is not evaluated, so it’s easy to borrow too much
  • Interest not subsidized while in school

Learn More: Grad PLUS Loans: What You Need to Know

Best private grad school loans without credit or a cosigner

Federal loans are the best graduate student loans for borrowers who lack a credit history or a cosigner. But if you would rather take out a private student loan, Ascent is an option worth considering.

1. Ascent

  • Loan terms: 5 or 10 years (Ascent Tuition loan, 15-year term also available with variable-rate loans); 10 years (Ascent Independent loan, 15-year term also available with variable-rate loans)
  • Loan amounts: $2,000 minimum, up to school's cost of attendance within $200,000 cap
  • Repayment plans: Defer payments or make interest-only or $25 minimum monthly payment while in school
  • Application fees: No application, origination, or disbursement fees
  • Discounts: 0.25% automatic payment discount, 1% cash back graduation reward Cosigner release option: Cosigner release available after 24 months of consecutive monthly on-time payments
  • Eligibility: Ascent Tuition: Minimum FICO 600 (borrower with cosigner) and 660 (cosigner). Cosigner not required for Ascent Independent loan. No minimum income or credit score requirement for borrowers with less than two years of credit history. Borrowers with two years of credit history need 680 credit score and $24,000 annual income.
  • Loan servicer: University Account Service (UAS)

Learn More: Ascent Review: Private Student Loans With No Fees

Best graduate student loans with good credit or a cosigner

If you have good credit, or a relative or friend who is willing to cosign a loan for you, some private student lenders offer rates that can be competitive with federal loans for graduate students. Keep in mind that private lenders usually don’t offer protections comparable to federal income-driven repayment and loan forgiveness programs.

1. College Ave

  • Loan terms: 5, 8, 10, 15 years
  • Loan amounts: Up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance ($1,000 minimum)
  • Repayment plans: Make full principal and interest, interest only, or flat payments while in school; or defer payments until six months after leaving school
  • Application fees: No application, origination, or disbursement fees
  • Discounts: 0.25% rate deduction with autopay
  • Cosigner release option: Cosigner release available once more than half of the scheduled repayment period has elapsed.
  • Eligibility: Available to all U.S. residents attending an eligible undergraduate or graduate school
  • Loan servicer: University Accounting Service LLC

Learn More: College Ave Student Loans Review

2. Discover

  • Loan terms: 15 years (undergraduate) or 20 years (graduate, MBA and professional loans)
  • Loan amounts: Up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
  • Repayment plans: Defer payments until 6 months after leaving school, or make interest only or fixed monthly payments while enrolled.
  • Application fees: No application, origination, or disbursement fees
  • Discounts: 0.25% autopay discount; good grade award (one-time cash reward for each new loan for earning 3.0 GPA or equivalent)
  • Cosigner release option: Not offered
  • Eligibility: U.S. citizen, permanent resident or international student (international students require a cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident). Be 16 years or older at the time you apply
  • Loan servicer: Discover Bank

Learn More: Discover Review: Private Student Loans

3. Sallie Mae

  • Loan terms: 5 to 15 years
  • Loan amounts: Up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
  • Repayment plans: Make interest-only or fixed monthly amount while in school, or defer payments until six months after leaving school
  • Application fees: No application, origination, or disbursement fees
  • Discounts: 0.25% autopay discount
  • Cosigner release option: Available after making 12 on-time principal and interest payments and meeting credit requirements
  • Eligibility: U.S. Citizen or U.S. Permanent Resident. Non-U.S. citizen students, including DACA students attending a school located in the U.S., are eligible to apply with a creditworthy cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident.
  • Loan servicer: Sallie Mae

Learn More: Sallie Mae Student Loan Review: Are They Worth It?

Which graduate student loan option is best for you?

Although having so many options for grad school loans might seem confusing, it’s helpful to sort your options into three groups:

  • Federal direct unsubsidized loans: Higher rates than you paid as an undergraduate, but still the best student loans for graduate school — until you hit your borrowing limits.
  • Federal grad PLUS loans: PLUS loans have the highest interest rates and fees of any federal loan, but they’re easy to get and offer borrower protections like income-driven repayment
  • Private graduate school loans: If you or your cosigner have strong credit, you can often qualify for a lower interest rate on private grad school loans than federal loans for grad students

The borrower protections on federal loans can be hard to beat, the interest rates can be high — particularly on grad PLUS loans. Before making a decision, it can pay to request personalized rates on private student loans, and compare them to rates for federal loans. Use a student loan calculator to estimate your total repayment costs.

For some borrowers, the savings they can achieve by taking out private student loans at lower rates are worth more to them than the protections provided with federal loans.

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About the author
Matt Carter
Matt Carter

Matt Carter is a Credible expert on student loans. Analysis pieces he’s contributed to have been featured by CNBC, CNN Money, USA Today, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

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