10 States Where a Graduate Degree Boosts Your Pay by $17,000 (or More)

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Deciding whether grad school is worth it isn’t always easy, especially since graduate programs typically carry higher tuition costs than undergraduate degrees.

But according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey, at the national level, the median salary for workers who attained a professional degree, graduate degree, or higher (such as a Ph.D., MD, or MBA) was $69,240 (inflation-adjusted to 2017 dollars). That’s 32.14 percent more than those who earned just a bachelor’s degree.

However, finding graduate degrees that pay off also can depend on where you live. A new Student Loan Hero study revealed the top 10 states where a graduate degree resulted in the biggest pay bumps.

If you’re thinking of going back to school to earn an additional degree, check to see if your state is on this list. If it is, going to grad school might be an especially good investment, especially if you can qualify for private student loans for grad school at an affordable interest rate.

10 states where you can find graduate degrees that pay off

In all states, earning a graduate degree raised pay by at least 21 percent.

Plus, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people who earned a graduate degree also faced lower unemployment rates and higher job growth compared to those with just a bachelor’s degree.

In the following study, Student Loan Hero ranked every state and the District of Columbia by the difference in pay between workers with a bachelor’s degree and those with a graduate degree to determine graduate degrees that pay off. We considered the raise amount both in real dollars and as a percentage pay increase.

1. California

  • Median graduate degree salary: $82,299
  • Undergraduate versus graduate degree pay difference: $24,293
  • Pay raise for earning a graduate degree: 41.88 percent

California earned the top spot by offering significantly higher pay to its workers with a graduate degree compared to those with a bachelor’s degree.

It also had the highest pay jump in dollars. The median salary for a four-year college graduate in California was $58,006. For a California resident with a graduate degree, it was $82,299.

Additionally, it was one of four states where a graduate degree netted a pay bump of more than 40 percent. That means you can find graduate degrees that pay off here.

Given California’s high cost of living (among the highest in the nation), netting a pay increase could be essential for California residents looking to get ahead financially.

2. Virginia

  • Median graduate degree salary: $81,401
  • Undergraduate versus graduate degree pay difference: $23,914
  • Pay raise for earning a graduate degree: 41.60 percent

Virginia was one of six states where people with a graduate degree earned median wages above $80,000 a year. When that’s compared to the $57,487 median pay netted by Virginians holding a bachelor’s degree, there is a clear substantial financial benefit to continuing education.

3. Utah

  • Median graduate degree salary: $67,575
  • Undergraduate versus graduate degree pay difference: $20,923
  • Pay raise for earning a graduate degree: 44.85 percent

Utah offered the biggest pay raise by percentage for individuals earning a graduate degree.

What’s more, Utah also offered some of the lowest tuition prices and student debt levels for residents earning a bachelor’s degree. That likely translated to savings and low debt levels for Utah residents seeking a graduate degree.

4. District of Columbia

  • Median degree salary: $88,431
  • Undergraduate versus graduate degree pay difference: $23,945
  • Pay raise for earning a graduate degree: 37.13 percent

The District of Columbia’s median graduate degree salary was the highest of any state, which likely was a reflection of D.C.’s unique geographic and economic landscape.

Only Washington, D.C., and one other state offered median pay above $85,000 per year to workers with a graduate degree.

Washington, D.C., also boasted the second-highest dollar-for-dollar pay bump for those who earned a graduate degree.

5. Idaho

  • Median graduate degree salary: $60,922
  • Undergraduate versus graduate degree pay difference: $18,623
  • Pay raise for earning a graduate degree: 44.03 percent

Idaho came in at No. 2 for the highest pay raise by percentage. Residents who earned a graduate degree boosted their earnings by 44.03 percent. That’s despite delivering the lowest pay for graduate degree holders among the 10 top-ranked states.

For Idaho residents with a high school diploma, earning a bachelor’s degree boosted earnings by $16,263 to $42,299 a year. However, a graduate degree came with an even bigger raise of more than $18,600 a year.

6. New Jersey

  • Median graduate degree salary: $85,789
  • Undergraduate versus graduate degree pay difference: $22,483
  • Pay raise for earning a graduate degree: 35.51 percent

New Jersey workers who earned a graduate degree commanded some of the highest pay in the nation, with median salaries second only to those in Washington, D.C.

The median salary for New Jersey residents with a graduate degree was a third higher than the $63,307 median salary for workers with a bachelor’s degree.

7. Maryland

  • Median graduate degree salary: $84,003
  • Undergraduate versus graduate degree pay difference: $21,567
  • Pay raise for earning a graduate degree: 34.54 percent

After Washington, D.C., and New Jersey, Maryland had the third-highest median pay for workers with a graduate degree.

Graduate degrees offered a pay raise of more than a third from the $63,436 median pay for Maryland residents who held just a bachelor’s degree.

8. Michigan

  • Median graduate degree salary: $69,099
  • Undergraduate versus graduate degree pay difference: $18,744
  • Pay raise for earning a graduate degree: 37.22 percent

Earning a graduate degree led to decent returns for Michigan residents. The median pay for people with at least a graduate degree was 37.22 percent higher than the median pay for bachelor’s degree holders, which was $50,355.

Add in the state’s low cost of living (third-lowest in the nation, according to GOBankingRates), and these factors made Michigan a state where graduate degree holders got the most out of an additional diploma.

9. North Dakota

  • Median graduate degree salary: $62,675
  • Undergraduate versus graduate degree pay difference: $17,568
  • Typical pay raise for earning a graduate degree: 38.95 percent

North Dakota’s workers with a graduate degree earned more than $62,500 a year — the lowest salary among the top 10 states after Idaho.

However, this salary represented a relatively large pay jump for North Dakota residents who chose to continue their education past a bachelor’s degree, boosting pay by nearly two-fifths.

10. Alaska

  • Median graduate degree salary: $73,871
  • Undergraduate versus graduate degree pay difference: $19,221
  • Typical pay raise for earning a graduate degree: 35.17 percent

The last state in the top 10 was Alaska, where holding a graduate degree resulted in a pay raise of just over $19,000.

The median graduate degree salary raise represented a significant increase compared to the $54,650 median annual salary for workers holding a bachelor’s degree.

Methodology: Student Loan Hero generated these rankings based on the following factors: (1) the pay difference, in dollars, between the median salary for workers with a graduate or professional degree and those with a bachelor’s degree and (2) the pay difference expressed as a percentage pay raise between those two levels of educational attainment.

These factors were equally weighted to find the states where a graduate degree resulted in the highest pay bumps in both real dollars and relative pay raises. Pay data was sourced from the Census Bureau’s 2011-2015 American Community Survey and represented median annual salary estimates by educational attainment. Wage estimates were adjusted for inflation to 2017 dollars, per Consumer Price Index estimates.

Rank State Bachelor’s degree salary Graduate degree salary Dollar pay increase Percentage pay raise
National – U.S. $52,398 $69,240 $16,842 32.14%
1 California $58,006 $82,299 $24,293 41.88%
2 Virginia $57,487 $81,401 $23,914 41.60%
3 Utah $46,651 $67,575 $20,923 44.85%
4 District of Columbia $64,486 $88,431 $23,945 37.13%
5 Idaho $42,299 $60,922 $18,623 44.03%
6 New Jersey $63,307 $85,789 $22,483 35.51%
7 Maryland $62,436 $84,003 $21,567 34.54%
8 Michigan $50,355 $69,099 $18,744 37.22%
9 North Dakota $45,107 $62,675 $17,568 38.95%
10 Alaska $54,650 $73,871 $19,221 35.17%
11 Rhode Island $53,614 $72,351 $18,737 34.95%
12 Oregon $45,001 $61,930 $16,930 37.62%
13 Illinois $53,936 $71,832 $17,896 33.18%
14 Nevada $47,474 $64,170 $16,697 35.17%
15 Florida $44,917 $60,823 $15,906 35.41%
16 New York $56,146 $73,958 $17,812 31.72%
17 Pennsylvania $51,958 $68,937 $16,979 32.68%
18 Connecticut $62,489 $80,569 $18,080 28.93%
19 Hawaii $48,251 $63,909 $15,659 32.45%
20 Wyoming $47,141 $62,453 $15,312 32.48%
21 Montana $39,647 $53,392 $13,745 34.67%
22 Indiana $47,258 $62,415 $15,157 32.07%
23 Minnesota $53,158 $69,240 $16,081 30.25%
24 Massachusetts $59,062 $75,928 $16,866 28.56%
25 Washington $55,720 $72,012 $16,293 29.24%
26 Vermont $42,574 $56,625 $14,051 33.00%
27 Texas $53,544 $69,470 $15,926 29.74%
28 Delaware $52,979 $68,587 $15,608 29.46%
29 Iowa $48,035 $62,688 $14,653 30.51%
30 Nebraska $45,832 $59,916 $14,084 30.73%
31 Colorado $50,644 $65,436 $14,792 29.21%
32 North Carolina $46,994 $61,133 $14,139 30.09%
33 Wisconsin $49,026 $63,433 $14,407 29.39%
34 New Mexico $44,799 $58,423 $13,624 30.41%
35 Ohio $51,037 $65,433 $14,395 28.21%
36 New Hampshire $53,612 $68,266 $14,654 27.33%
37 Arkansas $45,673 $58,702 $13,029 28.53%
38 Maine $43,095 $55,404 $12,309 28.56%
39 West Virginia $43,686 $55,893 $12,206 27.94%
40 Tennessee $45,868 $58,372 $12,504 27.26%
41 Missouri $46,067 $58,456 $12,388 26.89%
42 Arizona $49,875 $62,737 $12,862 25.79%
43 Oklahoma $44,255 $56,083 $11,828 26.73%
44 Kansas $47,266 $59,512 $12,246 25.91%
45 South Dakota $41,914 $52,750 $10,836 25.85%
46 Mississippi $42,412 $53,299 $10,888 25.67%
47 Georgia $51,771 $63,557 $11,787 22.77%
48 South Carolina $45,270 $55,732 $10,462 23.11%
49 Kentucky $45,826 $56,159 $10,333 22.55%
50 Alabama $48,089 $58,553 $10,464 21.76%
51 Louisiana $48,794 $59,096 $10,302 21.11%

Interested in refinancing student loans?

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1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.

Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.89% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.87% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.47% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.87% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of Month/Day/Year, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.

Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.

The information provided on this page is updated as of 08/21/18. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at hello@earnest.com, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on ourstudent loan refinance product.

© 2018 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.


2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

  1. VARIABLE APR – APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rates are based on a Current Index, which is the 1-month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) (currency in US dollars), as published on The Wall Street Journal’s website. The variable interest rates and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will increase or decrease when the 1-month LIBOR index changes.

3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: Fixed rates from 3.899% APR to 8.179% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.570% APR to 6.980% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. SoFi rate ranges are current as of September 14, 2018 and are subject to change without notice. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.570% APR assumes the current index rate derived from the 1-month LIBOR of 2.08% plus 0.740% margin minus 0.25% AutoPay discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score.
  2. Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)

4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.


5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

  1. Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). The following table displays the estimated monthly payment, total interest, and Annual Percentage Rates (APR) for a $10,000 loan. The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) shown for each in-school loan product reflects the accruing interest, the effect of one-time capitalization of interest at the end of a deferment period, a 2% origination fee, and the applicable Repayment Plan. All loans are eligible for a 0.25% reduction in interest rate by agreeing to automatic payment withdrawals once in repayment, which is reflected in the interest rates and APRs displayed. Variable rates may increase after consummation. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.08% effective July 25, 2018.

6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Education Refinance Loan Rate DisclosureVariable 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 August 1, 2018, the one-month LIBOR rate is 2.07%. Variable interest rates range from 2.57%-8.17% (2.57%-8.17% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the borrower’s loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Fixed interest rates range from 3.75%-8.69% (3.75%-8.69% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Lowest rates shown require application with a cosigner, are for eligible, creditworthy applicants with a graduate level degree, require a 5-year repayment term and include our Loyalty discount and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. The maximum variable rate on the Education Refinance Loan is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. 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 their loan.
  2. Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer with the Education Refinance Loan. Borrowers should carefully review their current benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans and replace those with the benefits of the Education Refinance Loan. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision at http://www.citizensbank.com/EdRefinance, including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
  3. Citizens Bank Education Refinance Loan Eligibility: Eligible applicants may not be currently enrolled, must be in repayment of their existing student loan(s) and must make the minimum number of payments after leaving school. Primary borrowers must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. Resident aliens must apply with a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The co-signer (if applicable) must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer will be required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Education Refinance Loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, certification of borrower’s student loan amount(s) and highest degree earned.
  4. Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  5. Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
  6. Co-signer Release: Borrowers may apply for co-signer release after making 36 consecutive on-time payments of principal and interest. For the purpose of the application for co-signer release, on-time payments are defined as payments received within 15 days of the due date. Interest only payments do not qualify. The borrower must meet certain credit and eligibility guidelines when applying for the co-signer release. Borrowers must complete an application for release and provide income verification documents as part of the review. Borrowers who use deferment or forbearance will need to make 36 consecutive on-time payments after reentering repayment to qualify for release. The borrower applying for co-signer release must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. If an application for co-signer release is denied, the borrower may not reapply for co-signer release until at least one year from the date the application for co-signer release was received. Terms and conditions apply.
  7. Estimated average savings amount is based on 14,659 Education Refinance Loan customers who saved on loans between August 1, 2017 and July 31, 2018. The calculation is derived by averaging monthly savings across Education Refinance Loan customers whose payment amounts decreased after refinancing, calculated by taking the monthly payment prior to refinancing minus the monthly payment after refinancing. We excluded monthly savings from customers that exceeded $4,375 and were lower than $20 to minimize risk of data error skewing the savings amounts. Savings will vary based on interest rates, balances and remaining repayment term of loans to be refinanced. Borrower’s overall repayment amount may be higher than the loans they are refinancing even if monthly payments are lower.

2.57% – 6.98%3Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit SoFi
2.47% – 5.87%1Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Earnest
2.47% – 8.03%4Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Lendkey
2.80% – 6.22%2Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Laurel Road
2.48% – 6.25%5Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit CommonBond
2.57% – 8.17%6Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Citizens
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