5 Best Graduate School Loans to Fund Your Advanced Degree in 2018

graduate school loans

Graduate degree holders earn as much as $24,000 more per year than workers who have only a bachelor’s degree, we found in a recent study.

Whether you’re interested in getting an advanced degree to earn more money, switch career trajectories, follow your passions, or all of the above, chances are your investment in grad school will pay off.

But to get the best return on your investment, you’ll want to limit your graduate school loans and borrowing costs. That means choosing low-cost grad school loans with the right features and terms to meet your needs. Here’s how you can get started, along with the best loans for graduate school available today.

4 factors you should look for in graduate school loans

Whether your goal is to keep your debt manageable while you’re enrolled or to pay off your debt as fast as possible, you’ll want to choose grad school loans that work with your priorities.

The best grad school loans offer low interest rates and fees as well as flexible options that allow you to borrow and repay how you want. As you’re shopping around for loans for graduate school, pay close attention to the following features.

1. Low rates and fees

Graduate students borrow $13,151 per year on average, according to Sallie Mae’s “How America Pays for Graduate School” report. That’s three times the amount undergraduates typically borrow.

Because student loan balances are so high, every bit you can save from low interest rates and fees helps. Follow these tips to find the most cost-effective grad school loans:

  • Watch for fees such as origination fees and application fees, which aren’t always advertised as openly as more beneficial loan features.
  • Pay attention to advertised rates on student loans for graduate school. Keep in mind that advertised rates are the best the lender offers, so unless you have perfect credit, you’ll usually pay more. Check the fine print on advertised rates that can alert you to discounts that might be baked into these comparisons as well.
  • Collect rate quotes from lenders that provide these offers using soft credit checks to avoid dinging your credit. You’ll get offers for graduate school loans tailored specifically to you, and you can compare them to see which one carries the lowest costs.

2. Multiple repayment options

Another feature to watch for is the option to modify payments while you’re in school. Federal student loans and many private grad school loans allow you to defer payment or pay a smaller amount each month while you’re enrolled.

The best loans for graduate school will offer two or more repayment options and allow you to select the one that’s best for you.

3. Graduate school loan amounts

A lender will be a poor fit if its graduate student loans don’t meet your needs. Check minimum and maximum loan amounts to be sure you can get the full amount you need to pay for your educational expenses.

4. Terms on loans for graduate school

The most common student loan term is 10 years. If you want to borrow for a shorter or longer period, you’ll have to check the range of terms each lender offers.

Your student loan term has a big effect on your monthly payments. The longer your loan, the less you’ll pay each month. If you’re borrowing a high balance, for instance, see if the lender can help keep payments affordable with a loan term that’s longer than 10 years. Keep in mind that a longer loan term means you’ll pay significantly more in interest, though.

On the other hand, if you’re not borrowing much or are expecting to earn a lot after graduating, you might benefit more from a five-year loan term. This shorter term will get you out of debt faster and likely will come with a lower student loan rate.

5 best grad school loans of 2018

The process of finding the best graduate school loans starts with familiarizing yourself with lenders that offer them. From there, you can start comparing grad school loans based on rates, fees, and other terms that are important to you.

Kick off your search with the five lenders below. After vetting many products, we think these are the student loans for graduate school that stand out.

1. Citizens Bank Graduate Student Loan

  • Citizens Bank offers fixed-rate and variable-rate student loans
  • Graduate student loan rate discount of 0.25% for autopay enrollment
  • Loyalty discount of 0.25% for borrowers with another Citizens Bank account
  • No origination fee or prepayment penalty
  • Loan terms of five, 10, and 15 years
  • Loan amounts up to the cost of attendance or $110,000, whichever is lower
  • Three in-school repayment options: full deferment, interest-only payments, and immediate principal and interest payments
  • Multiyear approval to easily borrow in the future
  • Option to add a cosigner to secure approval or lower rates
  • Cosigner release after three years of on-time payments
  • Program-specific grad school loans for MBA, law, and health care students
Visit Citizens Bank

2. College Ave Graduate Student Loan

  • College Ave offers fixed-rate and variable-rate student loans
  • 0.25% interest rate discount for enrolling in autopay
  • No student loan origination fee or prepayment penalty
  • Loan terms of eight, 10, 12, and 15 years
  • Grad school loans from $2,000 up to the cost of attendance
  • Four in-school repayment options: full deferment, flat $25 monthly payments, interest-only payments, and full principal and interest payments
  • Option to add a cosigner to your College Ave student loan
  • Pre-qualification tool that delivers rate estimates without affecting your credit
Visit College Ave

3. Connext Graduate Loan

  • Connext offers fixed-rate and variable-rate student loans
  • 0.25% rate discount for automatic payments
  • No student loan origination fee or prepayment penalty
  • Grad school loans of 10 and 15 years
  • Connext student loan amounts up to the full cost of attendance
  • Option to apply with a cosigner
  • Grad school loan offers from a network of local banks and credit unions
Visit Connext

4. Sallie Mae Graduate Student Loan

  • Sallie Mae offers fixed-rate and variable-rate student loans
  • 0.25% rate discount for enrolling in autopay
  • No grad school loan origination fee or prepayment penalty
  • Sallie Mae student loan terms of five to 15 years
  • Loan amounts from $1,000 up to the full cost of attendance
  • Three repayment options for in-school borrowers: full deferment, fixed $25 monthly payment, and interest-only payments
  • Optional interest-only payments for an additional 12 months after leaving graduate school
  • Option to add a cosigner to graduate student loans
Visit Sallie Mae

5. CommonBond Graduate Student Loan

  • CommonBond offers fixed-rate and variable-rate student loans
  • Interest rate discount of 0.25% for setting up automatic payments
  • Loan origination fee of 2 percent and no prepayment penalty
  • CommonBond student loan terms of five, 10, and 15 years
  • Loan amounts up to the full cost of attendance
  • Four in-school repayment options: full deferment, fixed $25 monthly payments, interest-only payments, and full principal and interest payments
  • Requirement to apply with cosigner
  • Cosigner release after two years of payments
  • Forbearance for financial hardship in repayment
Visit CommonBond

Should you use private student loans for graduate school?

We highlighted the best private lenders offering graduate school loans above, but they aren’t your only options for financing your advanced degree.

Your graduate student loan options also include two federal student loans, both of which have higher rates and fees than other federal student loans:

  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans for graduate students: 6.00% interest rate with 1.066 percent loan fee
  • Grad PLUS Loans: 7.00% interest rate with 4.264 percent loan fee

Because graduate students face some of the highest federal student loan rates, they have an opportunity to save by choosing private grad school loans.

Which option is more cost-effective for you? Find out by getting a few student loan offers and comparing the quoted rates to what you’d pay on a federal student loan for graduate school.

Here are some additional considerations when you’re deciding between private and federal grad school loans:

  • Your credit: Private student loans are an option only if you have good enough credit to qualify or a creditworthy cosigner. If you don’t, federal graduate school loans might be more accessible.
  • Borrower protections: If you want a strong safety net, federal grad school loans make sense. Federal student loans offer full in-school deferment of student loans as well as several repayment options, including forbearance and income-driven repayment plans.

In addition to considering student loans, make sure you take full advantage of scholarships and grants for grad school, which can help you limit your grad school loans.

It can feel intimidating to figure out how to pay for grad school. But the time and effort you put in now to apply for scholarships and grants and shop for graduate school loans will pay off for years to come.

Need a student loan?

Here are our top student loan lenders of 2018!
LenderRates (APR)Eligibility 

1 = Citizens Disclaimer.

2 = CollegeAve Autopay Disclaimer: 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.

* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of
Smart Option Student Loan customers.

3 = Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
3.92% -
Undergraduate, Graduate, and ParentsVisit CollegeAve
3.62% - 11.85%*3Undergraduate and GraduateVisit SallieMae
2.93% -
Undergraduate, Graduate, and ParentsVisit CommonBond
3.53% -
Undergraduate, Graduate, and ParentsVisit Citizens
4.21% - 9.69%Undergraduate and GraduateVisit LendKey
3.35% - 10.89%Undergraduate and GraduateVisit Connext
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