7 Excellent Graduate Student Loans to Fund Your Advanced Degree in 2021

 March 15, 2021
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1.13% to 11.23% 2
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0.99% to 11.44% 3
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Whether you’re interested in getting an advanced degree to earn more money or alter your career trajectory, chances are your investment in grad school could pay off.

But to get the best return on that investment, you’ll want to limit your graduate student loans and borrowing costs. This means choosing the best graduate student loan for you — likely something low-cost and with the right features and terms to meet your needs.

To get started, check out our list of some solid student loans for graduate school available today, as well as tips on deciding which loan is best for you:

7 top private graduate student loans

The process of finding the best graduate student loans — at least in terms of private loans — starts with familiarizing yourself with the lenders that offer them. From there, you can begin comparing graduate student loans based on rates, fees and other terms that are important to you.

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

Lender APR (Fixed rate) Special benefit
1. Citizens Bank 4.18% – 11.70% Multi-year loan approval
2. College Ave 2.99% – 12.99% Slick prequalification process
3. Sallie Mae 4.25% – 12.59% Industry-best 12-month cosigner release policy
4. CommonBond 3.74% – 10.74% No longer charges loan origination fees
5. Earnest 2.99% – 12.78% Annual skip-a-payment option
6. SoFi 4.13% – 10.66% Variety of membership perks
7. Ascent 2.97% – 12.95% No cosigner necessary

 

1. Citizens Bank graduate student loan

  • Citizens Bank offers fixed-rate and variable-rate student loans
  • Graduate student loan rate discount of 0.25 percentage points for autopay enrollment
  • Loyalty discount of 0.25 percentage points for borrowers with another Citizens Bank account
  • No origination fee or prepayment penalty
  • Loan terms of 5 years
  • Program-specific graduate student loans for MBA, law and health care students
  • Aggregate loan limits for graduate degrees ($150,000), MBA and law students ($225,000) and healthcare degrees ($180,000 to $350,000)
  • Three in-school repayment options: Deferment, interest-only payments and full 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

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2. College Ave graduate student loan

  • College Ave offers fixed-rate and variable-rate student loans
  • Interest rate discount of 0.25 percentage points for enrolling in autopay
  • No student loan origination fee or prepayment penalty
  • Loan terms of 5,8, 10, 15 years
  • Graduate student loans from $1,000 up to the cost of attendance
  • Four in-school repayment options: Full deferment, flat $25 monthly payments, interest-only payments and immediate principal and interest payments
  • Option to add a cosigner to your College Ave student loan
  • Prequalification tool that delivers rate estimates without affecting your credit

Visit College Ave

3. Sallie Mae Graduate School Loan

  • Sallie Mae offers fixed-rate and variable-rate student loans
  • Rate discount for enrolling in autopay of 0.25 percentage points
  • No graduate student loan origination fee or prepayment penalty
  • Sallie Mae student loan term of 5, 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
  • Option to add a cosigner to graduate student loans

Visit Sallie Mae

4. CommonBond Graduate Student Loan

  • CommonBond offers fixed-rate and variable-rate student loans
  • Interest rate discount of 0.25 percentage points for setting up automatic payments
  • No prepayment penalty
  • CommonBond student loan terms of 5, 10, 15 years
  • Loan amounts from $2,000 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 24 months of payments
  • Up to 12 months of forbearance for financial hardship in repayment

Visit CommonBond

5. Earnest graduate student loan

  • Earnest offers fixed-rate and variable-rate student loans
  • Graduate student loan rate discount of 0.25 percentage points for autopay enrollment
  • No fees
  • Most possible loan term options: 5, 10, 15 years
  • Borrow from $1,000 up to the cost of your school’s attendance
  • Four in-school repayment options: Full deferment, interest-only payments, $25 monthly payments and immediate principal and interest payments
  • Program-specific graduate student loans for MBA, law and medical school students
  • Ability to skip one payment per year
  • 9-month grace period is three months longer than most lenders
  • Check your eligibility in minutes
  • Option to add a cosigner to secure approval or lower rates
  • No cosigner release policy

Visit Earnest

6. SoFi graduate student loan

  • SoFi offers fixed-rate and variable-rate student loans
  • Graduate student loan rate discount of 0.25 percentage points for autopay enrollment
  • No fees
  • Loan terms of 5, 10, 15 years
  • Borrow from $5,000 up to your school’s full cost of attendance
  • Four in-school repayment options: Full deferment, interest-only payments, $25 monthly payments and immediate principal and interest payments
  • Program-specific graduate student loans for MBA and law school students
  • Check rates in minutes
  • Access member benefits like career and financial coaching
  • Unemployment protection to help you get by in repayment
  • Option to add a cosigner to secure approval or lower rates
  • Cosigner release after 24 months of on-time payments

Visit Sofi

7. Ascent graduate student loan

  • Ascent offers fixed-rate and variable-rate student loans
  • Graduate student loan rate discount of autopay enrollment equates to 1% cash back
  • No fees
  • Loan terms of 7, 10, 12, 15 and 20 years (depending on your rate choice)
  • Borrow from $2,001 to your school’s full cost of attendance (depending on your loan type)
  • Three in-school repayment options: Full deferment, interest-only payments or $25 monthly payments
  • Program-specific graduate student loans for MBA, law and health care students
  • 9-month grace period is three months longer than most lenders
  • Offers cosigned and non-cosigned graduate student loans

Visit Ascent

How to compare private graduate student loans

Whether your goal is to keep your debt manageable while you’re enrolled or to pay off your student loans as quickly as possible, you’ll want to choose graduate student loans that work with your priorities. These could be private loans or federal loans (discussed below).

The best graduate student 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
2. Multiple repayment options
3. Graduate student loan amounts
4. Terms on loans for graduate school

1. Low rates and fees

Because of various factors, including higher education tuition costs, graduate students tend to borrow a lot more than their undergraduate peers.

With balances so high, every bit you can save from lower interest rates and fees helps. Follow these tips to find the most cost-effective graduate student loans:

  • Watch for charges like origination and application fees, which aren’t always advertised as openly as some 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. In addition, check the fine print on advertised rates that can alert you to discounts that might be baked into these comparisons.
  • Collect rate quotes from lenders — they generally use soft credit checks for this to avoid dinging your credit. You’ll get offers for graduate student 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 graduate student loans allow you to pay a smaller amount each month while you’re enrolled or even defer payment completely.

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

3. Graduate student 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’ll need to pay for your educational expenses.

Some private lenders allow you to borrow up to 100% of your cost of attendance, while others might balk at providing funds beyond a certain, typically six-figure amount.

Of course, your field of study and career track could determine your borrowing needs.

Best graduate student loans for…
Medical school
Dental school
Business school
Law school

4. Terms on graduate student loans

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 term, 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, however, that a longer loan term means you’ll pay significantly more in interest.

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

Federal options alongside private graduate student loans

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

Your graduate student loan options also include two types of federal student loans, though both of these carry higher rates and fees than other federal student loans for the 2020-21 school year:

  • Direct unsubsidized loans for graduate students: 4.30% interest rate with 1.057% loan fee
  • Grad PLUS loans: 5.30% interest rate with 4.228% loan fee

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

Cost-effectiveness, though, isn’t the only important factor when weighing private and federal graduate student loans. Here are some additional considerations:

  • Your credit: Private student loans are an option only if you have good enough credit to qualify or have a creditworthy cosigner. If you don’t, federal graduate student loans might be more accessible.
  • Borrower protections: If you want a strong safety net, federal graduate student 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, as well as loan forgiveness programs for certain professions.

Before considering any student loans, however, make sure you prioritize scholarships and grants to limit your graduate student loans as much as possible.

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 could pay off for years to come.

Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.

 

Need a student loan?

Check out our top picks below or learn more about other ways to pay for college.
Variable APRDegrees That QualifyMore Info
0.99% – 11.98%1 Undergraduate
Graduate

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1.13% – 11.23%2 Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit SallieMae

0.99% – 11.44%3 Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit Earnest

1.50% – 11.33%4 Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit Ascent

1.12% – 11.23%5 Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit SoFi

1.15% – 11.01%6 Undergraduate
Graduate

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