What Is the Average Graduate Student Loan Debt?

September 23, 2019 · 5 minute read

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What Is the Average Graduate Student Loan Debt?

With your undergraduate years behind you, you may be mulling over what’s next. Will you take time to gather work experience in your field of interest? Or perhaps you already know in what professional direction your headed. If that’s the case, and grad school is in your future, you might be comparing institutions to determine which one is the best fit for you.

According to the most recent U.S. census data, almost 22% of Americans above the age of 25 hold a bachelor’s degree, and around 13% of them went on to earn even higher degrees—master’s degree, doctorate, or other professional degree.

The number of U.S. college students has been rising, and with increased university enrollment has come increased national student debt. Student loan debt in America currently totals around $1.5 trillion .

If graduate school is your next step, it’s a good idea to know how much debt you may be saddled with once you have that freshly printed degree in hand—as well as how much money you stand to earn in your chosen profession. Here’s a look at the average graduate student loan debt for different graduate school options in the U.S.

Average Loans for Law School

Approximately 130,000 people enrolled in U.S. law schools last year, and those who graduated left with anywhere between $51,000 and $213,000 in student loan debt. The average amount of debt for a private law school grad last year was $130,900. At an interest rate of, say, 6.5%, paid over 20 years, the monthly loan payment for that amount would be around $976.

With such a hefty price tag, people may ask if law school is worth it. One way to think about that is through the lens of salary. According to respondents on employee review website Glassdoor , the average salary for a first-year attorney is $151,026, or about $12,600 per month before taxes.

But some studies show much lower first-year earnings for lawyers. If you’re making in the lower range —say $60,000 per year, or $5,000 per month before taxes—forking over nearly $1,000 per month for your loans may feel more constricting.

Average Loans for Business School

This year, more than 10,000 business school graduates reported their debt totals in a survey , and the collected data revealed that many owed more than $100,000. The survey polled graduates at some of the top-ranked business schools, such as MIT Sloan School of Management and NYU Stern School of Business. Of participating MIT students, 36% owed more than $100,000, and of Stern students, 34% carried six-figure debt.

Related: What is the Average Debt by Age?

“I don’t view [the debt] as a burden,” said Mike Sanchez, an investment banker and recent graduate of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, in a Bloomberg Businessweek article .

Sanchez reported owing $110,000 in loans after graduate school—but students out of Booth make a median starting salary of $130,000, according to the school. Sanchez finds that the return on investment, or ROI, is quite good.

Average Loans for Medical School

More than 91,000 people enrolled in U.S. medical schools for the 2018–19 school year. Among 2018 medical school graduates, 75% had some hefty student debt. In fact, the average medical school debt last year was a staggering $196,520 after graduation. Average dental school debt is even higher, at $287,331, while the average pharmacy school debt is $163,494.

Similar to business school grads, medical professionals are met with relatively high salaries when they enter the work world, which may make those steep average debt numbers feel more manageable.

Pediatricians, for example, were offered an average salary of $230,000 last year, and urgent care physicians were offered $234,000. Keep in mind that those numbers are at the lower end of salaries in the medical field. On the higher end, you have dermatologists and orthopedic surgeons being offered annual incomes of $425,000 and $533,000, respectively.

Average Loans for Post-Bachelor Humanities Degrees

According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, average grad school debt for those who have earned a master’s degree is $66,000 . Common master’s degree programs (that are not business programs) include education, Master of Arts, and Master of Science.

The average debt for such programs is noticeably less than the debt accrued by students holding professional degrees mentioned in the previous sections.

It is worth noting that starting salaries for employees with these degrees are also less than those seen in the law, business, and medical fields. Those with a master’s degree in philosophy, art, and early childhood education tend to earn the lowest incomes of this group.

Ways to Pay for Graduate School

Even before your graduate school work has started, you might be thinking about how you’ll pay for this part of your education. To ease your worries, know that there are myriad ways to fund grad school.

For example, as you may have done during your undergraduate years, graduate students may apply for federal aid via the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA®, which may help you access federal loans like Direct PLUS Loans —or qualify for grants, work-study programs, and more.

Private graduate school loans are also available from various banks and lenders, though it’s wise to keep in mind that grad school loans and undergrad loans can differ, so read all the fine print to be sure you know the terms you’re accepting.

It’s also a good idea to look into what financial aid options your school of choice offers, such as university-specific scholarships and fellowships. And don’t forget other avenues of payment, such as employer tuition reimbursement programs, which is when your employer pays or helps pay (or reimburse you) for your related graduate work, though this assistance may come with a promise to work for that company for a stipulated amount of time.

After Graduation Options

Once you’ve completed your graduate work, loan repayment is likely right around the corner. If you find that you’re paying loans off to multiple lenders—which can get complicated and overwhelming—or that your interest rate is high, there are some steps you can take.

First, you could look into consolidating your federal loans, which lets you make one payment, but your interest rate is a weighted average of all your loans’ interest rates, rounded to the nearest eighth of a percent, so you may not save on interest.

You can also refinance your student loans, both federal and private, which allows you to turn your old loans into a new loan with new terms and, ideally, a lower interest rate—which may mean paying less interest over the life of your loan.

It’s important to note, however, that refinancing your federal loans with a private lender means that you lose the benefits offered through the government, including income-driven repayment plans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). Under the latter program, some government and nonprofit employees qualify for forgiveness on certain loans they took out for school.

Wherever you land for graduate school and beyond, keeping good track of your loans and your payments will help benefit your overall financial health. SoFi offers a number of financial products that can support you, including fast and easy online tools to help you learn more about student loan refinancing.

Interested in learning more about how to potentially save money on your student loan debt? Check out SoFi’s student loan refinancing.


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