Grad PLUS Loan: What Is It and How Does It Work?

By Melissa Brock · June 03, 2022 · 10 minute read

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Grad PLUS Loan: What Is It and How Does It Work?

When a federal Direct PLUS Loan is made to a graduate or professional student, it’s commonly called a grad PLUS loan. A grad PLUS loan can help you pay for graduate school costs that aren’t covered by other types of financial aid.

Grad PLUS loans allow you to borrow up to the full cost of attendance from the U.S. Department of Education as long as you’re enrolled at least half-time at a school that participates in the Direct Loan Program, you don’t have an adverse credit history, and you meet the eligibility requirements for federal financial aid.

Here’s what to know about grad PLUS loans as well as other options that can help you pay for graduate or professional school.

What Is a Graduate PLUS Loan?

A graduate PLUS loan is a federal Direct PLUS Loan that’s made to a graduate or professional student. When a Direct PLUS Loan is made to a parent of an undergraduate student, it’s called a parent PLUS loan.

Unlike other types of federal student loans, Direct PLUS Loans take your credit history into account. You may still be able to qualify for a grad PLUS loan if you have an adverse credit history, but you’ll have to meet additional eligibility requirements, such as having an endorser on your loan.

Another way PLUS Loans differ from other federal loans: You can borrow up to the full cost of school attendance and use the money to pay for tuition, room, board, and fees. Grad PLUS loans are not based on financial need (the way Direct Subsidized Loans for undergraduate student loans are), which means students can apply for one regardless of income level.

Keep in mind that PLUS Loans have some of the highest interest rates of all federal loans. For this reason, it’s a good idea to start by considering a Direct Unsubsidized Loan, another federal student loan.

You can borrow up to $20,500 per year with a Direct Unsubsidized Loan and the interest rate for graduate students is 5.28% for loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2021, and before July 1, 2022. You’ll pay more in interest for a Direct PLUS Loan — a fixed 6.28% interest rate for loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2021, and before July 1, 2022).

How Do Grad PLUS Loans Work?

If you’re approved for a grad PLUS loan, the maximum amount of your student loan will be the cost of attendance minus any other financial aid you receive, such as scholarships, grants, or fellowships. Your school will apply the funds to cover fees such as tuition, room and board, and any other school charges. If there are funds left over, you can use them for other educational expenses, such as books for classes.

You’ll also pay an origination fee with graduate PLUS loan, which covers the U.S. Department of Education’s cost of issuing your loan. The loan fee for the 2021 to 2022 academic year is 4.228% (higher than the 1.057% origination fee on a federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan); this amount will be deducted from the funds you receive.

With a federal grad PLUS loan, you won’t have to make any loan payments if you are enrolled at least half-time in school and for six months after graduation, but interest will begin to accrue as soon as the loan is issued.

You can opt to pay the interest while you’re in school or allow the interest to be capitalized and added to the principal balance of your loan. You’ll likely have between 10 and 25 years to repay your loan, depending on the loan repayment plan that you choose.

Requirements for a Direct Grad PLUS Loan

In order to get a grad PLUS loan you must be enrolled at least half-time at an eligible university or program that participates in the federal student loan program (known as the William D. Ford Direct Loan Program), have a good credit history, and meet the general eligibility requirements for federal student aid.

Again, to be eligible for a Direct PLUS Loan, you must not have an adverse credit history. If you do, you may still be able to receive a grad PLUS loan if you have an endorser on your loan (someone who agrees to be responsible for your loan and pay it if you’re not able to) who doesn’t have an adverse credit history. Another option is to explain the extenuating circumstances for your adverse credit history to the U.S. Department of Education. Both of these options require PLUS credit counseling.

Applying for a Federal Grad PLUS Loan

Before applying for a grad PLUS loan, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form on the Federal Student Aid website. And while most schools require you to fill out the grad PLUS loan application on the Student Aid site, some schools have different application processes, so check with your school’s financial aid office before you begin.

You’ll undergo a credit check to verify that you don’t have an adverse credit history. You may also need to undergo credit counseling if this is your first PLUS loan. If approved, you’ll sign a Master Promissory Note (MPN) agreeing to repay the loan according to its terms, along with interest and fees.

What Does a Graduate PLUS Loan Cover?

While a graduate PLUS loan can only be used to cover education expenses, those expenses can include:

•   Tuition

•   Room and board (including off-campus housing)

•   Fees

•   Other expenses required by the school

As mentioned earlier, the maximum amount of a graduate PLUS loan amount is based on the costs of your school for that academic year.

Pros and Cons of Graduate PLUS Loans

Grad PLUS loans are not for everyone. Here are some of the pros and cons to consider as you decide whether this type of loan is right for you.

Pros of the Graduate PLUS Loan

Cons of the Graduate PLUS Loan

The interest rate is fixed and stays the same for the life of the loan. You may not receive the loan if you have a negative credit history.
You can take advantage of Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) by working at a nonprofit, in a government role, or at another qualifying organization. Grad PLUS loans are not easily forgiven, except in the event of death.
You can borrow up to the full cost of school attendance (minus any other financial aid you receive). Grad PLUS loans generally have higher interest rates than other types of federal loans.

Alternative Financing Options

Before taking out a grad PLUS loan, it’s helpful to consider other ways to finance the cost of graduate or professional school. Alternative options include the Federal Work-Study program, getting a job or teaching fellowship, applying for grants and scholarships, and looking into other types of federal or private loans.


The Federal Work-Study Program provides part-time employment to help undergraduate and graduate students with financial need pay for the cost of school. To qualify for Work-Study, you must file the FAFSA (which opens on October 1 each year), and it’s a good idea to apply early because each school has limited funds.

The amount you can earn depends on the type of work you get, how much your school can offer, as well as your application date, level of financial need, and FAFSA application date. And you cannot earn over the amount of money awarded to you in your financial aid award.

Assistantship Positions

Many universities offer teaching- or research-based assistantships. In return for doing work or research for the school, the school may offer you free or reduced tuition, a monthly stipend, and/or health insurance.

Through an assistantship, you are often considered an employee of the school and you may do a range of work from teaching undergraduate classes or proctoring exams to helping with research projects or collaborating on publishing scholarly articles.


While the terms of a graduate fellowship can vary depending on your school or field, they are often merit-based awards of financial aid to support students pursuing advanced study.

Your school may offer them internally or they may come from an external source.

Fellowships may include a stipend or cost-of-education allowance in addition to support for other educational expenses. Types of fellowships include predoctoral fellowships, dissertation fellowships, and traineeships. Check with your school for more details about these opportunities and to learn more about how to apply.

Job Opportunities

Even if you don’t qualify for any of the above employment options, getting a job can help offset the amount you have to borrow for graduate school. Some companies may even offer tuition reimbursement.

While you’ll have to balance a job with your class schedule and workload, getting a job while you attend graduate school can offer benefits beyond just a paycheck including: gaining real-world skills, employee benefits, and the ability to add some professional experience to your resume.

Scholarships and Grants

There are a range of graduate school scholarships and grants you can apply for to help finance the cost of advanced studies. Scholarships are typically merit-based and grants are often need-based.

This type of funding is ideal because you don’t need to pay it back. You can find both federal and state grants as well as scholarships from schools or independent organizations, such as nonprofits or companies. The key is to do your research (one place to start: the U.S. Department of Labor’s scholarship search tool ) to track down opportunities and apply to a range of options.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

As mentioned earlier, PLUS Loans have some of the highest interest rates of all federal loans. So it’s worth applying for a federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan before opting for a PLUS loan since it has a lower interest rate.

You can borrow up to $20,500 per year with a Direct Unsubsidized Loan, up to the aggregate federal loan limit of $138,500. Keep in mind that any outstanding undergraduate federal loans that you have will count toward this total amount.

Private Loans

A private student loan — from a bank, online lender, college, credit union, or other private institution — can help make up the difference between what a student can borrow in federal loans for the cost of graduate school and the remaining education expenses after other sources of income from grants, scholarships, work-study, or jobs are taken into account.

Keep in mind that private loans differ from federal loans and they don’t offer the same benefits and protections, such as income-driven repayment, deferment and forbearance and forgiveness programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

It’s important to do your research, shop around, and find the best loan options for your personal financial situation. You’ll also need to have strong credit (or have a cosigner who does) and meet eligibility criteria to qualify with a private lender.

If you’re considering a private loan, SoFi offers graduate school loans for with flexible terms, no fees, and no prepayment penalties.

The Takeaway

A grad PLUS loan is a federal Direct PLUS Loan made to a graduate or professional student to help cover the cost of graduate school. Unlike other federal student loans, grad PLUS loans take your credit history into account so if you have an adverse credit history, you’ll need to meet additional eligibility requirements to qualify.

Grad PLUS loans allow you to borrow up to the full cost of attendance for graduate school minus the amount of financial aid you receive from other sources. These loans have some of the highest interest rates of all federal loans and a higher origination fee, so you will likely want to pursue a federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan first.

It’s also a good idea to explore alternative financing options to help cover the cost of graduate school, such as federal Work-Study opportunities, assistantships and fellowships, scholarships and grants, getting a job, as well as federal and private loans.

If you have a high interest rate on existing loans or need to lower your monthly payment before grad school or after you graduate, student loan refinancing is one option to consider. SoFi offers flexible terms, no fees, no prepayment penalties — and you can view your rate in two minutes.

Learn more about a SoFi student loan refinance today.

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