Embarking on the journey to graduate school can be exciting, stressful, and confusing. Some programs require more tests; some don’t. There are applications to fill out once again, letters of recommendation to procure, and the anxiety of wondering if you will even get in.
On top of getting in, there’s the stress of figuring out how it’s going to be paid for. Depending on the graduate program, more than half of graduate students take out loans to help pay the cost of attending, so it’s normal to need financial assistance.
Students applying for financial aid for graduate school are likely familiar with the process of applying for federal financial aid, but graduate students should be aware of the fact that they’re almost always considered independent, and many will want to learn the maximum amount they can borrow.
It’s possible to hit the maximum amount of loans allowed before finishing graduate school, so it’s helpful to know what the maximum is before choosing where to apply.
So, what is the loan limit for graduate school? There isn’t one answer. The max depends on whether students are taking out federal or private loans. Let’s check out the difference between the two.
What Is the Maximum for Federal Loans?
As with funding an undergraduate degree, students can apply for federal aid to help fund graduate school. Students are encouraged to fill out the FAFSA® (the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid) to see if they qualify for help. Eligibility for federal aid is based on a student’s income, among other factors, so not everybody will be eligible for all types of aid.
Types of Federal Loans
Before addressing the total amount that graduate students can receive, it should be noted that there are specific types of loans available to them. Let’s look at direct subsidized vs. direct unsubsidized loans.
Graduate students cannot receive direct subsidized loans. Those loans are only available to undergraduate students who show financial need. If students took out these loans as undergraduates, that amount will be included in the lifetime limit of federal loans they’re allowed to receive.
For direct unsubsidized loans, the limit is $20,500 a year. All graduate or professional students are considered independent for this loan. Unsubsidized loans aren’t dependent on students demonstrating financial need. The schools will decide how much students receive based on their annual costs and how much aid they’re receiving from other sources.
Aggregate Loan Limits for Federal Loans
The aggregate loan limit for federal loans is the total that students can take out from undergraduate through graduate school. Students who reach the aggregate loan limit will not be eligible to take out more federal loans. If students want to take out more federal loans, they’ll have to pay off some of their debt first. Then they can borrow up to the limit again.
The limit for the aggregate loan, which is a combination of subsidized and unsubsidized loans, is $138,500. This amount is the maximum for independent students, and, again, it includes the loans taken out as undergraduates. The total is made up of a maximum of $65,500 in subsidized loans and $73,000 in unsubsidized loans.
Students may want to take out federal loans before taking out private loans. Federal loans usually come with benefits like fixed interest rates and income-driven repayment plans that aren’t typically available with private loans.
Graduate students with eligible credit can also take out Direct PLUS Loans, issued by the U.S. Department of Education. These loans have an annual limit of the cost of attendance, subtracting any other aid that is received.
What Is the Maximum for Private Loans?
The maximum amount that students can borrow with a private student loan will depend on the lender. Usually, they won’t lend students more than it costs to attend school. Here’s a list of some private loan lenders and the maximum amounts they lend.
The cost of attendance is an estimate of tuition and fees, books and supplies, living expenses, transportation, and other miscellaneous expenses. The estimate can also include dependent care, study-abroad programs, and costs related to disabilities.
What If You Don’t Qualify for Federal Aid?
Some students will hit the max of federal aid but still need more. In that case, they have a couple of options. Students can try to pay off some of the loans and then borrow more, up to the limit, again. If they don’t want to or are unable to pay off some of their federal loans to take out more federal loans, they can opt for a private loan.
If students don’t qualify for any federal aid, they might want to check the eligibility requirements and make sure there isn’t a criterion they’re able to change. For example, if there was an academic requirement and their grades have slipped, they may be able to appeal that decision. This would require talking to the financial aid office at their school to see what they can do to become eligible again.
If all of a student’s eligibility information is correct and they still don’t qualify for federal aid, they can look into grants and scholarships. When students submit their FAFSA®, their eligibility for certain grants will be considered. The school may also have information on local or institutional-based grant programs.
Grad students also have the option of doing a graduate assistantship, where they teach or work on research under the supervision of a professor. Assistantships sometimes pay a stipend or provide benefits like housing. Students can check with their schools to see if that option is available to them.
Scholarships and fellowships are also available to help pay for graduate school. There are many ways students can go about finding and applying for scholarships. Students can check with their school’s financial aid department, or even the department they’re studying under, to see what is available. There’s usually a wide variety of scholarships available from various sources, including schools, employers, companies, and nonprofit organizations. Scholarships can be either merit based or need based, so the eligibility will vary.
Graduate Student Loans From SoFi
The last option is to take out private student loans, which are offered by banks or private lenders. This could be an option for students who have exhausted federal options and still need more to fund their education.
Lenders differ in maximum loan amount, interest rates, and repayment options. Students will want to carefully consider all of these factors before choosing to take out private student loans.
Graduate school requires passion, dedication, and money. With all the options available to help fund the graduate school journey, students don’t have to let finances stop them from getting their degree.
SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.
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