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.
The lifetime graduate student aggregate loan limit for Subsidized and Unsubsidized federal loans is $138,500. Of this amount, no more than $65,500 can be in subsidized loans. This is the aggregate limit that includes loan amounts borrowers use to pay for undergraduate and graduate studies.
Students could also borrow private student loans, which could potentially increase the amount of student loans an individual could borrow. Continue reading for more details on the different types of student loan limits.
Federal Student Loan Limits
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. Graduate requirements of FAFSA are similar to those for undergraduate students. 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.
As mentioned, the lifetime aggregate limit for Subsidized and Unsubsidized student loans is $138,500 for graduate or professional students. Of this amount, no more than $65,500 can be in subsidized loans. This is the aggregate limit, so does include student loans borrowed during undergraduate study.
Recommended: High Income Financial Aid
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. There are also maximum borrowing limits in place for Direct Unsubsidized Loan and Direct PLUS Loans for graduate or professional students. These limits are outlined below.
Direct Unsubsidized Loans
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 annual limit is $20,500. 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.
Direct PLUS 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.
Private Student Loan Limits
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.
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.
Recommended: Private Student Loan Guide
Graduate Student Loans vs Undergrad Student Loans
Undergraduate students may be eligible for Direct Subsidized Loans. The government covers the interest that accrues while a student is enrolled at least half-time in school. Graduate students are not eligible for this loan type.
Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available to both graduate and undergraduate students. The undergraduate student federal loan has a lower interest rate than the unsubsidized loan for graduate students. Undergrads have an interest rate of 5.50% for the 2023-2024 school year, while it is 7.05% for graduate students.
Direct PLUS Loans are available for graduate students. Only undergraduate students who are considered independent, or who are dependent undergraduate students whose parents are unable to obtain PLUS Loans may be eligible to borrow a PLUS loan.
Graduate School Resources
Be sure to fill out your grad school FAFSA to see if you qualify for federal aid including federal student loans. 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.
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 grad school 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.
Recommended: Scholarship Search Tool
The aggregate limit for Unsubsidized and Subsidized loans for graduate students is, as mentioned, $138,500, no more than $65,500 can be in subsidized loans. For the PLUS Loan, the annual borrowing limit is no more than the cost of school minus other forms of financial aid. Limits for private student loans may vary by lender but, generally, a private lender will not let you borrow more than the cost of attendance.
Private loans could be an option for students who have exhausted federal options and still need more to fund their education. SoFi offers student loans with competitive interest rates for qualifying borrowers and an easy, online application. Plus, as a SoFi member, you’ll be able to access additional benefits like career coaching.
SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.
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-criteria 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.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.