Guide to Student Loans for Certificate Programs

By Melissa Brock · June 17, 2022 · 9 minute read

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Guide to Student Loans for Certificate Programs

When you’re thinking about earning more money in the quickest way possible, you might consider targeting a certificate program. Certificate programs also have a major added benefit in that once you have your credentials in hand, they can help you boost your financial situation, sometimes significantly.

Graduates of all levels can take advantage of certificate programs, whether you’re a high school graduate or whether you have completed graduate school. (You may have come across information about paying for graduate certificates in your graduate school program.)

In this piece, we’ll cover the definition of certificate programs, whether you’re eligible for student loans with a certificate program, funding options for certificate programs, the pros and cons of taking out a student loan for certificate programs, and more.

What Are Certificate Programs?

Certificate programs can help you specialize in a specific trade or update your professional skills. These programs teach practical skills and training related to a specific career field — you don’t take general courses toward a degree.

Why might you want to tap into a certificate program? In addition to increasing your salary potential as we mentioned earlier, you may want to get updated career training or learn about technological advancements or updates in your field.

Students who have a high school diploma or general educational development (GED) can use undergraduate certificate programs to go straight into the workforce with an entry-level position within a specific field.

Students who have already earned bachelor’s or graduate degrees may be interested in enrolling in certificate programs related to their field and level. Certificates could also give those who have already earned a bachelor’s degree an option to advance their career while avoiding graduate school altogether. (However, it’s important to distinguish the difference between a certification and a certificate. A certification usually means a stepping-stone credential that you must have for certain career paths. This article primarily discusses certificate programs, but some careers may require a certificate, even after getting a bachelor’s or graduate degree.)

Recommended: Is a Post-Grad Certificate Program Worth It?

Cost of Certificate Programs

The earning potential relative to the low cost of a certificate program can pay off. For example, consider that in the 2019-2020 academic year, students at private nonprofit four-year institutions paid $36,700 on average for tuition and fees.

Students can spend far less on a certificate program — around $5,000 per program (or more or less, depending on the type of program you choose to complete). The variations in cost depend on the college, program, and credit requirements. For example, an online program at a community college will most likely cost less than through an in-person state or private college certificate program.

Let’s take a look at a few types of certificate programs and potential earnings:

•   Surgical technologists: Earn a median income of $49,710 per year and will see 9% job growth through 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

•   Construction and building inspectors: Earn a median income of $62,860 per year, according to the BLS, though it is anticipated the industry will see a 3% decline through 2030.

•   Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters: Earn a median income of $56,330 per year, according to the BLS. This job is expected to experience a 5% increase in growth through 2030.

•   Court reporters: Earn a $61,660 median income per year, according to the BLS. The industry will see a 3% increase in job growth through 2030.

•   Sheet metal workers: Earn a $51,370 median income per year, according to the BLS. The industry is expected to see a 4% increase in job growth through the year 2030.

Are Certificate Programs Eligible for Student Loans?

Yes, you can get a student loan to help you pay for a qualifying certificate program. As long as you attend an eligible school, you may qualify for a federal or private student loan to pay for a certificate program.

However, certain certificate programs may not qualify for federal student aid, depending on the nature of the certificate program. For example, if you need to take a class to boost your credentials as a criminalist in the DNA section of your state’s crime lab, you may not be able to borrow student loans to cover that class. In some cases, your employer may cover the fees for your course.

We’ll dive into the exact funding options for certificate programs below.

Funding Options for Certificate Programs

The most important thing to remember is that you’re not alone in figuring out how to pay for your certificate program. Before embarking on a certificate program, talk to the financial aid office at the college, university, or career school you plan to attend. If you have a range of schools on your list, contact each one individually to learn more about your options for private student loans, federal grants, federal student loans, personal loans, employer funds, and more. You can even ask about student loans for professional certificates.

Private Student Loans

Can you get student loans for certificate programs, or more specifically, private student loans for certificate programs? Answer: Yes!

A private student loan refers to money you borrow and pay back over time, with interest. You can get a private student loan to cover the cost of a certificate program. Private student loans can come from a bank, credit union, or another financial institution.

Interest rates are usually slightly higher for private student loans compared to federal student loans, so in general, it’s consider exhausting your federal student loan options prior to tapping into private student loans, if you’re eligible. The amount you can borrow depends on the cost of your degree and personal financial factors like your credit score and income.

Check out the private student loan guide for more information about student loans.

Federal Grants

You may qualify for federal grants to cover the costs of a certificate program. Federal grants are free money — you do not have to pay back the money you receive, unlike you would with a loan.

In order to qualify for a federal grant, you must file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) . The FAFSA will also verify whether your certificate program qualifies for federal student aid under the U.S. Department of Education.

You may qualify for a Pell Grant , the largest program under the Department of Education. Pell Grants are awarded to students with financial need and no prior degree. You may also be able to tap into Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG).

Recommended: FAFSA Grants & Other Types of Financial Aid

Federal Student Loans

Just like federal grants, you must file the FAFSA in order to qualify for federal student loans. The difference between federal grants and federal student loans is that you must repay the money you borrow for loans. You must also meet some basic eligibility criteria to qualify for federal student loans .

Undergraduate certificate students who show evidence of financial need may qualify for a Direct Subsidized Loan. Undergraduate, graduate, and professional students can qualify for a Direct Unsubsidized Loan , but eligibility is non-need-based. It’s important to discuss both of these options as well as Direct PLUS
for graduate or professional students with financial aid offices to determine whether you can get any one of these loans to cover the costs of your certificate program.

You must go through entrance counseling to make sure you understand your loan repayment obligations to get a federal graduate student loan or undergraduate loan, as well as sign a Master Promissory Note. The Master Promissory Note states that you agree to the terms of the loan.

Recommended: Types of Federal Student Loans

Personal Loans

It may also be possible to borrow money from a bank, credit union, or online lender in the form of a personal loan. You’ll pay back a personal loan in fixed monthly payments or installments, usually over the course of two to seven years.

Just like a student loan, a personal loan is an unsecured debt. This means that it isn’t backed by collateral. If you stop making payments on your student loans, your lender can’t take your house or car away from you.

Interest rates may be higher for personal loans compared to private student loans and federal student loans, however. Do your homework before selecting one option over the other.

Employer Funds

If you’re currently employed and a certification relates to your current job description, your employer may pay for a portion or all of the cost of your certificate program. Companies like Starbucks, Google, and Target all have tuition assistance programs. Many companies will offer tuition assistance for college courses and some may even cover professional certifications.

Explore your options with your human resources office or ask your supervisor for more information.

Pros and Cons of Taking Out Loans for Certificate Programs

What are the pros and cons of taking out loans for certificate programs? Let’s walk through a few.

Pros of Taking Out Loans for Certificate Programs

•   Offers career change opportunities: You may want to branch out or change your career completely, and getting a loan for a certificate program may allow you to do so.

•   Costs less than a traditional degree: A certification usually costs less than pursuing a four-year or even a two-year degree. You may quickly pay off a loan, particularly because it may take you only a few months to attain a certificate.

Cons of Taking Out Loans for Certificate Programs

•   You owe money with interest. The obvious downside to taking out a loan is that you’ll owe money at the end of your program — with interest. However, if you choose the right interest rate for you and compare several programs, you may be able to minimize the amount you’ll pay in interest. Because a certificate programs can generally be completed in a relatively short timeframe, you may be able to repay your loan (and minimize the interest rate impact) in a short period of time.

•   Choosing the right option can be complicated. You may feel as if you’re in a maze with so many different options at your disposal. It’s a good idea to reach out to a financial aid professional at the school you’ve chosen to go over all your financing options. They can also guide you through the scholarships and grant opportunities that you can obtain.

Explore Private Student Loans With SoFi

It’s almost impossible to ignore the allure of a quick certification that can result in a lifetime of job satisfaction. Consider looking into private student loans with SoFi, where you’ll pay no origination fees and no prepayment penalties. You can choose between a fixed or variable rate loan.

Learn more about whether a SoFi private student loan can help you achieve your certification.


Can federal student loans be used for certificate programs?

Yes, in certain cases, you can get federal student loans to cover the cost of certificate programs. However, your school and program must qualify under the Department of Education rules. Talk to the financial aid office at your college or career center for more information about your eligibility for federal student loans.

Can grants and scholarships be used for certificate programs?

You can obtain grants and scholarships to cover the cost of certificate programs. Talk to the financial aid office at your college or career center for more information. Your school may offer specific scholarships, but don’t forget to check into professional organizations or local chapters for the certificate program of which you plan to enroll.

Do some companies pay for employee certifications?

Yes, many employers pay for employee certifications to help boost employee retention and put employees at the top of their field. These may differ from certificate programs, however, so make sure you understand how your career-based certification may differ from a certificate. Ask your human resources office for information about continuing education or certification training.

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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 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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