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Best PhD Student Loans
PhD student loans are offered by both the Department of Education and private lenders. We'll explain which should be considered first.
Many or all of the companies featured provide compensation to LendEDU. These commissions are how we maintain our free service for consumers. Compensation, along with hours of in-depth editorial research, determines where & how companies appear on our site.
Getting your PhD is an endeavor—and not just because of the immense amount of work involved. You’ll also need to spend additional years in school and tens—or hundreds—of thousands of dollars paying for it.
You need to be smart about how you fund your schooling, especially if you take out PhD student loans, if you hope to earn a PhD and become debt-free within a reasonable number of years.
This guide will cover using PhD student loans—a specific type of graduate student loan —to finance your education.
In this guide:
Best PhD school loans
Use federal phd student loans first, best private phd student loans, how to get phd student loans, alternatives to a phd student loan, frequently asked questions about phd student loans.
In order to find the best PhD school loans for you, you’ll want to compare some important aspects of each loan option. This means finding a federal and/or private loan that offers you the loan amount you need with competitive repayment terms and the best possible interest rates.
The chart below compares both federal and private student loan options, so you can see how they measure up.
If you must borrow using PhD student loans, always max out federal student aid as your first source of funding. Federal student loans , which are offered by the U.S. Department of Education, tend to be cheaper, provide more repayment flexibility, and come with other borrower perks, such as the potential for loan forgiveness.
Federal Direct Unsubsidized loans
The first federal loan option to consider is the Direct Unsubsidized loan. These loans don’t require students to demonstrate any financial need and allow for up to $20,500 in annual federal funding toward your PhD program depending on your actual educational expenses.
Key features of Direct Unsubsidized loans:
- Students aren’t required to demonstrate financial need in order to borrow.
- Up to $20,500 in annual loan funding is available to graduate students, though students in certain healthcare programs may qualify for more.
- For graduate student borrowers, new Direct Unsubsidized loans have a fixed interest rate of 6.54% APR.
Federal Grad PLUS loans
The Department of Education offers Direct PLUS Loans to graduate students for the purpose of covering advanced education, and if you’re eligible, you could potentially borrow up to the school-certified cost of attendance, less any grants or scholarships you’ve received.
Unlike some federal loans, however, Grad PLUS Loans aren’t available to you if you have an adverse credit history, and you’ll need to undergo a credit check to prove that you don’t.
Key features of Grad PLUS loans:
- Grad PLUS loans have a fixed interest rate of 6.28% APR for the life of the loan.
- Certain borrowers may be eligible for forgiveness or discharge of their federal Grad PLUS loans.
- As long as you’re enrolled at least half-time, Grad PLUS loans can cover any remaining attendance costs you may have after other financial aid is applied.
After maxing out your federal student loans, you may find you still need more money to pay for your doctoral degree . If that’s the case, you’ll need to look into getting private PhD loans.
Private student loans tend to come with higher interest rates, can be harder to qualify for, and repayment plans are less flexible. However, they can cover shortfalls in funding that otherwise might make getting your PhD impossible.
The following companies are our partners that have been vetted extensively by our Editorial team.
Editorial Selection: Best Overall
- Choose between 20 different repayment schedules
- 36-month grace period
- Deferment during residency
College Ave is an online lender offering new student loans and student loan refinancing. The company covers a variety of doctorate programs, including those for PhDs. Here’s more information about the College Ave Medical School Loan:
- Fixed rates (APR): 3.99 % – 11.98 %
- Variable rates (APR): 1.99 % – 10.97 %
- Loan amounts: $1,000 – 100% of the total cost
- Repayment terms: 5, 8, 10, or 15 years
- In-school repayment options: Deferment, $25 monthly payments, monthly interest payments, and full payments
- Grace period: 36 months
- Cosigner release: After 24 consecutive on-time payments
What stands out about College Ave’s PhD loan
Though College Ave doesn’t have a specific PhD loan option, they do offer graduate school loans that can be used to pay for the cost of your PhD program. These loans are available for as little as $1,000 or up to $150,000, depending on your actual costs of attendance.
Who’s eligible for College Ave’s PhD loan
College Ave PhD loans are available to grad students who are in a degree program at an eligible institution and are maintaining satisfactory academic progress. Students must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents, or have an eligible cosigner who meets either of those standards.
Editorial Selection: Best for Cosigners
- Release your cosigner after 12 on-time payments
- 48 months of deferment during residency and fellowship
- No origination or prepayment penalty
Sallie Mae is the largest (and arguably, most popular) private student loan lender in the country. They offer loans for graduate, professional and undergraduate students seeking a range of degrees and certifications, covering up to 100% of your educational costs. While Sallie Mae doesn’t have a PhD-specific student loan product, they offer graduate loans for students in masters and doctorate programs.
- Fixed rates (APR): 4.75% to 12.11%
- Variable rates (APR): 2.62% to 12.11%
- Loan amounts: $1,000 – 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
- Repayment terms: 15 years
- In-school repayment options: Full deferment, $25 monthly payments, interest-only, or full repayment
- Grace period: Six months
- Cosigner release: After 12 consecutive, on-time payments
What stands out about Sallie Mae’s PhD loan
Sallie Mae provides loans for up to 100% of your certified educational expenses, with no maximum loan limit. Repayment terms are up to 15 years and cosigners can be released after just 12 months of on-time payments. Though Sallie Mae loans are not federal, student borrowers may still be eligible for loan payment deferment in 12-month increments.
Who’s eligible for Sallie Mae’s PhD loan
Borrowers must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident—or have an eligible cosigner who is— and meet certain credit requirements. Students must be enrolled in an eligible institution; if additional funds are desired for personal expenses (such as money for a laptop), the student must be enrolled at least half-time.
Editorial Selection: Best for Skipping a Payment
- Skip a payment once per year, if needed
- Check your rate without impacting your credit
Earnest is a popular online lender offering private student loans as well as the ability to refinance existing student loans. The Earnest Graduate School Loan covers PhD programs. See below for more information on Earnest’s PhD loan:
- Fixed rates (APR): 3.24% – 10.99%
- Variable rates (APR): 0.94% – 9.89%
- Repayment terms: 5, 7, 10, 12, or 15 years
- In-school repayment options: Deferment, monthly interest payments, $25 monthly payments, and full payments
- Grace period: 9 months
- Cosigner release: Earnest does not offer cosigner release, but you may be able to refinance without a cosigner
What stands out about Earnest’s PhD loan
Earnest doesn’t have a specifically-branded PhD loan option, but the lender does have both graduate and medical school loans that can be used for doctorate program expenses in all states except Nevada. These can help cover between $1,000 and up to 100% of your school-certified educational costs, with five different repayment terms from which to choose. Cosigners are required for many borrowers, but there is no cosigner release option; to remove a co-borrower, you’ll need to refinance your loan(s).
Who’s eligible for Earnest’s PhD loan
Earnest graduate loans—including those used for PhD programs—are available to eligible borrowers and/or cosigners who live in any state but Nevada, have a FICO credit score of at least 650, and are enrolled at least half-time in a graduate program at a Title IV-qualified school. Borrowers or their cosigners will also need to be U.S. citizens or have a 10-year permanent resident card.
Editorial Selection: Best Graduation Reward
- 1% cash back upon graduation
- No prepayment penalty
Ascent is an online student lender. The company offers the Ascent Graduate & Health Student Loan for those pursuing a PhD. See below for more information about the parameters of this loan.
- Fixed rates (APR): 4.66% – 14.54%
- Variable rates (APR): 1.75% – 11.12%
- Loan amounts: $2,001 – $400,000
- Repayment terms: 7, 10, 12, or 15 years
- In-school repayment options: Monthly interest payments, monthly payments of $25, or deferred repayment
- Cosigner release: After 12 consecutive on-time payments, if you meet income and credit requirements
What stands out about Ascent’s PhD loan
Ascent graduate loans are available to students in PhD programs, and can cover up to 100% of certified educational costs. These loans allow for an extended in-school deferment period of up to 36 months, with a post-graduation grace period of another nine months.
Who’s eligible for Ascent’s PhD loan
In order to qualify for an Ascent PhD loan, you must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or have a cosigner who is. Students are required to be enrolled at least half-time at an eligible institution, and they or their cosigners must meet certain (undisclosed) minimum credit score requirements.
Taking out a graduate loan can be an important step in paying for your PhD degree program costs. Whether you’re looking to cover tuition and fees, housing, or even miscellaneous expenses (such as a laptop for class), federal and private student loans can help.
In order to gain access to these loans, though, there are a few things you’ll need to do.
- Fill out the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a form you’ll need to fill out months in advance, and can help determine your financial need. This is required if you are hoping to take out federal loans for any part of your educational expenses.
- Look into federal loans. Federal student loans have protections and features that private loans don’t offer. While you may be limited in how much you can borrow—based on things like financial need and annual limits—consider borrowing as much as you can with federal loans before turning to private loans.
- Shop around for a private loan. If you’ve exhausted all of your other options (including scholarships, grants, educational savings, and federal loans), it may be time to turn to private loans. When looking for the right private student loan, shopping around is a wise step and can help you find the right loan with the right terms and rate.
- Add a cosigner. If your credit history is limited, you have a low score, or you don’t meet the income requirements for a particular lender, consider adding a creditworthy cosigner to your private loan(s). This cosigner will be held responsible for your loans until you refinance or release them, but adding them initially can often unlock lower rates and higher loan limits.
- Provide documentation. Before disbursing your loan, your new lender may want to see some documentation. This could include proof of employment, proof of academic progress, proof of identity, and more.
- Get your loan. Once approved, your loan funds will be sent directly to your school, where they’ll be applied to any outstanding balance you may have. The difference will often be refunded to you after the start of the semester.
If you’re looking for alternatives to PhD student loans, the good news is that there are numerous scholarships and grants available to graduate and professional students who are pursuing a PhD.
You can look into tuition reimbursement programs with your employer in exchange for employment contracts as well.
Which PhD student loan is the best?
When it comes to taking out loans for your PhD program, federal student loans are usually the best place to start your search. Federal loans offer more benefits and protections than private student loans, and may even allow you to have some of your debt forgiven later on. If you must turn to private funding, the best PhD student loan for you is the one that offers approval at the lowest interest rate, with the best repayment terms for your unique situation. This lender may be different for each student borrower, so it’s wise to shop around first.
Do I need a cosigner for PhD student loans?
Depending on your credit history, credit score, and current income, you may need to add a cosigner in order to qualify for a private PhD loan. In exchange for adding a creditworthy cosigner, you may be eligible for certain loans, rates, and repayment terms for which you didn’t qualify on your own. Depending on the lender, you may be able to release your cosigner from this obligation later on, once you’ve made a certain number of on-time payments.
Do PhD student loans cover living expenses?
A PhD loan can be taken out to cover your school-certified expenses, which may include housing. It’s important to note that some lenders (including federal student loan lenders) may have annual and/or aggregate limits. If you take out too much for tuition and fees, you may need to consider adding a private loan to cover your living expenses, too.
How much can I borrow with PhD student loans?
The amount you can borrow with a PhD student loan depends on the type of loan and even the specific lender. With federal graduate loans, you are limited to a maximum of $20,500 per year (though certain healthcare fields may qualify for higher limits). With private loans, you may be able to take out up to 100% of your eligible expenses.
When does repayment on PhD student loans start?
Once you drop below half-time enrollment or graduate (depending on the lender), your grace period will usually begin. This grace period often ranges from six to nine months in length, during which you don’t need to make any PhD loan payments. After that grace period, repayment will typically start.
1 Ascent Student Loans are funded by Bank of Lake Mills, Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: www.AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs. Rates are effective as of 10/01/2022 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes-based loans). Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: AscentFunding.com/Rates. 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest APRs require interest-only payments, the shortest loan term, and a cosigner, and are only available to our most creditworthy applicants and cosigners with the highest average credit scores.
Author: Stephanie Colestock
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Your Guide to Ph.D. Student Loans
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If you’re pursuing your Ph.D., you need to prepare to cover the costs of several more years of schooling. One way to pay for your education is to become a research or teaching assistant. But if you can’t find an assistantship to cover tuition and other expenses, you might need to borrow Ph.D. student loans.
To ensure that you pay as little in interest and fees as possible, it’s critical that you understand what your options are and how to compare them. To help you, we’ll list off some of the top student loans for Ph.D. students.
Top Ph.D. student loans to consider
Depending on your needs and preferences, there are a couple of main options to which you have access: Federal and private student loans. Let’s discuss each in turn.
Federal student loans for Ph.D. students
Private student loans, other ways to pay for your ph.d. program.
The U.S. Department of Education offers Direct PLUS loans to graduate and professional students. If you’re eligible, you can borrow up to the cost of attendance at your school minus any other financial aid you receive.
Unlike federal student loans for undergrads, Direct PLUS loans require a credit check. So, if you have bad credit, you might need to ask someone to act as an endorser on your loan. You might qualify on your own if you have extenuating circumstances, such as:
- There are errors on your credit report.
- You had an account in collections but have recently paid it off.
- You had a wage garnishment, but it’s been released.
- You defaulted on a federal student loan but have since consolidated it, and it’s no longer in default.
- You went through bankruptcy but can prove that it was discharged more than five years ago.
If you do get approved for a Direct PLUS Loan for the current academic year, you’ll pay an upfront loan fee of 4.236%, which the Department of Education will deduct from your loan disbursement. So, if you’re approved for a $10,000 loan, you would actually receive $9,576.40.
Also, if you get approved before July 1, 2020, you’ll pay a fixed interest rate of 7.08% on your Direct PLUS Loan.
The federal government doesn’t generally offer the best interest rates and fees for Ph.D. student loans, but it does offer some special perks.
For example, you’ll be eligible for the various income-driven repayment (IDR) plans . These can help you keep your monthly payments affordable. And depending on your career plans, you might also qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).
While private student loans don’t qualify for IDR plans or the PSLF program, they can offer lower interest rates and fees.
Several private student loan companies offer Ph.D. loans, including College Ave, CommonBond, and Citizens Bank. Also, online marketplaces such as LendKey can help you find regional banks and credit unions with funding options.
Others offer cosigner release , which allows you to remove your cosigner from the loan after a few years of on-time payments and a second eligibility check.
Some of these lenders offer both fixed and variable interest rates , giving you more flexibility in how you pay back your loans. You can compare private Ph.D. student loans and weigh their costs and features against federal options.
Financing your education is always an option, but the fewer loans you take out, the better. To limit your debt, consider these other funding options:
- Scholarships and grants
- University-based or external fellowships
- Research or teaching assistantships
- Employer tuition reimbursement
- Federal work-study
Research each of these options in advance. Find out how much money, if any, you’ll need to cover your education. Then, compare Ph.D. student loans from private lenders and the Department of Education.
As you do your due diligence, you’ll have a better chance of finishing your Ph.D. program with less debt and lower monthly payments. That could make it easier to eliminate your debt once you start your career.
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Best Student Loans for PhD Students
Depending on your credit, private loans may be the most cost-effective way to pay for your doctoral program.
Andrew Dunn is an award-winning mortgage and finance writer with a decade of experience covering the industry with articles published at Fox Business, LendingTree, Credit Karma, Axios Charlotte, and more.
Our goal is to give you the tools and confidence you need to improve your finances. Although we receive compensation from our partner lenders, whom we will always identify, all opinions are our own. Credible Operations, Inc. NMLS # 1681276, is referred to here as "Credible."
A doctoral degree is an impressive credential, but it comes with a hefty price tag. PhD students graduate with an average of about $100,000 in debt, according to the National Center for Education Statistics .
The best way to pay for this higher education is through scholarships and grants, followed by federal student loans. But these often aren’t enough to complete a PhD program, and private student loans can help you foot the rest of the bill.
Here’s everything you need to know about getting a loan for a doctorate degree:
8 best private student loans for a doctorate degree
Other private student loan lenders to consider, federal loans for phd students, how to get a phd loan, student loan limits for phd loans, when phd student loan payments start, student loan forgiveness for phd loans, phd loan alternatives.
To find the best private student loan for your doctorate degree, it’s important to compare as many lenders as you can.
The companies in the table below are Credible’s approved partner lenders. Whether you’re the borrower or cosigner, Credible makes it easy to compare rates from multiple private student loan providers without affecting your credit score.
Here are more private student loan companies we evaluated. Keep in mind that these lenders aren’t offered through Credible, so you won’t be able to easily compare your rates with them on the Credible platform like you can our partner lenders.
Credible evaluated private student loan lenders in 10 different categories to determine the best lenders for PhD loans. This included interest rates, repayment options, terms, fees, discounts, customer service availability, as well as eligibility requirements and cosigner release options.
The federal government also makes loans available to students pursuing a PhD. While federal loans come with more accommodating repayment plans, you may face loan limits and higher interest rates than you’ll find with private student loans .
- Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans: These loans are available to both undergraduate and graduate students, and they’re not dependent on financial need. You’re responsible for interest that accrues on these loans from the time they’re disbursed. And, there’s a limit on the total amount you can borrow.
- Federal Grad PLUS Loans: These are available to parents of undergraduate students or graduate and professional students. Interest rates on federal Grad PLUS Loans are higher than other federal loans, currently at 7.54%. You’re able to borrow up to the cost of attendance of your school, minus any financial aid you receive. You’re also responsible for accrued interest.
Keep Reading: Student Loan Limits: How Much in Student Loans You Can Get
Follow these five steps to help make sure you get the best student loans for your individual situation:
- Start with the FAFSA. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to make yourself eligible for grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and student loans from the federal government. Many of these forms of financial aid don’t require you to repay them, so you’ll want to make sure you receive as much as you can qualify for. You may also choose to borrow certain federal student loans to take advantage of the more flexible repayment plans they offer.
- Determine how much more money you need for your education. Your university’s financial aid office will help you determine how much you’ll need to borrow in student loans to meet your cost of attendance, taking into account any federal financial aid you receive.
- Prequalify for a private student loan. Most private student lenders make it easy to prequalify for a graduate student loan. You can do this online by submitting some basic information about yourself, such as your annual income, the school you’re attending, and how much you’d like to borrow. It’s a good idea to prequalify with several different lenders to see the rates and terms you might qualify for.
- Choose your loan. Review your prequalification offers, comparing loan terms, interest rates, and monthly payment amounts. Select the lender and loan option that works best for you, then submit a formal application.
- Make sure your loan funds are received. Student lenders typically disburse your loan funds directly to your university. You’ll want to double check with your school’s financial aid office that the money was received.
Different graduate student loan programs have varying limits on how much you can borrow. Because PhD programs are often expensive, you may run into these limits as you complete your education:
- Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans: Graduate students can borrow up to $20,500 per year, with an aggregate limit of $138,500 (a total that includes any undergraduate loans).
- Federal Grad PLUS Loans: These loans don’t have a total loan limit. You can borrow up to your school’s cost of attendance.
- Private PhD loans: Each lender has its own limits on how much or little you can borrow. The smallest amount you can typically borrow is $1,000. Some private student lenders have maximum loan amounts of $110,000 to $180,000 or higher. Others don’t have a set maximum loan amount, and instead allow you to borrow up to your school’s cost of attendance. In some cases, a general PhD loan may have different loan limits than a professional school program, like law school or an MBA program . So be sure to check with each lender you’re considering.
Check Out: Graduate Student Loan Limits: How Much Can You Get?
With student loans, you generally have the option of beginning to pay them back right away or waiting until you leave school. The rules vary depending on the type of loan you take out:
- Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans: You’re not required to begin repaying these loans until six months after you graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment. But you are responsible for the interest that accrues from the moment the loan is disbursed. If you don’t pay the interest while you’re in school, it’ll be added to the principal of the loan once you graduate. You may choose to make interest-only payments while in school to keep this from building up and adding to the total you have to repay.
- Federal Grad PLUS Loans: Like Direct Unsubsidized Loans, you have a six-month grace period after leaving school before you’re required to begin paying back your loan. You’re responsible for the interest from the time the money is disbursed, and you may make interest-only payments while in school.
- Private PhD loans: Different lenders may have slightly varying rules, but you generally don’t need to make loan payments while enrolled in school or during a six- to nine-month grace period after graduating. You’re generally responsible for the interest that accrues from the time the loan is disbursed. You typically have the option to make interest-only payments or full principal and interest payments, or to defer payments entirely. However, this last option will mean the interest that accrues while you’re enrolled in school will be added to the total you’ll need to pay back.
If you have federal student loans, you may be eligible for certain loan forgiveness programs that can help erase the amount you borrowed for your PhD program.
One of the most common ways to do this is through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program . To be eligible, you must make 120 qualifying loan payments under an income-driven repayment plan while working full-time for a government or not-for-profit agency. Only Direct Loans qualify for PSLF.
If you’re a teacher, you may qualify for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program , which only requires five years of employment in a qualifying elementary or secondary school — though you may only receive up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness.
You may also qualify for loan cancellation on federal loans if you become totally and permanently disabled.
Under the student loan forgiveness plan announced by the Biden Administration in August, PhD students are eligible for up to $10,000 in debt cancellation of their federal student loans, or up to $20,000 for those who received a Pell Grant. You must earn less than $125,000 per year to qualify.
Private loans aren’t eligible for any type of loan forgiveness.
You should generally use student loans as a last resort when paying for your higher education. You may be able to help pay for the cost of tuition and living expenses with a few of these options, reducing the amount you need to borrow:
- Scholarships and grants: Both scholarships and grants are considered gift aid — meaning you don’t need to pay them back. You may be able to earn a scholarship or grant from your university, or from nonprofit organizations. Each scholarship or grant program has its own criteria. Your school’s financial aid office may be able to help you determine which programs you can qualify for.
- Fellowships and assistantships: Many universities employ PhD students as teaching or research assistants for professors, typically in the same department. You may also qualify for a fellowship — a competitive short-term research opportunity with financial support.
- Employer assistance: Depending on where you work, your current employer may be willing to help you pay for your higher education if your field of study is related to your career. Your company’s human resources department can let you know if you qualify for employer assistance programs.
- Multiple lenders compete to get you the best rate
- Get actual rates, not estimated ones
- Finance almost any degree
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Learn More: Up to $20K in Student Loan Forgiveness for Some Borrowers, And Payments Remain Paused
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Your Guide to Ph.D. Student Loans and Paying for Your Doctorate Degree
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Students planning to stay in school to get their Ph.D. may end up adding to their student loan debt. Graduate student loans are becoming more prevalent. A 2019 Department of Education report shows that the share of federal loans going to graduate students rose from 32% to 42% between 2003-2004 and 2018-2019.
For students pursuing a Ph.D., finding funding is key to avoiding more student loan debt. If you have to take on more Ph.D. student loans, federal student loans offer access to valuable protections and programs. When federal loans aren’t enough, private student loans can fill the financial gap.
Ph.D. programs that may lead to student loan debt
A Ph.D. is an academic degree, often research-based. Typically, they aren’t eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). Without PSLF, you might be facing a hefty student loan debt unless you can secure other means of paying for your education. Student loans for doctorate degrees would more likely qualify because doctorate programs can lead to positions at PSLF-qualifying employers. Ph.D. degrees usually don’t.
Ph.D. programs that can lead to student loan debt include:
- Criminal justice
- Health sciences
- Social work
No matter what Ph.D. program you are pursuing, there’s a chance you may have to take out student loans to pay for your education.
Let’s take a closer look at Ph.D. student loan options.
Federal student loans
Federal loans should be your first source of funding for Ph.D. student loans. There are two federal options available: Direct Unsubsidized loans and Grad PLUS loans. Both types of loans have their perks and limitations.
Direct Unsubsidized Loans
Direct Unsubsidized Loans, also known as Unsubsidized Stafford Loans, are an option for graduate and professional students, including those pursuing their Ph.D. Unsubsidized loans are slightly different from subsidized federal loans, which are only available to undergraduate students.
The annual limit for Direct Unsubsidized Loans for graduate or professional students is $20,500 at a current interest rate of 6.08%. These loans aren’t based on financial need, and you will be on the hook for interest during all periods, including while in school and grace periods. This interest will accrue and be capitalized, which means it is added to your loan balance.
Graduate and professional students can borrow a maximum of $138,500 in Federal Direct Loans, but no more than $65,000 can be from from Subsidized Loans. That total amount includes all federal loans taken out as an undergrad, too.
Although there’s no need to prove financial need, you still need to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to be eligible for Direct Unsubsidized Loans. Below are the fees associated with taking out a Direct Unsubsidized Loan:
Grad PLUS Loans
If Unsubsidized Loans aren’t enough to cover your Ph.D. program, another option is Grad PLUS loans. Students can borrow up to the cost of attendance minus other financial aid already received.
Grad PLUS loans currently have a fixed interest rate of 7.08% and have costly loan fees over 4.2%, which is deducted from your loan disbursement.
Payments on Grad PLUS loans aren’t required until after a six-month grace period, but interest accrues during school and will capitalize when you start making payments.
If you have to take out Ph.D. student loans to pay for school, look at federal loans first before moving on to other options.
Related: Your Complete FAQ Guide to the Grad PLUS Loan
Private student loans
If federal student loans aren’t enough, private student loans can help cover the difference. Many private lenders have graduate student loans specifically for students pursuing graduate and professional degrees, like a Ph.D.
Approval for private student loans is credit-based. The majority of students will require the assistance of a cosigner to qualify for private loans. Private loans may offer lower interest rates than federal loans if you have excellent credit; however, they don’t provide access to federal repayment programs and protections like deferment and forbearance.
Take time to compare private lenders and find the best rates before making a decision.
Other important funding options for Ph.D. students
Many students pursuing a Ph.D. will also have financial aid opportunities available. Options can include free money for college as well as work-related programs.
Ph.D. students should look at the following financial aid solutions before taking on more debt.
Scholarships and grants
The best kind of money to pay for your education is free money that doesn’t need to be repaid. Qualifying for scholarships and grants is the best source of free money for school.
Looking for scholarships and grants also starts with filling out a FAFSA form. Submitting it as close to when it’s released at the beginning of October is critical because many scholarships consider applications on a first-come, first-served basis.
For more help, check out 12 more sites to find Ph.D. student loan scholarships .
Fellowships can come from your school or external sources, like corporations or the government. Typically fellowships offer financial support without obligations to teach or research.
Check with your school’s financial aid office for more details on fellowship opportunities that may be available.
Taking a role as a teaching or research assistant can not only pay for tuition but also often comes with an annual salary and health insurance. Check with your school for details and application deadlines.
Employer tuition reimbursement
More employers are starting to offer some form of tuition reimbursement. Large corporations that offer reimbursement include:
- Proctor & Gamble
Check with your employer to see if the company has a tuition reimbursement program available.
Work-study programs provide extra money for tuition and expenses in exchange for part-time work related to your field of study. Programs are typically need-based.
Finding money for college you don’t have to pay back is ideal. Explore these options first to try and save money on your Ph.D. program.
A plan for paying for your Ph.D.
Getting your Ph.D. is going to be expensive if you don’t receive funding. Be sure to exhaust all your options for applying for free money and work and research programs before taking on more student loan debt. You could easily end up with a six-figure debt burden, especially if you already took out loans to pay for your undergraduate studies.
Look at all the available options and formulate a plan. If federal money isn’t enough, check out our lending partners to compare rates on private student loans. They can help match Ph.D. students with various student loans.
1 Sallie Mae disclosures . Lowest APRs shown for Sallie Mae Loans: The borrower or cosigner must enroll in auto debit through Sallie Mae to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction benefit. This benefit applies only during active repayment for as long as the Current Amount Due or Designated Amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. It may be suspended during forbearance or deferment. 2 Earnest: All rates listed above represent APR range. Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Earnest disclosures . 3 Ascent disclosures . Disclosure: Ascent Student Loans are funded by Bank of Lake Mills, Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: www.AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs . Rates are effective as of 12/01/2022 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes-based loans). Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: AscentFunding.com/Rates. 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest APRs require interest-only payments, the shortest loan term, and a cosigner, and are only available to our most creditworthy applicants and cosigners with the highest average credit scores.
Kevin Payne is a freelance writer and contributor to Student Loan Planner. Kevin also writes about family finances and travel on his site FamilyMoneyAdventure.com. Kevin lives in Cleveland, Ohio with his wife and four kids.
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Lender and Bonus disclosure
All rates listed represent APR range. Commonbond: If you refinance over $100,000 through this site, $500 of the cash bonus listed above is provided directly by Student Loan Planner.
CommonBond Disclosures: Refinancing
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.
CommonBond Disclosures: Private, In-School Loans
Student loan planner® disclosures.
Upon disbursement of a qualifying loan, the borrower must notify Student Loan Planner® that a qualifying loan was refinanced through the site, as the lender does not share the names or contact information of borrowers. Borrowers must complete the Refinance Bonus Request form to claim a bonus offer. Student Loan Planner® will confirm loan eligibility and, upon confirmation of a qualifying refinance, will send via email a $500 e-gift card within 14 business days following the last day of the month in which the qualifying loan was confirmed eligible by Student Loan Planner®. If a borrower does not claim the Student Loan Planner® bonus within six months of the loan disbursement, the borrower forfeits their right to claim said bonus. The bonus amount will depend on the total loan amount disbursed. This offer is not valid for borrowers who have previously received a bonus from Student Loan Planner®.
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Earnest: $1,000 for $100K or more, $200 for $50K to $99.999.99. For Earnest, if you refinance $100,000 or more through this site, $500 of the $1,000 cash bonus is provided directly by Student Loan Planner. Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount.
Earnest Bonus Offer Disclosure:
Terms and conditions apply. To qualify for this Earnest Bonus offer: 1) you must not currently be an Earnest client, or have received the bonus in the past, 2) you must submit a completed student loan refinancing application through the designated Student Loan Planner® link; 3) you must provide a valid email address and a valid checking account number during the application process; and 4) your loan must be fully disbursed.
You will receive a $1,000 bonus if you refinance $100,000 or more, or a $200 bonus if you refinance an amount from $50,000 to $99,999.99. For the $1,000 Welcome Bonus offer, $500 will be paid directly by Student Loan Planner® via Giftly. Earnest will automatically transmit $500 to your checking account after the final disbursement. For the $200 Welcome Bonus offer, Earnest will automatically transmit the $200 bonus to your checking account after the final disbursement. There is a limit of one bonus per borrower. This offer is not valid for current Earnest clients who refinance their existing Earnest loans, clients who have previously received a bonus, or with any other bonus offers received from Earnest via this or any other channel. Bonus cannot be issued to residents in KY, MA, or MI.
Interest Rate Disclosure
Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 5.21% APR to 9.24% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 5.24% APR to 9.19% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. The maximum rate for your loan is 9.13% if your loan term is 10 years or less. For loan terms of more than 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.21%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.24%. Please note, we are not able to offer variable rate loans in AK, IL, MN, NH, OH, TN, and TX. Our lowest rates are only available for our most credit qualified borrowers and contain our .25% auto pay discount from a checking or savings account.
Auto Pay Discount Disclosure
You can take advantage of the Auto Pay interest rate reduction by setting up and maintaining active and automatic ACH withdrawal of your loan payment. The interest rate reduction for Auto Pay will be available only while your loan is enrolled in Auto Pay. Interest rate incentives for utilizing Auto Pay may not be combined with certain private student loan repayment programs that also offer an interest rate reduction. For multi-party loans, only one party may enroll in Auto Pay.
Skip a Payment Disclosure
Earnest clients may skip one payment every 12 months. Your first request to skip a payment can be made once you’ve made at least 6 months of consecutive on-time payments, and your loan is in good standing. The interest accrued during the skipped month will result in an increase in your remaining minimum payment. The final payoff date on your loan will be extended by the length of the skipped payment periods. Please be aware that a skipped payment does count toward the forbearance limits. Please note that skipping a payment is not guaranteed and is at Earnest’s discretion. Your monthly payment and total loan cost may increase as a result of postponing your payment and extending your term.
Student Loan Refinancing Loan Cost Examples
These examples provide estimates based on payments beginning immediately upon loan disbursement. Variable APR: A $10,000 loan with a 20-year term (240 monthly payments of $72) and a 5.89% APR would result in a total estimated payment amount of $17,042.39. For a variable loan, after your starting rate is set, your rate will then vary with the market. Fixed APR: A $10,000 loan with a 20-year term (240 monthly payments of $72) and a 6.04% APR would result in a total estimated payment amount of $17,249.77. Your actual repayment terms may vary.Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest. com/terms-of-service, e-mail us at [email protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.
Student Loan Origination Loan Cost Examples
These examples provide estimates based on the Deferred Repayment option, meaning you make no payments while enrolled in school and during the separation period of 9 billing periods thereafter. Variable APR: A $10,000 loan with a 15-year term (180 monthly payments of $157.12) and an 11.69% APR would result in a total estimated payment amount of $21,290.40. For a variable loan, after your starting rate is set, your rate will then vary with the market. Fixed APR: A $10,000 loan with a 15-year term (180 monthly payments of $173.51) and an 13.03% APR would result in a total estimated payment amount of $22,827.79. Your actual repayment terms may vary.
Earnest Loans are made by Earnest Operations LLC or One American Bank, Member FDIC. Earnest Operations LLC, NMLS #1204917. 535 Mission St., Suite 1663, San Francisco, CA 94105. California Financing Law License 6054788. Visit earnest.com/licenses for a full list of licensed states. For California residents (Student Loan Refinance Only): Loans will be arranged or made pursuant to a California Financing Law License.
One American Bank, 515 S. Minnesota Ave, Sioux Falls, SD 57104. Earnest loans are serviced by Earnest Operations LLC with support from Navient Solutions LLC (NMLS #212430). One American Bank and Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.
© 2021 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved.
Student Loan Planner® Bonus Disclosure:
Laurel Road: If you refinance more than $250,000 through our link and Student Loan Planner receives credit, a $500 cash bonus will be provided directly by Student Loan Planner. If you are a member of a professional association, Laurel Road might offer you the choice of an interest rate discount or the $300, $500, or $750 cash bonus mentioned above. Offers from Laurel Road cannot be combined. Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount.
Laurel Road Bonus Offer Disclosure:
Rates as of 1/30/23. Rates Subject to Change. Terms and Conditions Apply. All products subject to credit approval. Laurel Road disclosures . To qualify for this Laurel Road Welcome Bonus offer: 1) you must not currently be an Laurel Road client, or have received the bonus in the past, 2) you must submit a completed student loan refinancing application through the designated Student Loan Planner® link; 3) you must provide a valid email address and a valid checking account number during the application process; and 4) your loan must be fully disbursed. If a borrower is eligible for and chooses to accept an interest rate promotional offer due to that borrower’s membership in a professional association, the borrower will not be eligible for the cash bonus from Laurel Road. However, the borrower can still be eligible for the Student Loan Planner® bonus if they qualify under the “Student Loan Planner® Bonus Disclosure terms below.” If you opt to receive the cash bonus incentive offer, you will receive a $1,050 bonus if you refinance $100,000 or more, or a $300 bonus if you refinance an amount from $50,000 to $99,999.99. For the $1,050 Welcome Bonus offer, $500 will be paid directly by Student Loan Planner® via Giftly. Laurel Road will automatically transmit $550 to your checking account after the final disbursement. For the $300 Welcome Bonus offer, Laurel Road will automatically transmit the $300 bonus to your checking account after the final disbursement. There is a limit of one bonus per borrower. This offer is not valid for current Laurel Road clients who refinance their existing Laurel Road loans, clients who have previously received a bonus, or with any other bonus offers received from Laurel Road via this or any other channel.
You can take advantage of the Auto Pay interest rate reduction by setting up and maintaining active and automatic ACH withdrawal of your loan payment. The interest rate reduction for Auto Pay will be available only while your loan is enrolled in Auto Pay. Interest rate incentives for utilizing Auto Pay may not be combined with certain private student loan repayment programs that also offer an interest rate reduction. For multi-party loans, only one party may enroll in Auto Pay
Student Loan Planner® Bonus Disclosure
Elfi: If you refinance over $150,000 through this site, $500 of the cash bonus listed above is provided directly by Student Loan Planner.
To begin the qualification process for the Student Loan Planner® sign on bonus, customers must apply from the link provided on https://www.elfi.com/student-loan-planner. Customers who are approved for and close a loan will receive the $300-$775 bonus through a reduction in the principal balance of their Education Loan Finance loan when your loan has been disbursed. The amount of the bonus will depend on the total loan amount disbursed. In order to receive this bonus, customers will be required to complete and submit a W9 form with all required documents. Taxes are the sole responsibility of the recipient. There is a limit of one bonus per borrower. This offer is not valid for current ELFI customers who refinance their existing ELFI loans, customers who have previously received a bonus, or with any other bonus offers received from ELFI via this or any other channel. If the applicant was referred using the referral bonus, they will not receive the bonus provided via the referring party. If the applicant becomes an ELFI customer, they may participate in the referral bonus by becoming the referring party. Additional terms and conditions apply.
For the $1,275 bonus associated with refinancing at least $150,000, $500 of the bonus is provided by Student Loan Planner® via Giftly, which can be redeemed as a deposit to your bank account or PayPal account. Upon disbursement of a qualifying loan, the borrower must notify Student Loan Planner® that a qualifying loan was refinanced through the site, as the lender does not share the names or contact information of borrowers. Borrowers must complete the Refinance Bonus Request form to claim a bonus offer. Student Loan Planner® will confirm loan eligibility and, upon confirmation of a qualifying refinance, will send via email a $500 e-gift card within 14 business days following the last day of the month in which the qualifying loan was confirmed eligible by Student Loan Planner®. If a borrower does not claim the Student Loan Planner® bonus within six months of the loan disbursement, the borrower forfeits their right to claim said bonus. The bonus amount will depend on the total loan amount disbursed. This offer is not valid for borrowers who have previously received a bonus from Student Loan Planner®.
See disclaimers at: https://www.splashfinancial.com/disclaimers/
Splash Financial, Inc. (NMLS #1630038), licensed by the DFPI under California Financing Law, license # 60DBO-102545
Terms and conditions apply. Loan or savings calculators are offered for your own use and the results are based on the information you provide. The results of this calculator are only intended as an illustration and are not guaranteed to be accurate. Actual payments and figures may vary. Splash Financial loans are available through arrangements with lending partners. Your loan application will be submitted to the lending partner and be evaluated at their sole discretion. For loans where a credit union is the lender or a purchaser of the loan, in order to refinance your loans, you will need to become a credit union member. The Splash Student Loan Refinance Program is not offered or endorsed by any college or university. Neither Splash Financial nor the lending partner are affiliated with or endorse any college or university listed on this website. You should review the benefits of your federal student loan; it may offer specific benefits that a private refinance/consolidation loan may not offer . If you work in the public sector, are in the military or taking advantage of a federal department of relief program, such as income-based repayment or public service forgiveness, you may not want to refinance, as these benefits do not transfer to private refinance/consolidation loans. Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. Products may not be available in all states. The information you provide is an inquiry to determine whether Splash’s lending partners can make you a loan offer but does not guarantee you will receive any loan offers. If you do not use the specific link included on this website, offers on the Splash website may include offers from lending partners that have a higher rate. This information is current as of March 2, 2023.
Rates are subject to change without notice. Not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy applicants and will depend on credit score, loan term, and other factors. Lowest rates may require an autopay discount of 0.25%.
Fixed APR: Annual Percentage Rate (APR) is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Fixed rate options range from 4.47% (without autopay) to 9.24% (without autopay) and will vary based on application terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer.
Variable APR: Annual Percentage Rate (APR) is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Variable rate options range from 4.59% (with autopay) to 9.24% (without autopay) and will vary based on application terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. Variable rates are derived by adding a margin to the 30-day average SOFR index, published two business days preceding such calendar month, rounded up to the nearest one hundredth of one percent (0.01% or 0.0001).
Lender and Bonus Disclosure
Splash: If you refinance over $100,000 through this site, $500 of the cash bonus listed above is provided directly by Student Loan Planner. Lowest rates displayed with an autopay discount of 0.25%. Splash disclosures .
To begin the qualification process for the Student Loan Planner® sign on bonus, customers must apply from the link provided. Customers who are approved for and close a loan will receive the $300-$500 bonus through Splash Financial. The amount of the bonus will depend on the total loan amount disbursed. There is a limit of one bonus per borrower. This offer is not valid for current Splash customers who refinance their existing Splash loans, customers who have previously received a bonus, or with any other bonus offers received from Splash via this or any other channel. If the applicant was referred using the referral bonus, they will not receive the bonus provided via the referring party. Additional terms and conditions apply.
For the $1,000 bonus associated with refinancing at least $100,000, $500 of the bonus is provided by Student Loan Planner® via Giftly, which can be redeemed as a deposit to your bank account or PayPal account. Upon disbursement of a qualifying loan, the borrower must notify Student Loan Planner® that a qualifying loan was refinanced through the site, as the lender does not share the names or contact information of borrowers. Borrowers must complete the Refinance Bonus Request form to claim a bonus offer. Student Loan Planner® will confirm loan eligibility and, upon confirmation of a qualifying refinance, will send via email a $500 e-gift card within 14 business days following the last day of the month in which the qualifying loan was confirmed eligible by Student Loan Planner®. If a borrower does not claim the Student Loan Planner® bonus within six months of the loan disbursement, the borrower forfeits their right to claim said bonus. The bonus amount will depend on the total loan amount disbursed. This offer is not valid for borrowers who have previously received a bonus from Student Loan Planner®.
Sofi: If you refinance $100,000 or more through this site, $500 of the $1,000 cash bonus is provided directly by Student Loan Planner. Fixed rates range from 4.74% APR to 8.99% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Variable rates from 5.09% APR to 8.99% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law, Variable Interest rates on 5-, 7-, and 10-year terms are capped at 8.95% APR; 15- and 20-year terms are capped at 9.95% APR. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on the term you select, evaluation of your creditworthiness, income, presence of a co-signer and a variety of other factors. Lowest rates reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. For the SoFi variable-rate product, the variable interest rate for a given month is derived by adding a margin to the 30-day average SOFR index, published two business days preceding such calendar month, rounded up to the nearest one hundredth of one percent (0.01% or 0.0001). APRs for variable-rate loans may increase after origination if the SOFR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. This benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit lowers your interest rate but does not change the amount of your monthly payment. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance. Autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers, or may become available, such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license #6054612; NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org). Additional terms and conditions apply; see SoFi.com/eligibility for details. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.
Rate Match Guarantee Disclosure
Get $100 when you fund a Student Loan Refinance offered by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate. $100 bonus not available to residents of OH. Rate Match valid only for private student loan refi products & will be on the rate, exclusive of all discounts. Eligible documentation of a competitor’s current rate offer, issued within 30 days of your SoFi pre-qualified rate, will be determined at SoFi’s sole discretion and must be for the same loan amount and repayment terms. Lowest rates reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. Void where prohibited by state law. See full terms & conditions at sofi.com/refinance-student-loan/#guaranteed-rate-match. SoFi reserves the right to modify or discontinue at any time without notice. Additional terms & conditions apply; see SoFi.com/eligibility. CFL#6054612, NMLS#1121636 (nmlsconsumeraccess.org)
Credible: If you refinance over $100,000 through this site, $500 of the cash bonus listed above is provided directly by Student Loan Planner.
To begin the qualification process for the Student Loan Planner® sign on bonus, customers must apply from the link provided on www.credible.com.
The amount of the bonus will depend on the total loan amount disbursed. In order to receive this bonus, customers will be required to complete and submit a W9 form with all required documents. Taxes are the sole responsibility of the recipient. A customer will only be eligible to receive the bonus one time. New applicants are eligible for only one bonus. Additional terms and conditions apply.
For the $1,250 bonus associated with refinancing at least $100,000, $500 of the bonus is provided by Student Loan Planner® via Giftly, which can be redeemed as a deposit to your bank account or PayPal account. Upon disbursement of a qualifying loan, the borrower must notify Student Loan Planner® that a qualifying loan was refinanced through the site, as the lender does not share the names or contact information of borrowers. Borrowers must complete the Refinance Bonus Request form to claim a bonus offer. Student Loan Planner® will confirm loan eligibility and, upon confirmation of a qualifying refinance, will send via email a $500 e-gift card within 14 business days following the last day of the month in which the qualifying loan was confirmed eligible by Student Loan Planner®. If a borrower does not claim the Student Loan Planner® bonus within six months of the loan disbursement, the borrower forfeits their right to claim said bonus. The bonus amount will depend on the total loan amount disbursed. This offer is not valid for borrowers who have previously received a bonus from Student Loan Planner®.
Terms and conditions apply. To qualify for this LendKey Bonus offer: 1) you must not currently be an LendKey client, or have received the bonus in the past, 2) you must submit a completed student loan refinancing application through the designated Student Loan Planner® link; 3) you must provide a valid email address and a valid checking account number during the application process; and 4) your loan must be fully disbursed.
You will receive a $1,250 bonus if you refinance $150,000 or more, or a $100 to $400 bonus if you refinance an amount from $20,000 to $149,999.99, depending on the amount refinanced. For the $1,250 Welcome Bonus offer, $500 will be paid directly by Student Loan Planner® via Giftly. LendKey will automatically transmit $750 to your checking account after the final disbursement. For the $100 to $400 Welcome Bonus offer, LendKey will automatically transmit the $100 to $400 bonus to your checking account after the final disbursement. There is a limit of one bonus per borrower. This offer is not valid for current LendKey clients who refinance their existing LendKey loans, clients who have previously received a bonus, or with any other bonus offers received from LendKey via this or any other channel. Bonus cannot be issued to residents in KY, MA, or MI.
Upon disbursement of a qualifying loan, the borrower must notify Student Loan Planner® that a qualifying loan was refinanced through the site, as the lender does not share the names or contact information of borrowers. Borrowers must complete the Refinance Bonus Request form to claim a bonus offer. Student Loan Planner® will confirm loan eligibility and, upon confirmation of a qualifying refinance, will send via email a $500 e-gift card within 14 business days following the last day of the month in which the qualifying loan was confirmed eligible by Student Loan Planner®. If a borrower does not claim the Student Loan Planner® bonus within six months of the loan disbursement, the borrower forfeits their right to claim said bonus. The bonus amount will depend on the total loan amount disbursed.
Sallie Mae Disclosures
1 Lowest rates shown include auto debit discount. Advertised rates are for the Smart Option Student Loan for undergraduate students and are valid as of 2/27/23.
Advertised APRs for career training students assume a $10,000 loan to a student who attends school for 2 years and has no prior Sallie Mae-serviced loans. Interest rates for variable rate loans may increase or decrease over the life of the loan based on changes to the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent. Advertised variable rates are the starting range of rates and may vary outside of that range over the life of the loan. Interest is charged starting when funds are sent to the school. With the Fixed and Deferred Repayment Options, the interest rate is higher than with the Interest Repayment Option and Unpaid Interest is added to the loan’s Current Principal at the end of the grace/separation period. To receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate discount, the borrower or cosigner must enroll in auto debit through Sallie Mae. The discount applies only during active repayment for as long as the Current Amount Due or Designated Amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. It may be suspended during forbearance or deferment.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.
The interest rate ranges represent the lowest and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including Undergraduate, Graduate, Health Professions, Law and MBA Loans. The lowest APRs shown for residency, bar exam, private consolidation and parent loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants and include a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.
The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable margin percentage. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 0.250% as of January 1, 2021. Discover Student Loans may adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both.
Our lowest APR is only available to customers with the best credit and other factors. Your APR will be determined after you apply. It will be based on your credit history, which repayment option you choose and other factors, including your cosigner’s credit history (if applicable). Learn more about Discover Student Loans interest rates at DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Rates.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access (https://www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org/). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.
Upon disbursement of a qualifying loan, the borrower must notify Student Loan Planner® that a qualifying loan was refinanced through the site, as the lender does not share the names or contact information of borrowers. Borrowers must complete the Refinance Bonus Request form to claim a bonus offer. Student Loan Planner® will confirm loan eligibility and, upon confirmation of a qualifying refinance, will send via email a $500 e-gift card within 14 business days following the last day of the month in which the qualifying loan was confirmed eligible by Student Loan Planner®. If a borrower does not claim the Student Loan Planner® bonus within six months of the loan disbursement, the borrower forfeits their right to claim said bonus. The bonus amount will depend on the total loan amount disbursed. This offer is not valid for borrowers who have previously received a bonus from Student Loan Planner®.
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PhD Student Loans & Master’s Student Loan Options
Reach your education goals with flexible master’s and phd student loans from ascent..
See My Rates Check your rate without impacting your credit score.
Competitive PhD student loan & Master's student loan interest rates
6.87% - 15.39%*.
- Your payment may change every month.
- Your interest rate varies and changes with market conditions.
5.62% - 16.24%*
- Make the same payment every month.
- Your interest rate is set the day you apply and doesn’t change.
*Rates displayed above are effective as of 03/01/2023 and reflect an Automatic Payment Discount of 0.25% on credit-based loans when you enroll in automatic payments. For more information, see repayment examples or review the Ascent Student Loans Terms and Conditions . **Lowest APRs require interest-only payments, the shortest loan term, and a cosigner, and are only available to our most creditworthy applicants and cosigners with the highest average credit scores.
Customize your Master’s student loan or PhD loan repayment options
Flexible repayment plans.
- $25 minimum* if you want to get started on your payments while you’re still in school.
- In school interest-only repayment if you can afford larger payments while in school.
Extended In-School Period
- The maximum in-school period is 36 months.
- The grace period allows you to postpone payments up to 9 months after graduation , giving you time to focus on what matters.
*Want to see what your repayment plan and monthly payments could look like? Check out our loan repayment examples to help you make your decision.
5 Benefits of Master’s and PhD student loans with Ascent
- No application, origination, or disbursement fees
- No penalties for early loan payoff
- 1% cashback + discount for automatic payments
- Refer a friend and earn $525 for each friend who takes a loan
- Defer payments up to 9 months after graduation
What are others saying about Ascent?
- Forbes Advisor
How to get your PhD student loan or Master’s loan
You’ve already put a lot of work into preparing for your PhD or Master’s. Getting the financing you need shouldn’t stop you now. We’ve streamlined our application process so you can get your funds without getting a headache.
Submit your pre-qualification
We ask you to provide important information such as your name, address, date of birth, the school you’re applying to, and employment information. If you’re applying with a cosigner, they’ll also enter their information.
Select your repayment plan
Once your completed loan application is approved, you’ll be able to view your repayment options and select the loan terms that work best for you.
Complete your Ascent Portal tasks
After you choose your loan terms and accept your disclosures, your Ascent Portal will be populated with tasks to complete. These tasks include a financial wellness quiz and providing us with any additional information we need to prepare your loan.
We pay your school
When your portal tasks are complete, we send your loan for school certification. Once certified, we’ll disburse your loan directly to your school.
Ready to start your loan application?
See your rates today without impacting your credit score.
Additional ways to pay for your PhD or Master’s degree
Federal financial aid.
Many PhD and Master’s students take out federal loans first by filling out the FAFSA , then seek more funding through scholarships and private student loans. Using the FAFSA for Master’s loans and PhD student loans can give you an overview of your federal student loan options.
If your federal aid doesn’t cover all your costs, taking out a private student loan can keep you from stressing over your budget while you’re studying.
Ascent also gives out more than $80,000 in scholarships every year to students attending college, graduate school, and bootcamps. There are many chances to win, so make sure to check in regularly to see which scholarships we’re currently running.
Financial wellness tips for PhD and Master’s degree students
To help you with your student loans for graduate school, we incorporate financial wellness into our application process. This gives you exclusive access to tips and resources to prepare you for financial success in school and after graduation.
How to Apply for Grad School Loans
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A Guide to FAFSA Eligibility Requirements
Frequently asked questions about a phd or master’s student loans.
If your federal student loans don’t cover all of your living expenses, a private student loan for your Master’s program or PhD and scholarships may give you the relief you need. How much can I take out in PhD student loans or a student loan for a Master’s degree? The maximum loan amount for Ascent loans is limited to the total cost of attendance for one full academic year, minus any financial aid, as certified by your school. Keep in mind that your school may certify your loan for less than the amount that you requested.
- Minimum : $2,001
- Maximum (aggregate) : $200,000 for Undergraduate Loans; $400,000 for Graduate Loans
- Maximum for the academic year:
- $400,000 for Graduate Credit-Based Loans
Is a student loan for a Master’s degree or a PhD student loan worth it? Depending on your program and personal goals, taking loans for a PhD or Master’s degree can be well worth it. Planning out your budget in advance and setting yourself up for success can minimize your stress during and after college.
Ascent provides financial tips and ideas to help students succeed – we’re here to help you get the most out of your student loans. How does a PhD loan or a Master's student loan work? PhD student loans and Master’s loans with Ascent work in 4 easy steps. After you’ve been accepted to your school, you can begin the application for your loan. Once you’ve pre-qualified for your loan, you can accept the loan and customize your repayment options. We’ll keep you updated on additional tasks and documents that need to be uploaded.
Finally, your school will certify the amount you’re approved for and your funds will be sent directly to your school – any money that doesn’t go towards your school’s necessary funds will be sent to you to cover additional expenses. Can international students get student loans for a Master’s program or a PhD loan? Yes, Ascent’s PhD student loans and Master’s student loans are available for international students attending U.S.-based institutions. To apply for our student loan for graduate school as an international resident, you’ll need to apply with a creditworthy cosigner. Your cosigner must be a resident of the United States.
Don’t see your question? Check our FAQ page .
Contact us for help with your PhD student loan or Master’s loan
If you have questions or concerns about student loans for PhD programs or Master’s degree student loans, don’t hesitate to contact Ascent. We’re available to assist you and provide clarification on the loan application process, as well as any additional information you need to help make your decision.
Fill out our contact form to reach the Ascent team.
Pursuing a different educational route?
Ascent provides private student loans for various graduate student routes. If your heart isn’t set on dentistry, we can still help you out! Check out our other graduate loan options.
What type of loan are you looking for?
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For students seeking their undergraduate or graduate degree from a university or college.
For students attending a coding bootcamp school pursuing a degree in technology, professional training, or licensure training.
Graduate student loans
If you’ve applied for graduate school scholarships (yes, they’re a thing), you used your savings, and you applied for federal financial aid through the fafsa –then you might consider a private graduate student loan to cover any remaining grad school expenses., browse graduate student loans by category.
Choose the right loan to cover your graduate degree or post-graduate studies
Pay for your expenses as you pursue your master's or doctoral degree in a discipline that's not listed below
Pay for your expenses as you pursue your Masters of Business Administration degree
Medical & healthcare
Pay for your medical degree expenses in allopathic, general, osteopathic, podiatric, radiology, sports, and veterinary medicine
Pay for your expenses associated with taking board examinations, traveling for interviews, and moving for your medical residency
Pay for your health professions degree expenses in allied health, nursing, pharmacy, and other graduate-level health programs
Pay for your dental degree expenses in general dentistry, endodontics, oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics, pediatric dentistry, periodontics, and prosthodontics
Pay for your expenses associated with taking board examinantions, traveling for interviews, and moving for your dental residency
Pay for your school and associated expenses as you study for your law degree
Pay for your expenses associated with fees and living cost as you study for the bar exam
Choose the right graduate student loan
If you're considering a graduate loan to help cover the cost of your next degree, it's important to understand what types of loans to consider, how to apply, and how much aid you can qualify for.
Which student loans are available for graduate students
There are two types of graduate student loans: federal and private. Federal loans are funded by the federal government, and you apply for Federal Direct Loans and Direct Graduate PLUS Loans by filling out a FAFSA. Private student loans are offered by banks and credit unions, and you apply directly from the lender. We offer loans for graduate school..
Depending on the professional field that you're planning to enter, you may have different needs from a graduate student loan. For instance, medical and dental degrees often require residencies, so it can be helpful to have a deferment period. That is why we offer graduate student loans designed with features for specific degree types: medical school, dental school, law school, MBA, and health professions graduate school. We also have a Graduate School Loan, which is designed for humanities, sciences, and other degrees.
Learn more about the differences between federal and private student loans for graduate students . footnote 1
How to apply for a private graduate student loan
It's easy to apply for a graduate student loan. Use the “Apply for a loan” button on this page, and you'll be asked a few questions to determine which graduate loan is appropriate for you. Then, you'll fill out some basic information. It only takes about 15 minutes to apply for your graduate student loan and get a credit result.
How much can you borrow as a graduate student
The amount that you can borrow for graduate school generally depends on the loan; most of our graduate student loans let you borrow from $1,000 up to 100% of the school-certified Cost of Attendance (COA). footnote 2
The COA, generally listed in your financial aid award letter , is an estimate of what you'll pay for the following costs: tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and personal expenses.
Graduate student loan credit information
Private graduate student loans are credit-based. The lender wants to know how creditworthy, or how responsible you are with credit, before approving your student loan application. That means they'll view your history of borrowing money and paying it back on time. If you believe your credit history isn't strong, consider adding a cosigner . Their good credit may help you get approved for your loan.
Benefits and rewards of applying for a graduate student loan
The greatest benefit to taking out a graduate student loan is the ability to pay for the graduate education that's important to you. Most grad students see the expense of getting a degree as an investment in their future . Many believe that it can help them enter or advance in their chosen career field, and potentially reward them with higher earnings .
Didn't find what you were looking for?
footnote 1. Explore federal loans and compare to make sure you understand the terms and features. Private student loans that have variable rates can go up over the life of the loan. Federal student loans are required by law to provide a range of flexible repayment options, including, but not limited to, income-based repayment and income-contingent repayment plans, and loan forgiveness and deferment benefits, which other student loans are not required to provide. Federal loans generally have origination fees, but are available to students regardless of income.
footnote 2. For applications submitted directly to Sallie Mae, loan amount cannot exceed the cost of attendance less financial aid received, as certified by the school. Applications submitted to Sallie Mae through a partner website may be subjected to a lower maximum loan request amount. Miscellaneous personal expenses (such as a laptop) may be included in the cost of attendance for students enrolled at least half-time.
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How to take out a PhD loan
Pursuing a phd can be a long and expensive process. it’s important to know your funding options, including phd student loans..
If you’re considering a PhD, these are the PhD student loans and other funding options available for your doctorate program. ( Shutterstock )
Getting a PhD can be an expensive undertaking.
The average annual tuition and fees for graduate students was $19,749 for the 2020-21 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics . Considering it takes PhD candidates an average of 5.8 years to complete their doctoral degree, according to the National Center for Science and Engineering, that could mean a price tag of nearly $115,000 for your doctorate degree.
Even though these costs may sound overwhelming, doctoral students have a number of options for paying for their degree, including PhD loans.
Private student loans may be an option to cover your PhD education. Credible lets you compare private student loan rates from multiple lenders, all in one place.
Take out federal PhD loans first
Consider private student loans to fill the gaps, how to pay for a phd without taking out loans, do phd loans cover living expenses, how much can you borrow with phd student loans.
If you need to borrow money to pursue your PhD, the best initial loan source is the U.S. Department of Education. That’s because federal PhD loans (like all federal student loans ) offer fixed interest rates no matter your credit history, flexible repayment terms, no payments until after you leave school, and options for postponing payments.
Two types of federal loans are available to PhD students: Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Grad PLUS Loans.
Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans
Graduate students, including PhD students, can take out federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans to pay for their program. As unsubsidized loans, your interest will accrue and capitalize (be added to your principal) while you’re in school — unless you make voluntary interest payments.
For the 2022-23 school year, you can expect the following:
- Annual borrowing limit: $20,500
- Aggregate borrowing limit: $138,500 (this includes all federal loans received for undergraduate study)
- Interest rate: 6.54%
- Disbursement fee (subtracted from the amount borrowed): 1.057%
Don’t forget that the U.S. Department of Education adjusts the interest rate annually on July 1, so the interest rate on federal loans during your first year of doctoral education may not be the same rate for future years.
Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans have a standard repayment period of 10 years with a fixed monthly payment. But you do have the option of switching to alternative repayment plans .
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SUBSIDIZED AND UNSUBSIDIZED STUDENT LOANS?
Federal Grad PLUS Loans
These types of loans are specifically designed for graduate students, including PhD students. Like Direct Unsubsidized Loans, the interest on Grad PLUS Loans is unsubsidized, so it will accrue and capitalize while you’re studying, unless you make voluntary interest payments.
The 2022-23 limits and rates for federal Grad PLUS Loans are:
- Annual borrowing limit: Cost of attendance, minus any other assistance you receive
- Aggregate borrowing limit: None
- Interest rate: 7.54%
- Disbursement fee (subtracted from the amount borrowed): 4.228%
For-profit banks and other lenders offer private student loans . This means the specific borrowing limits, interest rates, repayment terms, fees, and credit requirements will vary from lender to lender. The best way to find the right private student loan for you is to shop around and compare rates and terms from at least three to five lenders.
You may be wondering why PhD students would take out private student loans since federal Grad PLUS Loans have a borrowing limit as high as the school’s cost of attendance. Here are a few reasons you might consider turning to private PhD student loans :
- Lower interest rates — Federal PhD loans currently have relatively high fixed interest rates, at 6.54% for Direct Unsubsidized Loans and 7.54% for Grad PLUS Loans. PhD students with good to excellent credit may be able to borrow money from a private lender at lower rates than those offered by the federal government.
- Lower fees — Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans have a 1.057% disbursement fee, and the Grad PLUS Loan disbursement fee is an eye-watering 4.228%. While most private lenders also charge an origination fee (which works the same as the federal disbursement fee), borrowers with good credit will likely be able to find a loan with a lower origination fee.
Private student loans can also be a good way to reduce the cost of your PhD loans down the road.
If you need to take out private student loans, visit Credible to compare private student loan rates from various lenders in minutes.
FEDERAL VS. PRIVATE STUDENT LOANS: WHICH MAKES SENSE FOR YOU?
If you’d like to avoid taking out loans for your PhD program, you can find several other ways to pay for your advanced degree, including:
- Scholarships and grants — Your university or a program within your field may offer scholarships or grants for your studies. This is financial aid that doesn’t have to be repaid.
- Fellowships — These merit-based financial prizes are awarded for short-term opportunities and can help you pay for specific aspects of your program.
- Graduate, teaching, or research assistantships — This type of program requires you to work part-time in your field at your university in exchange for a full or partial tuition waiver. Some assistantships also come with a living stipend so you can focus wholly on your studies.
- Tuition reimbursement — Your employer may offer tuition reimbursement for your PhD program, especially if your field of study is related to your current job.
You can use both federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Grad PLUS Loans to pay for living expenses. The U.S. Department of Education will usually disburse the student loan funds directly to your school. If there’s any money left over after the cost of tuition and fees is covered, the remaining amount will be refunded to you, and you can use that money to pay for housing or any other education-related costs.
With private PhD loans, you can borrow whatever amount you can qualify for and use the money for any education-related expenses, including housing or living expenses.
The amount you can borrow with a PhD student loan depends on the source of your loan.
- Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans have an annual borrowing limit of $20,500 and an aggregate limit of $138,500, which includes all federal student loans you received for your undergraduate education.
- Federal Grad PLUS Loans allow you to borrow up to the total cost of attendance of your school, minus any other assistance you receive. There’s no aggregate limit.
- Private PhD student loans have different borrowing limits depending on the private lender you borrow from, your credit history, and other factors.
With Credible, you can compare private student loan rates without affecting your credit.
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- Education and learning
- Student finance
A Postgraduate Doctoral Loan can help with course fees and living costs while you study a postgraduate doctoral course, such as a PhD.
There’s different funding if you normally live in Wales . Moving somewhere to study does not count as normally living there.
You can also get extra support if you have a disability .
You will not be eligible for an Adult Dependants’ Grant, a Childcare Grant or Parents’ Learning Allowance from Student Finance if you’re studying a doctoral course.
When you can apply
You can now apply for funding for the 2022 to 2023 academic year.
When you repay your loan
You’ll have to start repaying your loan when your income is over a certain amount (the ‘threshold’ amount).
You’ll be charged interest from the day you get the first payment.
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- PhD Loans for Doctoral Students – A Guide for 2022
PhD Loans for Doctoral Students – A Guide for 2023
Written by Mark Bennett
A UK PhD loan is worth up to £28,673 from Student Finance England. We're waiting for confirmation on Student Finance Wales, but in 2022-23 you could borrow £27,880 for a doctoral degree in any subject. The money only needs to be paid back when you earn over £21,000 a year.
On this page
You can borrow a doctoral loan of up to £28,673 from Student Finance England for 2023-24 study. We're still waiting for confirmation from Student Finance Wales but you were able to borrown up to £27,880 in 2022-23. All of the money is paid directly to your bank account . You can use it for PhD fees, research expenses, maintenance or other costs.
Doctoral loans aren't based on household income or means tested, so the amount you can borrow isn't affected by your income or savings.
It's up to you to decide how much you want to borrow (up to the maximum, of course). This amount will then be spread evenly across your PhD, in three instalments per academic year .
Frequently asked questions
Below we've answered a selection of commonly asked questions about PhD loan amounts.
Is the value of the doctoral loan linked to my fees?
No. You can borrow the same amount with a doctoral loan regardless of how much your PhD project or programme costs.
Can I change the amount I borrow?
Yes. You can change your PhD loan amount later by submitting a PhD loan request form (PDF). You can't do this online.
Can I borrow more than the cost of my PhD?
Yes. Any extra loan can be used to help with living costs or other expenses.
Do I have to borrow the full amount?
You can borrow anything between £1 and £28,673 (for a 2023-24 PhD). Whatever you request will be divided equally across your PhD , but you can't receive more than £12,167 in any one year.
Are extra loans available for maintenance?
No. You can use some of your doctoral loan for living costs, but there isn't any separate PhD maintenance loan.
Will the loan value increase?
The value of a doctoral loan usually increases slightly with inflation each year. However, this change only applies to new students. The maximum you can borrow with your PhD loan will be capped at the amount available when you began your PhD.
Why can't I borrow more than £12,167 per year?
Capping the annual amount for a PhD loan at £12,167 is designed to match the Masters student loan system : it means that doctoral students and Masters students can borrow the same amount per year.
The timing of your loan payments will be based on your intended submission date . This means that your loan payments may already have finished if your PhD takes longer than you expect, or you spend extra time 'writing up' your thesis. You should bear this in mind as you plan your project and budget for it.
You can apply for a PhD student loan if you're a UK national and:
- You've lived in the UK for at least three years (not including time abroad for short-term travel or study)
- You are ordinarily resident in England or Wales (you don't just live there to study)
- You will be aged under 60 (59 or under) on the first day of the first academic year of your PhD (usually 1 September for degrees beginning in the autumn)
- You don't already have a PhD or other doctorate
- You won't be receiving UKRI funding for your PhD (and haven't been funded by a Research Council in the past)
- You won't be receiving other UK public funding for your doctorate, such as a Social Work or Educational Psychology bursary
- Your doctorate isn't eligible for NHS funding (if it is, you should apply for this instead)
PhD loans for Scottish and Northern Irish students
UK doctoral loans are currently only offered by Student Finance England and Student Finance Wales. You won't normally be eligible to apply for their support if you are resident in Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Student Finance Northern Ireland and Student Awards Agency Scotland may offer doctoral loans in the future. We'll let you know as soon as that happens.
PhD loans for EU students
You can apply for a UK doctoral loan as an EU student if:
- You began your PhD in the 2020-21 academic year or earlier
- You applied to the EU Settlement Scheme before 30 June 2021
EU students who are coming to study in the UK from 2021-22 onwards will count as international students (see below).
PhD loans for Irish students
Irish students can still apply for a UK PhD loan to study in either England or Wales. This right is guaranteed by the Common Travel Area and isn't affected by Brexit.
PhD loans for international students
International (non-UK) students aren't normally eligible for UK doctoral loans, but an exception may apply if:
- You have settled status in the UK
- You are an EU national and have applied to the UK's EU Settlement Scheme (see above)
- You are an Irish national (see above)
- You or a family member have been granted refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK
- You are 18 or over and have lived in the UK for at least 20 years and / or half of your life
If you aren't sure whether you qualify for UK student finance, check advice from the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) .
We've answered several questions about student eligibility for doctoral loans, covering residency criteria and more.
Where can I study?
If you are ordinarily resident in England or Wales before your course, you can use your PhD loan to study any UK PhD .
If you are ordinarily resident outside the UK, you can only use your PhD loan to study in England or Wales.
What if I have moved from England or Wales to another part of the UK for previous study?
You will still count as an English- or Welsh-resident student if you have studied your undergraduate degree or Masters in Scotland or Northern Ireland and want to continue straight on to a PhD. This means you will be able to apply for a doctoral loan.
What counts as being ordinarily resident in England or Wales?
To be eligible for a doctoral loan as a UK student you must be ordinarily resident in England or Wales. This means that you normally live in England or Wales and you haven’t moved there just to go to university.
You will normally count as being ordinarily resident in England or Wales if any or all of the following are true:
- You lived in England or Wales before you went to university for your Bachelors degree
- You received an undergraduate student loan from Student Finance England or Student Finance Wales
- You have lived and worked in England or Wales after graduating from university
Can I combine a PhD loan with a Research Council studentship?
No. Unfortunately you can't apply for a PhD loan if you're also receiving any form of Research Council funding from UKRI – including a 'fees-only' award.
Can I get a PhD loan now and apply for Research Council funding later?
Potentially. Some Research Council awards allow students to apply again for the second year of their PhD. Having had a PhD loan may not stop you doing this, provided you cancel it before receiving your Research Council funding.
Note that this still doesn't work the other way around: you can't apply for a PhD loan once you've been awarded Research Council funding.
Can I combine a doctoral loan with other PhD funding?
You can't combine a PhD loan with other funding from the UK Government, including Research Council studentships or Social Work, Educational Psychology or NHS bursaries. However, you can potentially top up your PhD loan with other PhD funding , including:
- A scholarship or bursary from your university
- A grant from a charity or trust
- One of our own FindAPhD scholarships
Are EU students still eligible for doctoral loans?
EU eligibility for UK student finance has changed following Brexit :
- All EU nationals can still apply for a doctoral loan for a PhD that began in the 2020-21 academic year
- EU nationals who applied to the EU Settlement Scheme before 31 December 2020 can also apply for a loan for a PhD that begins in 2021-22 or later
- EU nationals who are arriving in the UK after 1 January 2021 and beginning a PhD in the 2021-22 academic year will not normally be eligible for a doctoral loan
These criteria also apply to students from the EEA (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) and Switzerland.
Are doctoral loans available for international students?
Non-UK students aren’t normally eligible for UK student loans, unless they are Irish nationals or have applied to the EU Settlement Scheme.
Exceptions may apply if you have lived in the UK legally for a very long time, have been granted humanitarian protection or have refugee status.
For more information on UK fees and finance as a postgraduate student we recommend you check the resources produced by the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) .
And, if you can't get a loan, you might still be eligible for other international PhD funding in the UK .
Are Irish students eligible for PhD loans?
Yes, Irish students are able to apply for UK doctoral loans as part of the Common Travel Area. You will need to be doing your PhD in either England or Wales.
How will my residency be checked?
You’ll be asked to provide at least three years’ address history during your postgraduate loan application. Student Finance England may query any details that might affect your eligibility.
What if I have stayed in another part of the UK to work after university?
Living and working in a different part of the UK means you aren’t just there to go to university. This can change your residency status.
- You live in Scotland but go to university in England. After graduating you settle and work in England. If you eventually decide to study a PhD, you will now count as being ordinarily resident in England and can apply for a doctoral loan, even though you were once resident in Scotland.
The same would be true for an English student who had lived and worked elsewhere in the UK after graduating – it's possible that this could mean you are no longer classed as English-resident for student loan purposes.
If you aren’t sure about your residency status, check with Student Finance England .
What if I have moved to England or Wales from another part of the UK for previous study?
Because you only moved to England or Wales to study, your residency status won’t have changed. You will still count as being ordinarily resident elsewhere in the UK and, unfortunately, won't currently be able to apply for the PhD loan.
Are PhD loans means-tested?
No. You can borrow the same amount regardless of your income, savings or credit rating.
The only exceptions concern outstanding arrears to the Student Loans Company (for repayments you were eligible to make, but didn't). However, you may be able to apply for a loan if you clear these.
Can I get a doctoral loan if I’ve lived outside the UK in the last three years?
In order to apply for a student loan as a UK citizen you must have lived in the UK for three years prior to your course. You can travel abroad for holidays or other periods of ‘temporary absence’ during this period, but you shouldn’t have become ordinarily resident in another country.
Will a PhD loan affect my benefits?
Potentially, yes. Because the loan is paid directly to you it may be regarded as a form of income by the Department for Work and Pensions. You should check this if you are concerned about your benefit entitlement with a PhD loan.
Can I also apply for Disabled Students' Allowance?
Yes. You can have a PhD loan and receive Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA) during your PhD.
Can I have a PhD loan as well as a postgraduate Masters loan?
You can apply for a postgraduate doctoral loan if you've previously had a postgraduate Masters loan . However, you can't be receiving them both at the same time (you'll need to finish your Masters before you begin your PhD).
The PhD loan is available for all types of research doctorate, in any subject . This includes academic doctorates such as a PhD and DPhil, as well as professional doctorates such as a DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) or EdD (Doctor of Education) .
However, you can't get a doctoral loan for a PhD by publication (you must be funding a programme of research and / or study).
UK students can study at any UK university . Eligible students who normally live outside the UK can use the doctoral loan to study at any English or Welsh university.
You can study full time or part time provided your PhD lasts between 3 and 8 years . You will be able to choose from different course lengths when you apply. These will be set by your university based on the intended submission date for your thesis.
Your course must have started on or after August 2018.
Below you can find the answers to a selection of questions about PhD loan course eligibility.
Can I study my PhD part time?
The loans don't actually distinguish between full-time and part-time students. Your PhD can last between 3 and 8 years, however you study.
In practice, most UK universities will regard a 3-4 year PhD as 'full time' and a 6-8 year PhD as 'part time'. You will agree the exact length of your programme with your university.
Can I get a loan for a PhD by publication?
No. You can't apply for a loan if you're submitting a PhD by published work (based on a portfolio of research you've already completed). In this case there would be no new project or programme for the loan to pay for!
Can I get a loan if my doctorate begins as an MPhil?
Yes. You can still apply for a doctoral loan for a programme that initially registers students at MPhil level before upgrading them to PhD candidacy.
However, if you are only enrolling for an MPhil, you should apply for a Masters loan instead.
Can I get a loan for a doctorate by distance learning?
Yes, provided you are living in England or Wales (depending on which loan you are applying for) on the first day of the first academic year of your PhD and living in the UK for the entire course.
You can't get a PhD loan to study by distance learning and live outside the UK.
Can I apply for a loan for a PhD that includes a Masters degree?
Yes. You can still get a loan for a PhD that also awards a Masters degree, including an integrated doctorate or a '1+3' programme. However, you must be registering to graduate with the doctorate, not the Masters.
Can I apply for a loan to 'top up' an existing qualification to PhD level?
No. To be eligible for a loan your project or programme must be a complete doctorate, begun after 1 August 2018. You can't get a loan to extend or 'top up' and existing MPhil or other qualification.
Can I get a loan for a joint doctorate?
Yes, provided the UK university is the lead institution for your PhD and you spend at least 50% of your course in the UK.
Can I study at a private university?
In order to receive a doctoral loan you must be doing your PhD at a university with Research Degree Awarding Powers (RDAPs). Most established UK universities have these powers, but your institution should be able to confirm if you aren't sure.
Can I get a loan if I've previously begun a PhD, but not completed it?
Yes, provided you haven't earned a doctoral qualification and you are starting a completely new doctorate (not continuing or resuming your previous programme or project).
However, you can't normally apply for a second doctoral loan, even if your first loan was for an incomplete qualification. Exceptions may apply if you can demonstrate compelling personal reasons for exiting your first doctorate - Student Finance England will consider your case if so.
Can I get a loan to study a doctorate abroad?
You can't get a PhD loan to study your entire doctorate abroad. However, you can spend part of your degree outside the UK, provided this does not exceed 50% of your programme and your UK university is the lead institution awarding your PhD.
Can I get a PhD loan for a professional doctorate?
Yes. All types of doctorate are eligible for PhD loans, provided the qualification is awarded for a programme of work at a UK university.
PhD loan applications are now open for doctorates beginning in 2021-22 (or earlier).
Make sure you apply to the correct student finance provider. This will be:
- Student Finance England for English-resident students or Irish students coming to study in England
- Student Finance Wales for Welsh-resident students or Irish students coming to study in Wales
If you have an existing student finance account and Customer Reference Number (CRN) you should use this to apply for your PhD loan. The application system will also ask for details about your PhD (or other doctoral degree), residency status and how much you want to borrow.
The application deadline is fairly relaxed – you have to apply within nine months of the first day of the final academic year of your doctorate. Depending on when you start your PhD during the year, there are four possible ‘first days’, which you can see in the table below.
As an example, if you start a three-year PhD on 22 October 2021, you should apply for a doctoral loan before 31 May 2024.
Remember though, that applying later in your PhD could limit the maximum amount you can borrow (you can't receive more than £12,167 in a single academic year).
If you have any further questions about applying for a PhD loan, hopefully the FAQs below will cover them.
When can I apply for a PhD loan?
Applications for 2021-22 PhD loans opened on 29 June 2021. You can apply online or by post (PDF).
Will I receive a loan whilst I'm 'writing up' my PhD?
Only if you are still ahead of your submission date. Your university may allow you extra time to finish writing up your thesis, but you won't receive any extra payments if you've already had your full loan by that point.
When will I receive my first instalment?
You'll receive the first payment for your PhD loan once you start your PhD and your university confirms that you have registered on your project or programme.
When will I stop receiving my loan?
Your payment schedule will be based on the intended submission date for your doctoral thesis, agreed with your university at the start of your degree.
Should I apply at the beginning of my course, or wait?
This is up to you and depends on your funding circumstances.
The PhD loan is meant to be flexible though: you could apply for a loan to help support you throughout your doctorate, or use it to bridge gaps between funding or replace income from a part-time job as you focus on the later stages of your project.
Do I have to reapply in each year of my PhD?
No. You only have to apply for a doctoral loan once.
Can I use an existing student finance account?
Yes. If you have already have an account with Student Finance England you must use it to apply for your doctoral loan.
Do I need to be accepted for a PhD before I apply for a loan?
No. You will need to state which university you intend to research your doctorate at (and how long for) but you don't need to prove you've been accepted before you can apply for a PhD loan. However, you will need to register for your PhD before you receive any actual loan payments (your university should confirm this for you).
Can I apply for a loan for a PhD I've already started?
You can apply after the beginning of a PhD, but it must have started after 1 August 2018.
Doctoral loan repayments are income contingent . You only repay your PhD loan when you are earning over £21,000 a year (£1,750 a month or £404 a week) and you only repay 6% of what you earn over that threshold.
You'll begin repayments in the first April after you leave your course or in the April four years after your PhD starts (whichever is sooner). This means that you can be eligible to start repaying the doctoral loan during your PhD, but only if you're earning enough.
How you repay depends on your employment status:
- If you are employed in the UK HMRC will automatically deduct repayments from your salary on behalf of the Student Loans Company. This will usually happen monthly.
- If you are self-employed you will need to make repayments to HMRC as part of your annual tax return.
- If you are working outside the UK you will need to make repayment arrangements with the Student Loans Company. You should do this before you leave the UK.
- If you are unemployed you won't make repayments. The same applies if you are ever earning less than £21,000 a year.
You may also need to repay other student loans along wth your PhD loan:
- PhD and Masters loan repayments are combined – you will make one repayment of 6% of your income over £21,000 towards a single postgraduate loan debt
- All postgraduate loan repayments are concurrent with those for undergraduate loans – you will repay 6% of your income over £21,000 towards your Masters and / or PhD loan and 9% of your income over £26,575 towards your undergraduate loan
Interest is charged on a PhD loan at the same rate as Masters loans: RPI (the Retail Prices Index) +3%. As of March 2022, the rate is 4.5%, but this changes every year.
Any remaining PhD loan debt (including interest) is cancelled after 30 years from the point at which you begin repayments.
We've answered a few more FAQs about PhD loan repayments below.
When do repayments begin?
You will become eligible to start repaying your doctoral loan on one of the following dates:
- 6 April after your PhD ends
- 6 April four years after you begin your PhD
Note that this is slightly difference to repayments for other student loans, which only ever begin after graduation.
It means you could begin repaying your loan whilst you're still studying for your doctorate (and potentially still receiving loan payments). However, you will only ever make repayments when you're earning over £21,000 a year.
Do repayments still begin after 4 years if I study part time?
Yes, regardless of how you study, you will become eligible to repay a PhD loan (providing you're earning enough) four years after your course begins or in the April after you graduate (whichever is sooner).
Could I have to make PhD loan repayments on my pension?
Potentially, yes. If the money you receive from a pension counts as income you will need to make student loan repayments on it (alongside other potential deductions such as income tax). It's a good idea to check this with your pension plan provider.
Welsh PhD loans
Wales offers its own PhD loan for Welsh-resident UK students. You can borrow up to £27,880 for a degree that begins in 2022-23.
Welsh PhD loans work the same way as English PhD loans. The only difference is that you should apply to Student Finance Wales, not Student Finance England.
Scotland and Northern Ireland don't offer a doctoral loan yet.
Like hearing about postgraduate funding changes?
So do we it really helps when we're putting together our free weekly newsletter..
Not sure how to fund your PhD? This guide answers some of the most common questions about PhD funding in the UK.
Integrated PhD programmes consist of a one-year Masters followed by three years of PhD research. Find out more about what it's like to study an integrated PhD, how to apply and the funding options available.
Bench fees cover the costs involved in laboratory research during a PhD. This page is a guide to what they are used for, how much they cost and how you can pay for them.
The PhD application process can be confusing. This page sets out a step-by-step guide to help you apply for a PhD.
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How to Pay for a Ph.D.
For most undergraduates, the price tag of tuition is an afterthought. It’s not until they graduate and begin making student loan payments that the true cost of a college degree sinks in.
For anyone going back to school, that cost is already well understood.
That’s why if you’re thinking about applying for Ph.D. programs, you’re probably also thinking about where the money is going to come from. Depending on the program you’re ultimately accepted to, that answer can vary significantly.
Read on to learn a few options for how to pay for your Ph.D. – and how you can continue to save money after graduating.
Many universities offer fully-funded Ph.D. programs that will cover the cost of tuition, fees and health insurance. They may even offer an annual stipend designed to cover living expenses. In exchange for the stipend, you may have to work as a research assistant (RA) or teaching assistant (TA) in the department. These stipends generally range from $18,000 to $30,000 a year, and the amount depends on the university.
When applying to different universities, make sure you understand if the program is fully-funded or not. This will let you know how much you’ll be financially responsible for.
Federal Student Loans
If you don’t get into a fully-funded program, then federal student loans are the next best option to pay for your Ph.D. They have income-based repayment plans, extended deferment and forbearance periods and loan forgiveness options.
You have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to become eligible for federal student loans. Interest rates on federal student loans are subject to change from year-to-year but are relatively low.
The federal government offers the following student loan options for Ph.D. candidates:
Ph.D. students are eligible for up to $20,500 in Direct Unsubsidized Loans each year, up to $138,500 in total including any undergraduate loans. For the 2021-22 school year, the interest rate on these loans for graduate and professional students is 4.30%. There is also a 1.057% loan fee that is assessed each year.
Interest will accrue on the loans while you’re in school, during the six-month grace period after graduation and during any deferment periods.
Grad PLUS Loans
Students who have maxed out their Direct Loans can apply for Grad PLUS loans. The interest rate for Grad PLUS loans is 5.30% for the 2021-22 school year.
The limit you can borrow with Grad PLUS loans is the total annual cost of attendance subtracted from any other financial aid, like grants and scholarships . The borrower’s university determines the total cost of attendance.
Unlike the Direct Loan Program, the federal government will run a credit check if you apply for a Grad PLUS loan. There is no official credit score minimum, but you can’t have any late payments of 90 days or more, defaults, bankruptcies, tax liens, wage garnishments or other adverse actions within the past five years.
If you have an adverse action and don’t qualify for a Grad PLUS loan by yourself, you can ask someone to co-sign or endorse your student loan. This person will bear financial responsibility if you stop making payments.
You can also prove to the Department of Education that there were “extenuating circumstances” explaining your adverse actions. Students who are approved with an adverse action will have to complete a credit counseling course.
While most states only offer grants to undergraduate students, some offer assistance to graduate students. These are almost exclusively available to local students attending an in-state college.
Do a Google search for your state and grants to see what your options are. Make sure to apply for these early, as some are on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Apply for Scholarships and Fellowships
Ph.D. students can apply for scholarships to pay for tuition and living expenses, just like they did for their undergraduate program. They can apply for scholarships directly through the university and from outside organizations.
These scholarships are even more crucial for students whose Ph.D. programs are not fully funded. Many of these scholarship deadlines are due a year before, so it’s best to fill these out well ahead of time.
Fellowships are another source of funding for Ph.D. students. These can be competitive and hard to find but are worth applying for because most fellowships will cover all of your expenses. Plus, in most cases, you don’t have to work for the university as a TA or RA in order to earn your fellowship. This frees up more time to conduct your research.
Ask Your Employer
Some employers will pay for you to go back and get a Ph.D. This route will likely take longer than becoming a full-time student because you’ll still have to work full-time, but you could also save a lot of money by having tuition, fees and books paid for. Ask your HR department if this is a possibility.
Take out Private Loans
If you need student loans and don’t qualify for federal aid, your next best option is to take out private student loans.
There are a variety of private lenders with their own interest rates and fees. Make sure to compare private lenders before you sign up, so you can find one with the lowest interest rate.
Refinance Student Loans after Graduation
You can refinance both federal and private student loans after graduation. You may end up with a much lower interest rate and could save thousands of dollars in total interest paid.
For example, let’s say you borrowed $30,000 in Grad PLUS loans with a 5.30% interest rate and a 10-year term. If you qualified to refinance to a 3.5% interest rate and a 10-year term. In this example, you would save $3,114 in total interest.
For more information about refinancing your student loans with ELFI, explore our student loan refinancing webpage or contact us .
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Best PhD school loans ; Direct Unsubsidized Loan, 4.99%, Varies ; Grad PLUS Loan, 7.54%, Varies ; College Ave Graduate Loan, 4.74% – 13.99%, $1,000
Federal student loans for Ph.D. students ... The U.S. Department of Education offers Direct PLUS loans to graduate and professional students. If you're eligible
Student loan limits for PhD loans · Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans: Graduate students can borrow up to $20,500 per year, with an aggregate
Federal loans should be your first source of funding for Ph.D. student loans. There are two federal options available: Direct Unsubsidized loans
Get one step closer to your degree with a flexible PhD loan or Master's loan with Ascent. See your options for customizable private Master's and PhD student
There are two types of graduate student loans: federal and private. Federal loans are funded by the federal government, and you apply for Federal Direct Loans
Graduate students, including PhD students, can take out federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans to pay for their program. As unsubsidized loans, your
A Postgraduate Doctoral Loan can help with course fees and living costs while you study a postgraduate doctoral course, such as a PhD.
The PhD loan is available for all types of research doctorate, in any subject. This includes academic doctorates such as a PhD and DPhil, as
It's not until they graduate and begin making student loan payments that the true cost of a college degree sinks in. For anyone going back to