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Using Graduate Student Loans to Pay for Your Master's and Higher Ed Degrees

Budgeting Financial Aid Student Loans

4 minute read

Tips for Paying for Graduate School

Graduate students come in a wide range of ages with varying backgrounds. While there are plenty who choose to enter grad school directly after completing their undergrad degrees, others choose to pursue a grad degree later in life. Many have families or other financial responsibilities that a typical undergrad student doesn't have to worry about.

Even with financial aid, scholarships, grants, and fellowships, it can be difficult for grad students to make ends meet. Thankfully, there are graduate student loans available to help you bridge the gap between other financial aid and the cost of attending school. Here are a few of the best graduate student loans and tips for prospective students who want to apply for them.

Types of Graduate Student Loans

As was true with your undergraduate degree, you have multiple federal and private loan options to choose from when paying for graduate school. Although federal student loans typically provide the best value for undergrads, that isn’t necessarily the case when financing graduate school. As you decide how to pay for your master’s degree or doctorate, it’s important to shop for the best loan for you.

If you have a North Carolina connection, you definitely want to check out the NC Assist Graduate Student Loan! NC Assist Loans are offered by College Foundation, Inc., a trusted North Carolina non-profit lender.

Remember, loan terms may change, so make sure you understand all of the “fine print” before you borrow money from any lender. Here’s what you can expect from some of the best graduate loans:

Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan

  • These federally funded loans used to be called Stafford Loans.
  • They’re available to undergrad and grad students.
  • Borrowers don’t have to demonstrate financial need.
  • Interest begins accruing as soon as the funds are disbursed.
  • Interest rates are higher for grad students than for undergrads.
  • Origination fees (currently 1.057% of the total value of the loan) will be deducted from the amount of money you receive.
  • There’s a total limit (known as the aggregate loan limit) on the amount grad students can borrow. The current aggregate limit is $138,500, but this amount also includes any Direct Unsubsidized Loans you took out as an undergrad.

Federal Direct Graduate PLUS Loan

  • The federal government provides Graduate PLUS Loans specifically for grad students.
  • Borrowers don’t have to demonstrate financial need.
  • Interest rates are higher than on Direct Unsubsidized Loans.
  • Interest begins accruing as soon as the funds are disbursed.
  • Origination fees are also higher (currently 4.228%) than on Stafford Loans and will be deducted from the total amount you receive.
  • Unlike Direct Unsubsidized Loans, there's no aggregate limit to how much you can borrow. That means you can borrow up to the cost of attendance laid out by your university, minus any other financial aid you may have received.

NC Assist Graduate Student Loan

  • The NC Assist Loan is provided by a non-profit lender.
  • Borrowers don’t have to demonstrate financial need.
  • Competitive fixed interest rates are often lower than those offered by federal graduate student loans.
  • Interest begins accruing as soon as the funds are disbursed.
  • There are no origination fees associated with NC Assist Loans.
  • The aggregate loan limit is $200,000.

How To Apply for Graduate Loans

Step 1: Complete the FAFSA and Residency Determination

Just like you did as an undergrad, you should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to qualify for financial aid. You should also complete the NC Residency Determination Service (RDS) to qualify for in-state tuition at North Carolina schools, which is less per semester than most out-of-state alternatives.

After completing the FAFSA and RDS, you’ll receive a letter from the schools where you applied and were accepted, detailing the cost of attendance and the student aid available to you (including any scholarships, work-study job opportunities, and federal loan options).

Step 2: Complete an Application

If you decide to apply for a Graduate PLUS Loan or an NC Assist Loan, you’ll fill out an online application. Both of these loans require a credit check. If you have limited or adverse credit, you can use a co-signer to increase your chances of qualifying.

Step 3: Your School Certifies the Loan

Your school confirms that you’re enrolled at least half-time in a degree-seeking program and meet other federal eligibility requirements. The amount you may borrow is limited to your school’s cost of attendance minus other financial aid you’re receiving.

Step 4: Sign Your Documents

Once you’re approved, review your documents thoroughly. After you sign them, your funds will be disbursed directly to the school.

NC Assist Can Help You Achieve Your Higher Ed Goals

If you’re ready to take your education to the next level, we’re ready to help. Apply for an NC Assist Graduate Student Loan today.

Apply Now