PhD Loans [All you need to know in 2020]

Getting a PhD is a prestigious honor for an individual and can help increase their credibility in a particular field. This post graduate doctoral degree is quite expensive and student loans can help tackle the expenses to be made. Discover private, federal and other options to help pay for your PhD

Updated by Chandni Agarwal on 3rd January 2020

There are students who are looking for a Ph.D. degree, it may sound very prestigious but on the other hand, it’s not budget-friendly for everyone. A student planning to get a Ph.D. will have to stay in school for a number of years and pay thousands of dollars as a Ph.D. fee, those who are not able to afford the fee or don’t have enough money, have another option which is Ph.D. student loans.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development(link), the United States has the fourth-most Ph.D. degree holder in the world. Very few citizens 20 in 1,000 aged between 25 and 64 hold one.

To become a teaching assistant or research is one of the ways to help you cover the cost of your education. But you may need a Ph.D. student loan in case you don’t find any assistantship to cover tuition.

But before you opt for Ph.D. student loans make sure you are aware of all the options available so that you don’t pay too much in interest rates and compare them for the best suitable choice for you, and which fits your financial situation. This article may help you choose the best suitable option.  

Table of contents

Federal loans for Ph.D.

Federal Student loans should be your first choice when it comes to your Ph.D. student loans. As it has loan flexibility, It tends to be cheaper, there are other perks for the borrower like loan forgiveness. 

Direct PLUS loans are offered to graduates and professional students by the U.S. Department of Education. The eligible students can borrow up to the school-certified cost of attendance less than the scholarships and grants you receive.

A credit check is a must in Direct PLUS loan, Unlike any federal student loans for undergraduates. The borrower may require a Co-signer if there is bad credit history. Under these extreme circumstances, you can qualify on your own. Such as:

  • If your credit report is having any errors

  • You recently paid off your account in collections

  • You had a wage garnishment, though it’s been released

  • If you have consolidated the federal student loan you have defaulted, then it’s no longer in default

  • You can proof your bankruptcy which was discharged for more than five years

You have to pay a loan fee of 4.264% if you do not qualify for Direct PLUS loans. The loan fee is the amount which will be deducted from your disbursed loan, by the Department of Education and you will only receive $9,573.60 from the approved loan of $10,000.

Also, you have to pay a fixed interest fee of 7% on your Direct PLUS loan, if you get approved before July 1, 2018.

The federal student loans offer special perks for their Ph.D. student loan, besides they don’t provide the best interest rates and fees.

For example, You can keep your monthly payments affordable, when you will be eligible for the income-driven repayment plans, and you can also qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)  depending on your career plans.

Private loans for Ph.D.

After exhausting all your federal student loans, if you feel you may need more money for your Ph.D. then you can opt for private student loans

In comparison to federal student loans, repayment plans are less flexible, the interest rate rates are higher in private student loans. The borrower can qualify for the low-interest rate if the past history is very good or the borrower has a co-signer who can give financial assistance to your lender. The interest rate will vary from one lender to another also.

There are many private student loan companies are offering Ph.D. loans like Sallie Mae, College Ave, Ascent, SunTrust, Citizen Bank, these can help you find regional banks and credit unions with funding options.

Here are the five highest-rated lenders that offer student loans to Ph.D. students.  

Sallie Mae

Although Sallie Mae started with federal student loans, but it is now focusing mainly on providing private student loans, including the student loan for Ph.D.

Points you should know about before taking loans from Sallie Mae-

  • Loan Amount: You can borrow up to 100% school-certified expenses. 

  • Loan terms: You can repay the loan up to 20 years

  • APRs: 3.87% to 9.24% variable rate APR or 5.49% to 9.98% APR


  • Borrowers have the option to defer the repayment for 48 months after graduation for an internship or fellowship. After the grace period of maximum flexibility, you can make 12 interest-only periods

  • No origination fees, prepayment penalties, no fees to apply is charged

  • In comparison to any other lender, the Co-signer release is shortest here. After only 12 ontime consecutive monthly payments it will be available


  • Credit check required is very hard

  • Customer service complains are very common from existing Sallie Mae customers

College Ave

With the foundation of College Ave, the way students borrow for school was changed. Along with student loans for Ph.D., they provide student loan refinancing and private student loans.

Points you should know about before taking loans from College Ave-

  • Loan Amount: You can borrow up to $150,000 

  • Loan terms: 5,8,10,15 or 20 years

  • APRs: 4.38% to 8.69% variable APR or 4.67% to 9.75% fixed rate APR


  • You can choose to defer your loan repayments while in school or one of three other in-school repayment options

  • You can submit your application in three minutes only

  • No fees to apply for a loan, no origination fees, no prepayment penalties are charged


  • Forbearance is available only on a case by case basis, for the struggling borrowers no forbearance is set

  • To make co-signer available, 24 on-time loan repayments are required  


Without a parent co-signer, it is easy to get approved of your loan, as Ascent provides specific options for non-cosigned loans. Ascent provides up to$600 in referral bonuses and it also helps students nationwide to secure their loans. 

Points you should know about before taking loans from Ascent-

  • Loan Amount- you can borrow up to $200,000 

  • Loan terms- 5,10,or 15 years

  • APRS- 3.22% to 12.54% variable APR or 4.21% to 13.12% fixed APR


  • Without a co-signer, the student can borrow loan

  • In the time of financial hardship, the borrower has the option to put loan into forbearance

  • Flexible options for in-school repayment, including deferment 


  • It gets an average rating from customers

  • From any lender, the maximum APR is higher


SunTrust provides a variety of financial services, including a Ph.D. student loan. It has more than 1400 bank branches and operates in 11 states in the southeast and Washington D.C.

Points you should know about before taking loans from SunTrust-

  • Loan Amount: You can borrow up to $65,000

  • Loan terms: 7, 10 or 15 years

  • APRs: 2.52% to 10.05% variable APR or 3.82% to 11.05% fixed APR


  • By making automatic payments you can receive a discount of 0.25%

  • Including deferring payment, you have four more options for in-school repayment

  • No application fees, origination fees, prepayment penalties are charged

  • In-school refinance options are available


  • For co-signer release, 36 months of on-time payment are required

  • Only for SunTrust customers, the maximum APR discounts are available

  • Compare to any other lenders, the repayment option is very few

Citizens Bank

The bank provides a wide variety of banking service options like checking accounts, savings account, and loans and private student loans are among school offerings and you can borrow your loan to get your Ph.D. It is headquartered in Rhode Island but has branches in a total of 11 states.  

Points you should know about before taking loans from Citizens Bank-

  • Loan Amount: You can borrow up to $180,000 to $350,000 depending on your degree

  • Loan terms: 5, 10 or 15 years

  • APRs: 3.08% to 8.71% variable APR or 4.40% to 9.49% fixed APR


  • Multi-year approval is available

  • While you are in school you can choose to defer or make payments

  • You can apply in 15 minutes or less with three easy steps


  • For co-signer release, 36 months of on-time payment are required

  • Only for Citizen Bank customer, autopay discount is available

  • Repayment options are very few than some competitors 

You can get the whole amount that you borrowed, as many of the lenders don’t charge loan fees. The features may vary from one lender to another. For example, while setting for autopay payment mode many lenders give you an interest rate reduction.

Worried about your college tuition? Find the best student loans for you

Alternatives to Ph.D. student loans

Students who haven’t qualified for any of the Ph.D. student loans don’t have to be worried. They have an alternative for Ph.D. loans. Graduates and professional students who are pursuing Ph.D. have numerous scholarships and grants available. In exchange employment contracts for the tuition reimbursement program with your employer. 

Other ways to pay your Ph.D. program

If you take out a few loans from your refinancing loan, it’s always better. You can consider the following options, to reduce your debt:

  • Research or teaching assistantship

  • Scholarships and grants

  • University-based or external fellowship

  • Employer tuition reimbursement

  • Federal work-study

Go through each and every option mentioned above, choose the best suitable option before you make any decision. Also, find out the total money you need to cover your education. Compare Ph.D. student loans from private lenders and the Department of Education.

With persistent effort, you will have a better chance of finishing your Ph.D. program with less debt and lower monthly payments which will make it easier to eliminate your debt once you start your career.

Is it possible to pay for your PhD with student loans?

From the above article, you can know some of the best Ph.D. student loans available. Free funding can be your first option which will help you the minimum amount as a loan. Then you can opt for federal loans and lastly private loans. In this way, if you approach your educational funding, after graduation loan repayment will not be a major burden for you.