Graduate Students: Loans, Fellowships & Aid

Finding money for a master's degree, Ph.D., MD or law degree is easier than you think.

A graduate degree can open the door to the career of your choice — but first you’ll need to find a way to pay for it. With a SunTrust private student loan, you’ll have the funds you need for your graduate school expenses. However, before applying, you should learn about all of your funding options.

Scholarships, Fellowships and Teaching Assistantships

The first kind of college funds you should look for is money you won’t have to pay back, such as scholarships, fellowships and teaching assistantships, or TA jobs. TA awards or research assistantships usually have an internship or work assignment associated with the award. For example, a TA often works as an assistant to a professor, doing tasks like printing out handouts and grading papers. If you receive a TA award, the monetary value could be considerable, possibly covering your full tuition and may offer you a stipend.

What’s the difference between scholarships, fellowships and teaching assistantships?

The first thing to know is that there isn’t a hard and fast label for these awards. Some people think scholarships are only for undergrads and fellowships are only for graduate students — but that is not always the case. Similarly, scholarships and fellowships are often based on achievement, but some may also have a need-based component. It depends on the particular award and the college or university a student is attending. However, in general, here are some distinctions:

Type of Award Features


  • Usually merit-based
  • Available to undergraduates and some graduate students
  • Does not usually have a work assignment associated with the award


  • Usually merit-based
  • Available mostly to graduate students and recent graduates, but there are some undergraduate awards
  • Are intended to let students focus on studies so work options or requirements are typically less than a teaching assistantship; in some cases, there are work restrictions
  • Typically covers all or part of tuition
  • May or may not have a stipend

(Such as teaching assistantships and research assistantships)

  • Are often merit-based — however some programs are need-based and are structured like a work-study program
  • Available to graduate students
  • Requires a work assignment
  • Typically covers all or part of tuition
  • Usually includes a stipend for work

A good place to look for scholarships, fellowships and TA awards is the website of the school(s) you are interested in attending; most have a database of scholarships and financial awards. You should also try sites or search tools that are specifically designed for finding scholarships, like CareerOneStop, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, which typically has thousands of graduate awards and Peterson’s Grad School Scholarships search. You can also find helpful scholarship resources here.

Federal Student Aid

The federal government is one of the best places to turn for college grants and student loans. The U.S. government provides access to grant money to qualified students every year. The U.S. government, through the Federal Direct Loan Program, also provides a variety of student loans to both undergraduate and graduate students. There are multiple types of Federal Direct Loans that have similar-sounding names, so it’s good to note the differences:

  • Federal Direct Subsidized Loans – NOT available to graduate students, the interest on these loans is paid, or subsidized, by the federal government for the time period that an undergraduate student is in school.
  • Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans – available to undergraduate and graduate students; the student is responsible for the interest that accrues while the student is attending school.
  • Federal Direct PLUS Loans – available to graduate students and parents of students; this is a non-need based, unsubsidized loan that factors in the applicant’s credit history.

As you review federal aid options, one thing you’ll notice is that there is a difference in the loans offered to undergrads and graduate students. For example, the Direct Subsidized Loan is not available to graduate students. Grad students, however, have the option to apply for a PLUS Loan. Unlike other federal student loans, Grad PLUS Loans factor in an applicant’s credit history for approval.

Key facts to know about the Grad PLUS Loan program:

  • The U.S. Department of Education is the lender.
  • You must not have an adverse credit history.
  • The maximum loan amount is the cost of attendance (determined by the school) minus any other financial aid received. 

To apply for federal aid, you will need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Private Student Loans

If you’ve looked at other financing sources and you still need more money for school, a private student loan could be a good way to fill in the gap. SunTrust offers several private student loans for those seeking a graduate degree. Compare our private student loans.

A Summary of Federal and SunTrust Graduate Student Loan Options
Loan Loan Type Need Based? Credit History Considered?
Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan Federal No No
Graduate Direct PLUS Loan Federal No Yes
Custom Choice Loan (SunTrust) Private No Yes
Union Federal Private Student Loan (SunTrust) Private No Yes
Graduate Business School Loan (SunTrust) Private No Yes

Employer College Assistance Programs

Many employers, and particularly large corporations, offer scholarships or tuition reimbursement programs. If you’re a grad student who is employed, you might want to check with your employer’s human resource department to see if they have student aid programs. You could also potentially qualify for assistance programs through your parents’ employers.

How much do you need for school? Enter your tuition, expenses and financial aid and find out.


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Important Information

Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. View and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans.

Union Federal is a federally registered trademark of Cognition Financial Corporation. Start Student Loan is a trademark of Cognition Financial Corporation. Both are used by SunTrust under license. Truist Financial Corporation (“SunTrust now Truist” or “Lender”) is the lender of these private student loans and they are not offered in connection with any other lender or the federal government. Cognition Financial Corporation is not an affiliate of Lender.

Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. Lender reserves the right to change or discontinue these programs without notice. These loan programs are subject to approval under the Lender’s credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.

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