What is the average grad school debt in the U.S.? - Fox Business

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Here’s the average grad school debt students take on while pursuing master’s, doctorate, and professional degrees in different fields of study. (Shutterstock)
Although completing graduate school can significantly boost your earning potential, it often comes with a substantial price tag. Grad students only represent around 16% of college students, but they took out 47% of federal student loans in the 2020-21 academic year — $39 billion, according to the College Board.
The average MBA graduate has $50,150 in debt, while the average law school graduate has $129,290 in debt, according to National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data from the 2015-16 academic year. Meanwhile, the average medical school debt for graduates is a whopping $223,060.
Keep reading to learn the average amount of debt students take on when completing a master’s, doctorate, or professional degree in different fields of study, and some ways you can manage grad school debt.
If you’re looking to get a better interest rate and terms for your graduate student loans, visit Credible to compare student loan refinance rates from various lenders.
The type of graduate degree you pursue has a huge impact on the amount of debt you may have to take on. 
Here’s the average amount of money students borrowed to earn the following degrees, according to NCES data from the 2015-16 academic year (the most recent data available):
The amount of debt you take on as a graduate student also depends on the field of study you choose. 
Here’s the average amount of debt students racked up while pursuing master’s degrees in various fields, according to NCES data:
A doctorate degree is usually the most expensive type of graduate degree to pursue, due to the length of the program. But the cost varies by your area of study. 
Here’s the average amount of debt students took on to complete doctorate degrees in the following programs, according to NCES data:
In addition to your area of study and degree type, the type of school you attend — whether it’s a public school, a private nonprofit school, or a private for-profit school — can also influence the amount of debt you take on as a graduate student
Here’s how much debt the average grad student had based on the type of graduate degree they received and the type of school they attended, according to NCES data: 
Postbaccalaureate certificate: $54,090 (all school types)
Master’s degree: $50,290 (all school types)
Research doctorate: $101,490 (all school types)
Professional degree (including law and medicine): $171,670 (all school types)
Over the past two decades, there’s been a sharp rise in the amount of debt graduate students take on. 
Here’s how much the average grad school debt has increased from 1999-2000 for students who graduated in 2015-16, according to NCES data:
If you’re pursuing a doctorate degree, you’ll typically take on more debt than students who are pursuing master’s degrees, since doctoral students spend more time in school. While a master’s degree typically takes two years to complete in the U.S., doctoral degree programs require a longer time commitment. A full-time law school program normally takes three years to complete, but students can take six years or longer to complete a doctorate degree in other fields of study.
Here’s a look at the average time it took to complete various doctorate programs in 2019, according to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics:
Credible makes it easy to compare student loan refinance rates from multiple lenders, all in one place.
Although you’ll typically take on higher levels of student loan debt as a grad student, earning a graduate degree can significantly boost your earning potential, which can help you repay your student loans faster.
For example, the median annual income for a bachelor’s degree holder is $67,860, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). By contrast, the median annual income for a master’s degree holder is $80,340 — a difference of more than 18%. Meanwhile, professional degree holders have a median annual income that’s more than 45% higher than graduates who hold only bachelor’s degrees.
Here’s the median annual income for full-time and salaried workers who are 25 or older by their level of education, according to BLS data:
Graduate degree holders typically have lower unemployment rates than their colleagues who don’t have a graduate degree. 
The 2020 unemployment rate for bachelor’s degree holders was 5.5%, according to BLS data. By contrast, the unemployment rate for master’s degree holders was just 4.1%.
The 2020 unemployment rates by education level were:
Graduate students pay higher interest rates on federal student loans than undergrads. 
Here are the federal student loan interest rates for the 2021-22 academic year, according to the Federal Student Aid website:
It’s important to note that most federal student loans are in federal forbearance, meaning payments are paused and the current interest rate is 0% through Aug. 31, 2022.
If you’re a law school or medical school student, you tend to borrow more student loans, so you’re at greater risk of hitting federal loan limits. As a result, you may be more likely to take on higher-interest PLUS Loans than graduate students who are pursuing other fields of study. These loans can help cover any gaps in your education expenses.
The total loan limit for Direct Unsubsidized and Subsidized Loans for grad students for the 2021-22 academic school year is $138,500, and the limit for PLUS Loans is the cost of attendance (minus any financial aid you receive)
Here’s the percentage of grad students who took out federal loans by degree type during the 2017-18 academic year, according to NCES data:
If you’ve taken out loans to pay for grad school, it may feel like you’ll never pay them off, especially if you owe as much as $100,000 in student loans. But the good news is that you can make your loans more manageable in several ways:
With Credible, you can compare student loan refinance rates from multiple lenders in minutes.
Grad school enrollment increased over 23% from 2004 to 2019, according to NCES data. Along with this rise in enrollment, more graduate students are taking on debt — and the total outstanding debt among grad students has skyrocketed.
The number of grad students taking out Grad PLUS Loans has increased from 1 million in the first quarter of 2015 to 1.5 million in the first quarter of 2021. During this same time period, the amount borrowed in Grad PLUS Loans students increased by a staggering amount — over $40 billion.
While these are huge numbers, the earning potential for those with graduate degrees is promising, and federal relief has paused repayment of student loans for the time being. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by grad school debt, remember that you have options to manage your student loans.
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