Can I Use Student Loans For Certificate Programs?

Certification in a specific skill or subject can help you advance in your job, strengthen your resume or pivot careers. Whatever the case may be, certificate programs can give your professional life—and your earning potential—a boost. However, they can be expensive.

Luckily, you don’t have to cover the cost upfront. If you need a student loan for a certificate program, you may be eligible for either federal or private student loans.

Types of Student Loans for Certificate Programs

A common misconception is that student loans can only be used if you’re working toward a degree. However, that’s not accurate—you can use student loans to cover the cost of certificate programs, too. There are several types of loans for certificate programs, including federal and private options.

Federal Student Loans

For most students, federal student loans are the best place to start if you need to borrow money for your certificate program since they usually have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options than private loans. There are several types of federal loans that could be a good fit:

  • Subsidized: Federal subsidized loans are for students with significant financial needs. With this option, the government pays for the interest that accrues on your loan while you’re in school, during your grace period and whenever your payments are in deferment. Besides four-year schools, subsidized loans can be used to pay for certificate programs at community colleges and trade, career or technical schools.
  • Unsubsidized: Like subsidized loans, direct unsubsidized loans can be used for certificate programs at eligible schools. However, there are no income requirements to qualify for these loans and most students are eligible. You are responsible for paying all interest charges during the life of the loan.
  • PLUS loans: If you already have a degree and are returning to school to earn a certificate, you have the option of using federal PLUS loans to pay for your program. Unlike subsidized and unsubsidized loans, PLUS loans are not restricted by annual or aggregate limits, so they can be a good choice if you have reached the borrower maximum for other federal loans. However, these loans have higher interest rates and fees than your other options.

Private Student Loans

With private student loans, it can be more difficult to qualify when you’re in a certificate program. Some lenders require borrowers to be working to either an undergraduate or graduate degree; certificate programs don’t meet their criteria.

However, there are lenders that distribute student loans for certificate programs. For example:

  • Ascent Funding has a career loan that can be used for eligible professional training and certification programs at select schools.
  • EDvestInU loans can be used for undergraduate and graduate study as well as certificate programs.
  • Sallie Mae’s Smart Option loan for career training allows you to borrow up to the total cost of attendance.

Loans for certificate programs may have different repayment options than loans for degree-granting programs, so be sure to review your loan disclosure agreement and double-check the payment schedule.

Private student loans typically require good to excellent credit and a steady source of income; if you don’t meet that criteria, you may qualify for a loan if you add a co-signer to your application.

Is Your Certificate Program Eligible for Student Loans?

While it’s possible to get a student loan for certificate programs, not all programs are eligible. Federal student loans are only available to borrowers that attend Title IV schools. To find out if your school qualifies, you can search the Federal School Code List of Participating Schools. Private student loans can usually be used at Title IV schools as well, though some lenders may keep their own list of qualifying institutions.

In general, certificate programs need to come from schools that do grant degrees; coding bootcamps and online certificate programs usually aren’t eligible for student loans.

How to Get a Student Loan for a Certificate Program

To get a student loan for a certificate program, follow these steps:

  • Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): The FAFSA is a critical first step to qualify for financial aid, even if you are pursuing a certificate rather than a degree. You must complete the FAFSA to borrow federal student loans. While it’s not required for private student loans, it’s still advisable to submit the FAFSA since this form can also help you qualify for state- or school-based aid.
  • Contact the school financial aid office: Reach out to your school’s financial aid department to ask about your aid options, including student loans, and any special application procedures for certificate programs.
  • Check your credit report: Private student loan lenders will check your credit when reviewing your application, so it’s a good idea to review it on your own and correct any inaccuracies or issues that appear. You can view your credit reports for free at
  • Gather information: To apply for private student loans, you’ll likely need to submit proof of income, a copy of your driver’s license or other government-issued ID, and details about the program you’re attending.
  • Shop around: There are many private student loans available, and rates and terms vary between lenders. It’s a good idea to get quotes from multiple lenders to find the best rates.

5 Alternatives to Student Loans for Certificate Programs

Before turning to federal or private student loans to pay for your certificatification, explore the following financing options to reduce how much debt you need to borrow:

  • Grants: As a student in a certificate program, you may be eligible for grants from the federal government, your state or third-party organizations. Because grants are usually awarded based on financial need, you need to fill out the FAFSA to qualify for most awards.
  • Scholarships: Scholarships are available to students attending certificate programs. Your school may be able to tell you about some opportunities, but you can also search for scholarships at CareerOneStop.
  • Employer contributions: Some employers will cover all or some of your certificate program’s cost if it will benefit the company. Talk to your manager and human resources department about tuition reimbursement programs.
  • Alternative loans: If your program isn’t eligible for traditional financial aid, you may be able to qualify for other forms of financing, such as personal loans.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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