Paying for college can be a daunting task, with tuition costs rising each year and financial aid packages not always covering the full expense. To bridge the gap, many students and their families turn to student loans. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the best student loans for college, discuss the key factors to consider when choosing a student loan, and offer tips to help you make an informed decision.

1. Federal vs. Private Student Loans

Before diving into the best student loans for college, it’s important to understand the difference between federal and private student loans.

Federal Student Loans

Federal student loans are funded by the federal government and offer several benefits, such as fixed interest rates, income-driven repayment plans, and the possibility of loan forgiveness programs. They should be considered as the first option for students seeking financial aid.


  • Lower, fixed interest rates
  • Flexible repayment options
  • Potential for loan forgiveness programs
  • No credit check for most loans


  • Borrowing limits may not cover the full cost of attendance
  • Not available to international students

Private Student Loans

Private student loans are funded by banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions. They can be a valuable tool for covering additional education expenses that federal loans don’t cover. However, they typically come with higher interest rates and less flexible repayment options.


  • Can fill the gap when federal loans aren’t enough
  • Available to international students (with a U.S. co-signer)
  • Some lenders offer competitive interest rates for well-qualified borrowers


  • Often require a co-signer with good credit
  • Higher interest rates than federal loans
  • Less flexible repayment options
  • No federal loan forgiveness programs

Also Read: Private Student Loans for Bad Credit

2. Top Private Student Loan Lenders

After exhausting federal loan options, private student loans can help cover additional college expenses. Here are the top private student loan lenders, based on factors such as interest rates, repayment terms, and unique benefits:

2.1. Ascent

Ascent offers both co-signed and non-cosigned loans for undergraduate and graduate students. They provide a loan amount range of $2,001 to $400,000, competitive rates, and flexible repayment terms. Ascent is praised for its clear eligibility requirements for non-cosigned loans, which consider more than just credit scores.


  • Co-signed and non-cosigned loan options
  • Competitive interest rates
  • Flexible repayment terms


  • Requires a minimum 2.9 GPA for non-cosigned loans

2.2. Citizens Bank

Citizens Bank offers a robust private student loan program, with loan amounts ranging from $1,000 to $350,000 depending on the degree program. They also offer multi-year approval and the option to defer payments while in school.


  • Loan amount based on degree program
  • Competitive interest rates
  • Multi-year approval option


  • Co-signer release not available for all loans

2.3. College Ave

College Ave is a top lender with competitive interest rates and flexible repayment terms. They offer a wide range of loan amounts and repayment terms, allowing you to customize your loan to fit your needs.


  • Low interest rates for qualified borrowers
  • Flexible repayment terms
  • Multi-Year Peace of Mind™ for future loans


  • Not available in all states

2.4. Sallie Mae

Sallie Mae offers a variety of loan options for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. They provide competitive interest rates, flexible repayment options, and benefits like career coaching.


  • Variety of loan options
  • Competitive interest rates
  • Offers career coaching services


  • Some loans require a co-signer

2.5. Earnest

Earnest offers no-fee private student loans with competitive interest rates and flexible repayment terms. They also provide additional benefits like skipping a payment once a year and customizing your payment amount and due date.


  • No fees
  • Competitive interest rates
  • Flexible repayment options


  • Not available in all states

3. Key Factors to Consider When Choosing a Student Loan

When comparing private student loan lenders, focus on the following key factors:

  1. Interest rates: Lower interest rates can save you thousands of dollars over the life of the loan. Compare both fixed and variable interest rates to find the best option for your financial situation.
  2. Loan terms: The length of the loan’s repayment period can impact your monthly payments and the total cost of the loan. Shorter terms typically have higher monthly payments but lower overall costs.
  3. Loan amounts: Ensure the lender offers a loan amount that meets your financial needs. Some lenders have minimum and maximum loan limits that may not align with your college expenses.
  4. Eligibility requirements: Research the lender’s eligibility criteria, such as citizenship, enrollment status, and credit history, to ensure you qualify for the loan.
  5. Additional features: Some lenders offer unique benefits, such as career coaching, interest rate discounts, or co-signer release options. Consider these features when choosing a lender.

4. Tips for Applying for Student Loans

Follow these tips when applying for student loans to increase your chances of approval and secure the best possible loan terms:

  1. Exhaust all other financial aid options first: Before applying for private student loans, make sure you have exhausted all other financial aid options, including federal loans, scholarships, and grants.
  2. Build your credit: Improve your credit score before applying for private student loans. This can help you secure a lower interest rate and better loan terms.
  3. Consider a co-signer: Adding a creditworthy co-signer to your loan application can increase your chances of approval and help you secure a lower interest rate.
  4. Shop around and compare lenders: Compare interest rates, loan terms, and additional features from multiple lenders to find the best student loan for your needs.
  5. Borrow only what you need: Calculate your college expenses and borrow only what you need to cover them. This can help minimize your debt and make repayment more manageable.

5. Repayment Options and Strategies

Once you’ve taken out student loans, it’s essential to develop a repayment strategy. Here are some options and tips to help you repay your student loans more effectively:

  1. Standard repayment plan: The standard repayment plan consists of fixed monthly payments over a set period, typically 10 to 20 years for private student loans. This plan can help you save on interest and pay off your loans faster.
  2. Income-driven repayment plans: Some private lenders may offer income-driven repayment plans, which base your monthly payments on a percentage of your income. These plans can provide more manageable payments, but may result in higher overall interest costs.
  3. Refinancing: Refinancing your student loans can help you secure a lower interest rate, reduce your monthly payments, or change your repayment term. However, refinancing federal loans into a private loan may result in the loss of federal benefits, such as loan forgiveness or income-driven repayment plans.
  4. Loan forgiveness programs: Some professions, such as teachers, nurses, or public service workers, may be eligible for loan forgiveness programs. However, these programs typically apply only to federal student loans.
  5. Extra payments: Making extra payments towards your student loans can help you pay off your debt faster and save on interest.

Also Read: Managing Student Loan Debt: Insights and Strategies for Borrowers

6. Dealing with Student Loan Default and Delinquency

Missing student loan payments can lead to delinquency and eventually default. Here are some tips to help you avoid default and get back on track with your student loan payments:

  1. Communicate with your lender: If you’re struggling to make payments, reach out to your lender to discuss your options, such as deferment or forbearance.
  2. Create a budget: Develop a budget to help you manage your finances and prioritize student loan payments.
  3. Consider refinancing or consolidating: Refinancing or consolidating your student loans may help you secure a lower interest rate or more manageable monthly payments.
  4. Seek professional help: If you’re struggling with student loan repayment, consider seeking help from a financial advisor or student loan counselor.

7. Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

While most student loan forgiveness programs apply to federal student loans, some private lenders may offer their own forgiveness programs or discharge options in specific situations, such as death or permanent disability. Always review your lender’s policies and explore any available forgiveness or discharge options.

8. Private Student Loans for International Students

International students may face additional challenges when seeking student loans for college. While federal student loans are typically not available to international students, some private lenders may offer loans to international students with a U.S. co-signer.

9. Alternatives to Private Student Loans

Before considering private student loans, explore these alternative funding options for college:

  1. Federal student loans: Federal student loans should be your first choice for funding your education, as they offer lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options.
  2. Scholarships and grants: Apply for scholarships and grants, which do not have to be repaid, to help cover your college expenses.
  3. Work-study programs: Participate in work-study programs to earn money to pay for college expenses while gaining valuable work experience.
  4. Tuition assistance or reimbursement programs: If you’re currently employed, explore tuition assistance or reimbursement programs offered by your employer.

10. Final Thoughts on the Best Student Loans for College

Choosing the best student loans for college is a crucial step in financing your education. By understanding the differences between federal and private student loans, researching and comparing lenders, and developing a repayment strategy, you can make an informed decision and manage your student loan debt effectively. Remember, always prioritize federal loans and exhaust all other financial aid options before turning to private student loans.