How to Pay for College When You’ve Reached Your Federal Student Aggregate Loan Limit

Finding ways to pay for college can be difficult, especially if you've exhausted your federal student loan rates. This article goes into some of your options if you've reas

There’s no way around it: college is expensive. If you have to borrow money to pay for your bachelor’s or master’s program, federal student loans are a good place to start. However, federal loans have both annual and aggregate loan limits — meaning there’s a cap on how much you can borrow in federal loans over your lifetime. 

Depending on what school you attend and the degree you’re pursuing, you could reach the maximum borrowing amount before you’ve finished your program. If that happens, you’ll have to find other financing options to pay for school. 

person looking at graph on computer screen

What Are Federal Aggregate Loan Limits?

Federal loans are a popular way to pay for school. In fact, 44% of first-time undergraduate students at public universities took out federal loans, while 58% of students at private schools did the same. Why are they such a common choice? Federal loans tend to offer lower interest rates and more repayment options than other forms of education debt. 

However, there are annual and aggregate loan limits for certain federal loan types. The maximum loan amount you can borrow in Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized Loan programs from the U.S. Department of Education is dependent on your eligibility including dependency status and the type of degree. 

The loan limits apply for your entire education, even if you switch schools or take several years off before returning to finish your degree. 

Federal Student Loan Aggregate Limits

Loan Amount Limit

Dependent Student

Independent Student

First Academic Year

$5,500 (no more than $3,500 can be Subsidized Loans)

$9,500 (no more than $3,500 can be Subsidized Loans)

Second Year

($6,500 (no more than $4,500 can be Subsidized Loans)

$10,500 (no more than $4,500 can be Subsidized Loans)

Third Year and Beyond

$7,500 (no more than $5,500 can be Subsidized Loans)

$12,500 (no more than $5,500 can be Subsidized Loans)

Undergraduate Aggregate Loan Limit

$31,000 (no more than $23,000 can be in Subsidized Loans)

$57,500 (no more than $23,000 can be in Subsidized Loans)

Graduate or Professional Study

Not applicable

$138,500 (no more than $65,500 can be in Subsidized Loans)

Undergraduate Aggregate Loan Borrowing Limits

As an undergraduate student, you may qualify for Direct Subsidized or Direct Unsubsidized loans. Subsidized loans are only for borrowers with financial need, while anyone can use Direct Unsubsidized loans, regardless of the state of their finances. 

For independent undergraduate students, the aggregate loan limit for Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans is $57,500. Of that total amount, no more than $23,000 can be in Subsidized loans. 

For dependent undergraduate students, the aggregate loan limit is $31,000, and no more than $23,000 can be in Subsidized loans. 

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Aggregate student loan limits for graduate students

The annual and aggregate loan limits for graduate and professional students are different than they are for undergraduate students. 

As a graduate or professional student, you aren’t eligible for Direct Subsidized loans, and you are considered an independent student even if you are still supported by your parents. 

The aggregate limit doesn’t just include what you borrow for graduate school; the limit also includes any Direct Subsidized or Unsubsidized loans you took out to pay for your undergraduate degree. 

The aggregate loan limit for graduate and professional students is $138,500, and no more than $65,500 of that number can be Direct Subsidized loans. 

4 Ways to Pay for School After Reaching the Student Loan Aggregate Limits 

If you’ve borrowed the maximum loan amount allowed in Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans, you may need to find an alternative if you’re in a pricey program or attending graduate school. Below are four strategies you can use to cover the remaining cost: 

1. Contact the Financial Aid Office

When you reach the loan maximum, contact your university’s financial aid office and explain your situation. You may be eligible for other forms of financial aid by filling out FAFSA, such as low-interest institutional loans or a work-study program. 

2. Research Scholarships and Grants

There are thousands of scholarships and college grants available for undergraduate and graduate students. You can even combine multiple awards to reduce your education expenses. Best of all, scholarships and grants don’t have to be repaid as long you meet the award’s terms. 

You can find scholarship opportunities using Juno’s scholarship database. You can search for MBA scholarships, law school opportunities, and general scholarships. 

3. Apply for PLUS Loans

Not all federal student loans have aggregate limits. With Direct PLUS Loans — loans for parents and graduate students — you can borrow up to the school-certified cost of attendance, without an annual or aggregate limit. 

If you’re an undergraduate student, talk to your parents to see if they’d be willing to take out Parent PLUS Loans for you; only parents of undergraduate students can apply. 

If you’re a graduate or professional student, you can apply for Grad PLUS Loans on your own. 

With both PLUS Loans, the applicant has to undergo a credit check. You should also keep in mind that PLUS loans have higher interest rates and fees than other federal loans. 

4. Consider Private Student Loans

If you’ve reached the federal aggregate loan limits and still need money for school, private student loans can be a valuable tool. Most private lenders allow students to borrow up to the total cost of attendance, so you can get the cash you need to cover your tuition, room and board, textbooks, and other expenses. 

Private undergraduate and graduate student loans have fewer repayment options and benefits than federal loans, and you may need a cosigner to qualify for a loan as a student. 

However, many lenders offer competitive interest rates and longer repayment terms that can make your monthly payments more affordable.

woman sitting at table writing in workbook

Paying for School

While federal student loans can be an excellent way to pay for your college or postgraduate degrees, you have to pay attention to aggregate student loan limits. Once you reach federal student loan limits, you aren’t eligible for any more federal loans and will have to find other ways to pay for school. 

By exploring scholarships, grants, other federal loan options, and private student loans, you can get the cash you need to complete your degree. 

If you decide to take out private student loans, sign up with Juno. Juno guarantees that you’ll find the lowest interest rate on private loans. If you find a better rate, Juno will beat it. It’s free and takes just a minute to set up an account. 

Kat Tretina

Written By

Kat Tretina

Kat Tretina is a freelance writer based in Orlando, FL. She specializes in helping people finance their education and manage debt. Her work has been featured in Forbes, The Huffington Post, MarketWatch, and many other publications.


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