At HBS, we consider getting your MBA a shared investment in your future. This means that while we offer generous financial aid, we also expect all students to contribute to their education through a combination of savings and student loans. Borrowing loans can seem daunting, but if you do it wisely, you can minimize the amount you owe and the time it takes to pay them off.  

There are tons of student loan options out there, so how do you choose which one is right for you? Here are five important things to consider when choosing a student loan. 

1. How much to borrow.  

You are allowed to borrow up to the Cost of Attendance less other aid or sponsorship received, which includes tuition and fees as well as other expenses, like housing, food, and health insurance. However, you are never required to borrow the maximum, and we encourage you to borrow only what you need. Our Cost of Attendance is an average student budget, but there are several ways for you to keep your costs down, such as living with in a dorm, taking advantage of student discounts, and limiting discretionary spending.  

2. What you’ll do after graduation. 

The median starting salary for our MBA students typically enables them to successfully pay off debt in a relatively short time frame. If you’re planning to go into a field that does not offer that level of salary, there are several options available to you to help you manage your debt. For example, entrepreneurs could consider borrowing loans that have income-based repayment options. Students who go into the non-profit or social enterprise sector may be eligible for loan repayment assistance. Not only does the federal government currently offer loan forgiveness programs for federal borrowers, but HBS has a loan repayment assistance program of its own. 

3. If federal or private loan (or both) is best for you. 

There are two types of federal loans available to our MBA students: the Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan and the Federal Direct Graduate PLUS Loan. Both of these loans have fixed interest rates and several repayment options. While the maximum you can borrow in Unsubsidized Loan funds is $20,500, you may borrow up to the Cost of Attendance in Graduate PLUS Loan funds.  Please keep in mind, however, that the Graduate PLUS Loan requires credit approval. Unfortunately, federal loans are not available to international students, but there are private loan options available.  

Private loans may be a good option for both international and domestic students. Typically, private loan rates are based on your credit history and are variable; however, there are now more fixed interest rates available depending on the lender. If you have solid credit, it may be a good idea to consider these types of loans. Both domestic and international students may benefit from having a U.S. co-signer on private loans.  When exploring private loan options, you may want to start with your current bank or credit union, or (for international students) loans in your home country. 

Many domestic students borrow both federal and private loans, but ultimately the decision is up to you.  

4. What is the real cost of the loan. 

As mentioned above, it is important for you to carefully review the rates and terms of any loan before you borrow money. You may be able to get a lower variable rate based on your credit, but if the range is wide, you could end up with a much higher rate down the road. Typically, variable rates are good for borrowers who intend to pay off their loans quickly. On the other hand, while federal loans have fixed rates, they may already be higher for you than private loan rates. You should also be sure to understand whether your loan carries any other kind of fee, such as an origination fee.  

5. When to apply. 

At HBS, students apply for financial aid, including student loans, after they have been admitted to the MBA program. It is best to wait to apply for private loans until about one month before your bill is due so that your credit approval does not expire. 

It’s important to understand all your options before you make a decision on what loan(s) to borrow. As a member of the Harvard community, you will have plenty of resources to guide you. For instance, the Harvard University Employee Credit Union offers a program called GreenPath Financial Wellness which provides one-on-one student loan counseling.  And, of course, the Financial Aid Office is always here to help!