We receive advertising fees from the brands we review that affect the ranking and scoring of such brands.
Advertiser Disclosure

Understanding Student Loan Limits: How Much Can You Borrow for College?

Matthew Levy Updated: June 27, 2023 • 8 min read
college students

Student loans have become a common way to finance a college education, enabling countless students to pursue their academic aspirations. As the cost of higher education continues to rise, you might be wondering how much in student loans you can get.

Exploring Student Loan Limits

Student loan limits are the maximum amounts of money that you're allowed to borrow in student loans. Lenders set these limits and are critical for a couple of reasons, including:

  • Limiting your risk exposure as a single borrower.
  • Protecting you from taking on excessive debt.

Understanding the maximum student loan amount you can secure not only clarifies the financial resources available to you but also helps you create a realistic budget for your college years.

Therefore, a clear grasp of these limits is a key step in making well-informed financial decisions, particularly when asking yourself, how much in student loan you can get per semester or how much in student loans you can get in total. This knowledge will empower you to navigate your college journey more confidently and responsibly.

Evaluating your individual financial needs before determining how much to borrow is a key step toward responsible borrowing.

Factors Affecting Student Loan Limits

Your student loan limit is based on a few factors that align the loan amount with your specific situation and financial needs. These include:

  • Dependency status: Being a "dependent student" means that you're a student who relies on their parents for financial support. If you fall into this category, the amount you'll be able to borrow in federal loans and grants is based on your parents' financial information, which you'll enter in the FAFSA. In contrast, an "independent student" is one that doesn't rely on their parents for financial support. Typically, independent students have higher loan limits.
  • Grade level: Borrowing limits often increase from year to year as you stay in college.
  • Undergraduate vs. graduate: Graduate students typically have higher borrowing limits than those pursuing undergraduate degrees. 
  • Cost of attendance (COA): The total amount you can borrow is also dependent on the total cost of attending the college of your choice. The COA includes tuition, room and board, books, supplies, transportation, and other personal expenses. Attending a more expensive school may allow you to borrow more in federal or private student loans. However, it's important to remember that taking on more student debt than you can handle can have long-term implications.

Understanding these elements can give you a clear picture of how much a student can borrow for college.

College Ave
  • Student Loan Fixed APR: 3.99%-17.99%
  • Loan Term: 5, 8, 10, 15, and 20 years
Visit Site
  • APR: 1.99%-5.89%
  • Check eligibility in 2 min
Visit Site
  • Flexible repayment terms available
  • Jargon-free explanations
Visit Site

Maximum Student Loan Amounts

In exploring student loan limits, it's important to understand the different types of federal student loans available:

  • Subsidized loans: These loans are need-based, and the government covers the interest on these loans while you're in school or during deferment periods.
  • Unsubsidized loans: Begin accruing interest from the moment the loan is disbursed, regardless of your enrollment status. The maximum amount you can borrow through these federal student loans varies, influenced by your grade level and dependency status.

For dependent undergraduate students, the maximum subsidized and unsubsidized aggregate loan limit is $31,000, $23,000 of which may be in subsidized loans. For an independent undergraduate student, that limit increases to $57,500. $23,000 worth of that figure may be in subsidized loans. 

Understanding these differences aids in informed financial decision-making about student loans.

Federal Student Loan Limits per Year

 The amount you can borrow each year depends on your status as a dependent or independent student and your grade level.

For example, first-year dependent undergraduate students can borrow up to $5,500 in total federal student loans, including both subsidized and unsubsidized loans, whereas independent students can borrow up to $9,500.

As students advance through college, these limits increase, reflecting the growing costs and responsibilities associated with higher education. Remember, these amounts represent the maximum; the actual amount may be less, depending on your financial need and cost of attendance.

Understanding Loan Amounts Per Semester

When planning your finances for the academic year, it's crucial to understand how your student loan amounts are disbursed per semester. Typically, your annual loan award is divided evenly between the fall and spring semesters, offering you a sense of financial predictability.

For instance, if your yearly loan limit is $5,500, you'll likely receive $2,750 each semester. This even distribution of funds allows students to adequately budget for both tuition and living expenses throughout the school year, ensuring a consistent financial aid stream across different academic periods.

Borrowing for College: Considerations and Options

Student loans are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to paying for college, so you might wonder how much a student can borrow for college. While student loans can provide significant financial assistance, they're not the only option available to cover the cost of higher education. In fact, it's often recommended to explore various possibilities to minimize the amount you need to borrow. 

Evaluating Individual Financial Needs

Evaluating your individual financial needs before determining how much to borrow is a key step toward responsible borrowing. This assessment starts by estimating all of your college-related expenses. Start with the obvious ones, such as:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Books
  • Supplies
  • Housing 
  • Meals
  • Transportation
  • Other personal expenses like clothing, eating out, entertainment

If you're living on campus, include room and board; if you're off-campus, account for rent, utilities, and groceries.

Subtract any financial aid you have already secured, including scholarships, grants, and family contributions. This will give you a clearer picture of the gap you need to fill with student loans.

In addition, consider future changes in your financial circumstances. Are you planning to get a part-time job or an internship with a stipend? Such earnings could reduce the amount you need to borrow. Likewise, living expenses could increase if you move off-campus later in college, and you need to consider potential increases in tuition and fees over time.

By thoroughly assessing your financial needs, you can borrow only what's necessary, minimizing your debt load upon graduation. This careful consideration will help you avoid borrowing more than you can manage to repay once you enter the workforce.


Supplementing Federal Loans with Private Loans

Regarding covering the cost of your college education, federal student loans might not be sufficient to meet all your needs, especially if you're attending a more expensive private university or pursuing graduate studies. Supplementing federal loans with private loans could be a viable option in such cases.

Banks, credit unions, and online lenders offer private student loans. These loans can help fill the financial gap after maximizing federal loans, grants, and scholarships. However, there are considerations to take into account - interest rates can be significantly higher than those for federal loans, and they are also often variable, meaning they can increase over time if interest rates rise.

Repayment terms may lack the flexibility of federal loans, and there could be fewer options for deferment or forbearance. Furthermore, private loans often require a credit check or a cosigner. Before turning to private loans, thoroughly exhaust all other financial aid options and understand the terms.

First-year dependent undergraduate students can borrow up to $5,500 in total federal student loans, including both subsidized and unsubsidized loans, whereas independent students can borrow up to $9,500.

Exploring Other Financial Aid Resources

Student loans are not your only source of financial aid. A wealth of alternative resources exists that can help reduce your reliance on borrowed money, easing the financial strain of your education.

  • Scholarships: Scholarships are a form of "free money." They're awarded for criteria such as academic or athletic achievement. The more you apply for, the more you can lessen your cost of education. 
  • Grants: Like the Pell Grant, grants are need-based financial aid that don't require repayment. They're usually strapped for students who require the highest degree of financial aid. 
  • Work-study programs: Funded by the federal government, you may qualify to get part-time employment while you're in school to offset your costs.
  • Employer tuition assistance programs or trade apprenticeships: These can provide valuable hands-on work experience while offsetting your education's costs.

Remember, each dollar you don't borrow now is one less dollar you'll need to repay, with interest, in the future.

Tips for Managing Student Loan Debt

Managing student loan debt effectively doesn't start after you graduate; it begins the moment you take out your first loan. Creating a strategic plan from the outset can aid you in efficiently handling your debt and potentially saving you thousands of dollars in the long run.

Begin by devising a realistic budget that encompasses your tuition and living expenses while accounting for your impending loan repayment obligations. Understanding the specifics of your loan, such as the interest rate, the monthly payment size, and the repayment timeline, can be immensely helpful.

If your loan accrues interest while you're still in school, consider making interest payments during this period to reduce the total amount you'll owe after graduation. As your graduation date nears, explore options such as income-driven repayment plans or loan consolidation if you have taken out multiple loans. Remember, making consistent and timely payments can safeguard your credit score and lay the foundation for your financial stability post-graduation.

Budgeting and Planning

Planning for student loan repayment starts with a solid budget. Your budget is your roadmap; it navigates your monthly income and expenses, helping you understand where your money goes and where you can save. Begin by outlining your essential expenses, such as tuition, housing, groceries, books, and other school-related costs. Remember to include your future loan payments in your budget, even while you're still in school.

Next, track your spending regularly. This practice can give you insights into your spending habits and help you identify areas where you can cut back. Use these savings to create an emergency fund. If possible, make early payments on your loans to reduce your debt.

Planning also involves anticipating changes, like fluctuating interest rates or changes in your income. Set long-term financial goals and adjust your budget accordingly. Being proactive about budgeting and planning will make the loan repayment process more manageable and less stressful.

Loan Repayment Options and Assistance

Once you graduate, the grace period for your student loans will begin. This period, which usually lasts six months, is crucial to evaluate your loan repayment options. Federal loans, in particular, offer various repayment plans based on your income and family size.

Income-driven repayment plans can adjust your monthly payment to a percentage of your discretionary income, making your loan payments more manageable. Graduated repayment plans start with lower payments that increase over time, which can be helpful if you expect your income to grow steadily.

Loan forgiveness programs may provide relief for individuals who've borrowed extensively and work in public service. Under these programs, the remaining loan balance may be forgiven after a specific period of regular, on-time payments. It's important to research these options thoroughly and consider seeking advice from a financial advisor to understand which repayment option best suits your situation.

You typically need to start repaying your student loans 6 months after graduation.


Understanding student loan limits is a critical component of navigating the financial landscape of higher education. Recognizing the factors that influence these limits and knowing how they apply to your situation can significantly shape your financial decisions. Each student's financial situation is unique, and assessing your needs is essential before taking on a loan.

Borrowing for college is a substantial commitment - you're responsible for repaying that debt from the moment you take on a student loan. You must plan wisely, budget meticulously, and consider all available resources. Whether you're considering federal or private loans, the goal should be to borrow as little as possible.

The less debt you graduate with, your financial and overall freedom will be greater. You'll have more flexibility in your career choices and personal life, and you'll be able to start building your financial future sooner. Remember that while student loans can be helpful to finance your education, managing them effectively is key to maintaining your financial health.



Can I borrow more than the federal loan limits?

If the federal loan limits do not cover all your education expenses, you may consider private student loans to supplement the funding. Keep in mind that private loans often have higher interest rates and less flexible repayment terms than federal loans. They also typically require a credit check or a cosigner with a good credit score. Remember only to borrow what you need and can reasonably expect to pay back.

What other financial aid options are available besides student loans?

Several alternatives to student loans can help fund your education. Both merit-based and need-based scholarships are available from various sources, including schools, nonprofits, and private companies. Unlike loans, scholarships do not have to be repaid. Grants are another form of financial aid that you don't need to pay back. They are often need-based and can come from federal and state governments, colleges, and private organizations. Work-study programs, funded by the federal government, provide part-time jobs for students with financial needs, allowing them to earn money to help pay education expenses. The FAFSA application determines your eligibility for these programs.

What happens if I exceed the student loan limits?

Exceeding the student loan limits can lead to several consequences. For one, your eligibility for future financial aid may be affected. Additionally, you may face higher interest rates and more stringent repayment terms. In some cases, you might need to make high out-of-pocket payments to bring down your loan balance within the limit. To avoid such situations, knowing your student loan limits and managing your borrowing is important. Always explore all other financial aid options before considering borrowing beyond your limit.

Written by Matthew Levy

Matthew is a freelance financial copywriter with 14+ years in financial services. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics with business and finance options and is a CFA Charterholder. He is from Vancouver, Canada, but writes from all over the world.