If you decide private loans are the right route for you, take one from a lender you've heard of, Meredith College's Michaelsen recommends. "Always go with a bank that has a local presence or state presence," he says.
[Read why private loan borrowers might need increased protections.]
No matter which loan you choose, do your research to make sure you're taking on a manageable load relative to your future, recommends Reyna Gobel, author of Graduation Debt: How to Manage Student Loans and Live Your Life.
"The most important thing for loans is that you're borrowing based on what you can afford to pay back," Gobel says. "That's a hard question to answer, but you can talk to career services and find out what jobs you can expect."
Financial aid experts often advise that loan repayment of about 10 percent of your monthly take-home pay is doable. Before you enroll in a graduate program, seek out information on alumni job placements and salaries, Gobel recommends, and take advantage of money management counseling services at the school if you decide to attend.
"Money isn't the only criterion," notes Kantrowitz, "but you need to consider the balance between debt and income, so that you don't have to abandon your dream because of the debt ... or that you have to go with whatever job pays the best, not whatever job fulfills your career ambition."
Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for Graduate School center.