In the US, you don't have to prove that you're credit worthy to get government backed student loans. As another poster said, this is because historically, it was a good bet for lending institutions to give loans to students, as they'd get that money back in most cases, and for the rest, they'd cover via the interest charged to all lendees. In addition, the government backed students loans are guaranteed by the US government. Private student loans are not, but things like the Stafford are. US students cannot use federal financial aid to pay for degrees they get abroad. However, they can use private student loans to do so. And as you said, the cost of foreign masters degrees is significantly less than those from a US university. For example, I looked at a specific masters in the US. The unis around me offer it for about $80,000 total tuition, not including living expenses. If I did it from the U of Leicester in the UK, even paying international student rates, it would cost me $10,000 total tuition. Both his bachelors and his masters are from schools with poor reps in the NY area. I'm sure that's not helping him. As has been said, you've hit the nail on the head. Debt of this size requires private student loans. Private student loans require a co-signer, which will normally be your parents. If you die, and don't pay this debt off, your co-signers are responsible for it. In fact, a lot of financial advisors advise parents who co-sign to take out life insurance on their student, in an amount that would cover this debt should the student die.