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As the cost of college continues to rise, many students are trying to find ways to get a higher education without going broke — one of those ways could be choosing to attend school part time.
More than 6 million undergraduate students attend school part time annually, according to Statista. By enrolling half time in school, you can maintain some flexibility to work, look after your family or take care of other responsibilities. And with fewer course credits, you’ll pay less each semester.
When determining financial aid for part-time students, however, colleges may define enrollment status differently. In general, though, a full-time student takes between nine and 12 credits per semester. To be eligible for most financial aid, you must take at least six credits a semester.
That half-time requirement will help you access federal financial aid, including student loans. Plus, there are other types of financial aid for part-time students to consider — so let’s look at each of these two categories separately:
Federal financial aid for part-time students
Even if you’re attending school part time, you’re eligible for federal financial aid. The Department of Education stipulates that you only have to be enrolled half time to qualify.
This is good news for part-time students: Federal grants and work-study programs offer cash for college, and federal loans tend to have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment terms than private student loans.
Before you resort to borrowing federal loans, scan your school’s financial aid award package for financial aid that doesn’t need to be repaid. Pell Grants, for instance, are reserved for lower-income students, but are accessible if you’re attending classes half time. Note that your award amount would likely be less if you’re a part-time student — full-time students can receive as much as $6,345 for the 2020-21 school year.
Federal work-study jobs, which provide part-time employment to help with tuition costs, are also available to part-time students with proven financial need.
When these programs aren’t enough, consider these three federal loans available to undergraduate part-time students:
1. Direct subsidized loan
To qualify for direct subsidized loans, you have to be an undergraduate student with proven financial need who’s enrolled no less than half time. It’s up to the school to determine how much you’re allowed to borrow. What makes this type of federal loan great is that the government will cover interest charges while you’re in school and during your grace period — this helps you reduce your cost of borrowing.
2. Direct unsubsidized loan
As with direct subsidized loans, the school will decide how much you can borrow in direct unsubsidized loans — but you won’t need to demonstrate financial need to qualify.
With an unsubsidized loan, you’re responsible for all interest charges. Although you can defer payments until after you graduate, interest will accrue while you’re enrolled.
3. Direct PLUS loan
Parent PLUS Loans are also an option for part-time students. Your parents can take out this type of loan to help cover your educational costs. They can borrow up to your cost of attendance minus other financial aid you’ve received.
To qualify, your parents must not have an adverse credit history, and they can defer payments until after your graduation. However, they’ll be responsible for all interest charges.
|Borrowing limits for…||Dependent Undergraduate Student||Dependent Undergraduate Student with a Parent PLUS Loan Denial||Independent Undergraduate Student||Graduate or Professional Degree Student|
|First Year (0-29 credits)||$5,500. A maximum of $3,500 may be subsidized.||$9,500. A maximum of $3,500 may be subsidized.||$9,500. A maximum of $3,500 may be subsidized.||$20,500|
|Second Year (29.1-59 credits)||$6,500. A maximum of $4,500 may be subsidized.||$10,500. A maximum of $4,500 may be subsidized.||$10,500. A maximum of $4,500 may be subsidized.||$20,500|
|Third, Fourth, and Fifth Years (59.1 or more credits)||$7,500. A maximum of $5,500 may be subsidized.||$12,500. A maximum of $5,500 may be subsidized.||$12,500. A maximum of $5,500 may be subsidized.||$20,500|
|Aggregate Maximum Loan Amount||$31,000. A maximum of $23,000 may be subsidized.||$57,500. A maximum of $23,000 may be subsidized.||$57,500. A maximum of $23,000 may be subsidized.||$138,500. The graduate debt limit includes Direct Loans received for undergraduate study.|
What about the FAFSA for part-time students?
Fortunately, the FAFSA process for part-time students is much like that of their full-time peers. Simply fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and submit it by June 30. Make sure you double-check deadlines with your school, though, as it might require an earlier deadline.
More sources of financial aid for part-time students
If federal financial aid for part-time students, such as grants and work-study, aren’t enough for your college costs, there are other aid options that could lessen your federal loan borrowing.
You could also consider:
And if borrowing still becomes a necessity, federal student loans could be supplemented by another option: private student loans. Specifically, you’ll want to consider part-time student loans from private lenders.
Unlike federal loans, which are issued by the government, private loans are offered by an independent financial institution, like a bank or credit union. Since these loans are offered by private companies, your eligibility, interest rates and repayment terms can vary — that’s why it’s important to shop around to find your best private student loans.
To qualify, your credit score and debt-to-income ratio will be considered. If you have poor or unestablished credit, you could get a cosigner. The better your score (or your cosigner’s credit score), the more likely you are to get a lower interest rate.
Keep in mind that many lenders have loan minimums, sometimes as low as $1,000 to $1,500. If you’re attending college half time, you might not be looking to borrow enough money to meet this requirement. Speak with your potential lender to determine whether you qualify for a loan.
Access financial aid for part-time students
If you’re not attending school full time, you should feel confident knowing there are many available options for financial aid for part-time students.
It’s always best to secure as much money as you can through scholarships and grants before considering your loan options. If you need loans, prioritize federal ones before looking into private lenders. But remember: If you drop below half-time status, you won’t qualify for federal aid.
And since you won’t have a full course load, you might want to consider getting a part-time job. This could help you keep college costs down and eliminate your need for student loans. The less money you have to borrow, the less interest you’re liable to pay.
Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.