7.7 million students were expected to attend a college or university part-time in fall 2020.
Attending college part-time just makes sense for a lot of students, especially if you’re hoping to avoid student loans. Part-time students take fewer courses each semester, so their bill isn’t as high.
Fortunately, as a part-time student, you might still qualify for federal financial aid. What does it look like? How do you get it? We’ll break it all down below.
What is Considered a Part-time Student?
Let’s first look at part-time vs. full-time students.
Most colleges and universities define full-time students as those taking at least 12 credits per semester. That’s about four classes. A part-time student is anyone taking two to eleven credits, or one to three classes.
When reading about financial aid, you might see the term “half-time” used. That’s because for some types of financial aid—like federal student loans—you need to be taking at least six credits per semester. In other words, half as many credits as a full-time student.
Federal Financial Aid for Part-Time Students
Assuming you’re eligible for federal financial aid, let’s see what federal financial aid you could qualify for.
Federal grants are a form of financial aid that you don’t usually need to repay. At least not under normal circumstances. In some cases, though, you might need to repay all or part of your federal grant.
The best grant for part-time undergraduate students is the Pell Grant. A Pell Grant is awarded based on a student’s financial need, and it can cover as little as one credit hour. For the 2020-2021 school year, the maximum Pell Grant value is $6,345.
If you’re financially needy and are attending community college, the Pell Grant may cover all of your college costs. For the 2020-2021 year, the average published tuition and fees for community colleges was just $3,770. The low cost is just one of the many benefits of community college.
Federal Work-Study Jobs
As a part-time student, you might also qualify for a federal work-study job. This financial aid program gives part-time jobs to undergraduate and graduate students expressing a financial need. You’d work part-time either on-campus or off-campus.
Off-campus jobs are usually with a private nonprofit or a public agency. On-campus jobs are for your school. If you qualify for federal work-study, your college or university will let you know what opportunities are available.
Just know that not all schools participate in the program, so check with your school’s financial office to see if your school participates.
Federal Student Loans
Your final federal financial aid option is federal student loans. There are a few different loan types you can borrow, but only if you’re enrolled at least half-time. Again, that means at least six credits a semester.
Direct Subsidized Student Loans
Direct subsidized student loans are awarded to students expressing financial need on the FAFSA. Your school determines how much you can borrow, but the federal government has limits in place too. If you must borrow for college, this is the loan you want. The government covers interest charges while you’re enrolled and during your grace period. That makes this loan more affordable than other types.
Direct Unsubsidized Student Loans
You can also borrow direct unsubsidized student loans to cover your educational costs. These are awarded regardless of financial need. Again, your school determines how much you can borrow, but there are federal limits in place too.
With unsubsidized student loans, you’re responsible for all interest payments. The government doesn’t help you out like they do with subsidized student loans.
Direct PLUS Loans
Do your parents want to help pay for your college? Parents whose students are enrolled at least part-time can borrow Direct PLUS Loans. They’re commonly called Parent PLUS Loans when borrowed by parents.
Parents can borrow up to the cost of attendance minus any other financial aid. You shouldn’t need the maximum amount, though. The cost of attendance includes fixed costs like room, board, and tuition, but it also includes estimated costs like books, transportation, and supplies. Consider that and a few other factors before borrowing Parent PLUS Loans.
Other Financial Aid for Part-Time Students
Part-time students might also qualify for financial aid from their state or their college or university.
School-Based Financial Aid
Most colleges and universities offer scholarships and grants to full-time and part-time students who express financial need.
Grants: You’ll automatically be considered for school grants when you file your FAFSA and/or CSS Profile, and the school puts together your financial aid award. A quick search on your school’s website should give you an idea of what sort of grants are available. You can also email the financial aid office to ask.
Need-Based Scholarships: A need-based scholarship—as opposed to a merit-based one—is awarded to students who express financial need. Depending on the school, you might need to fill out a separate scholarship application. Scholarships usually require something from you while you’re in school. For example, many schools require scholarship recipients to maintain a certain GPA to keep their scholarship from one semester or one year to the next.
State-Based Financial Aid
Some states award scholarships or educational grants to qualifying students. After completing your FAFSA, you should be prompted to apply for any available state financial aid programs. If you aren’t, just do a quick search for “your state + state grant program.”
For example, in Pennsylvania, half-time students who express financial need on their FAFSA could receive a PHEAA grant from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.
How Can Part-Time Students Apply for Financial Aid?
All part-time students should file the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). Even if you don’t think you’ll qualify for aid, do it anyway. Some schools only award merit-based or extracurriculars scholarships to students who’ve filed the FAFSA.
Depending on where you’re attending, you might need to fill out a CSS profile too. It’s an in-depth application that some colleges and universities use to evaluate whether you’re eligible to receive institutional need-based aid or scholarships.
Filing the FAFSA
You might have heard complaints about the FAFSA in the past, but don’t worry. In recent years, the FAFSA has gotten a lot easier to fill out. Most people finish in under 30 minutes.
Here’s a brief overview of how to file your FAFSA for the first time:
- Create an FSA ID
- Gather up financial documents and federal tax information. Pull up your bank accounts or investment accounts on your computer too.
- Login to fafsa.gov to apply online, file using the myStudentAid mobile app, or call 1-800-4-FED-AID to request a printed application
- List which schools you want to send the FAFSA to
- Go through each question, answering as accurately as you can
- Wait for schools to send you financial aid award letters
Visit studentaid.gov for a more thorough explanation of how to fill out the FAFSA.
Completing the CSS Profile
About 200 undergraduate colleges and universities require full- and part-time students to complete the CSS Profile. It stands for the College Scholarship Service Profile. Compared to the FAFSA, it’s a lot more detailed and takes longer to fill out. But it might be your ticket to scholarships and institutional aid like grants.
Here’s a brief overview of how to complete the CSS Profile:
- Make a College Board account (or use your College Board login from the SATs)
- Gather together your tax documents, W-2s, records of assets, bank statements, etc.
- Choose which college(s) to send your CSS Profile to
- Answer all of the questions, answering as accurately as possible
- Pay a fee (or receive a waiver) and then submit the application
- Wait to hear back from your school(s)
Getting Financial Aid as a Part-Time Student
Part-time students, whether you’re taking one class or three, can rely on financial aid to help cover educational costs just like full-time students do. Just be smart with what financial aid awards you accept.
Only take out federal student loans if you’ve exhausted your grant and scholarship options. And, if you’re working while you’re in school, talk to your college’s financial aid office to see if you can pay for your classes in installments. It would spread payments out over the semester, making it easier to pay as you go.
Learn more about financial aid and paying for college with these articles:
- Everything You Need to Know About Need-Based Financial Aid
- Does The Military Pay For College
- 529 College Savings Plans: Everything You Need to Know
- How to Pay for College
- Financial Aid Disbursement – How It Works
- Do You Have to Pay Back Financial Aid?
- Types of Financial Aid: What Needs to Be Paid Back
- Can I Get Student Loans for Trade School?
Compare the Best Student Loan Refinance Rates
Here are our top student loan refinance picks for 2019
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Student Debt Relief Loan Refinancing Advertiser Disclosure
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply. (1)College Ave Refi Education loans are not currently available to residents of Maine. (2)The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as the borrower or cosigner, if applicable, enrolls in auto-pay and authorizes our loan servicer to automatically deduct your monthly payments from a valid bank account via Automated Clearing House (“ACH”). The rate reduction applies for as long as the monthly payment amount is successfully deducted from the designated bank account and is suspended during periods of forbearance and certain deferments. Variable rates may increase after consummation. (3)$5,000 is the minimum requirement to refinance. The maximum loan amount is $300,000 for those with medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary doctorate degrees, and $150,000 for all other undergraduate or graduate degrees. (4)This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a refi borrower with a Full Principal & Interest Repayment and a 10-year repayment term, has a $40,000 loan and a 5.5% Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $434.11 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $52,092.61. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. Information advertised valid as of 11/16/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
ELFI: Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply. To qualify for refinancing or student loans consolidation through ELFI, you must have at least $15,000 in student loan debt and must have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher from an approved post-secondary institution.
LendKey: Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
CommonBond: Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate.
Splash Financial: Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval.com
Earnest: To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest’s fixed-rate loan rates range from 3.89% APR (with autopay) to 7.89% APR (with autopay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.50% APR (with autopay) to 7.27% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms of 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 0.26% and 5.03% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of April 23, 2019 and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay Discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 04/23/19. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice.
Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 303 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, e-mail us at email@example.com, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.