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Student Loans

Can You Get Financial Aid as a Part-Time Student?

When choosing a degree program and a school, you might decide to enroll part-time. This is common if you work a full-time job and have limited time to attend classes or have personal obligations that keep you busy.

The decision to enroll part-time may also be financial. Perhaps it’s more realistic for your budget to take a lighter course load if you expect to pay for college costs out of pocket. Part-time financial aid options are available, including federal student loans. You may also qualify for private student loans, scholarships, or grants as a part-time student.

What determines part-time status?

Full-time enrollment is often considered 12 credit hours per semester for undergrads. You’re considered a part-time student if you take fewer than 12 hours per semester. You must take six credit hours per semester to be considered a half-time student.

Grad students and online students might have different criteria for part-time status. You can check with your school to see what qualifies as part-time based on the type of degree program you’re enrolled in.

To qualify for federal student loans, you must be enrolled at least half-time. However, you might still be eligible for government grants, even if taking as few as three credit hours. We’ll look at federal financial aid for part-time students, including loan options, in more detail below.

Visit the StudentAid website or a scholarship search engine to learn more about what you need to qualify for federal financial aid.

Is it hard to get federal financial aid for part-time students?

It isn’t hard to get federal aid for part-time college if you attend at least half-time.

The Department of Education offers several aid options for part-time students, including loans:

AidWho qualifies?Max funds
Direct Subsidized LoansEligible undergrads w/ financial need$5,500 – $12,500* per year
Direct Unsubsidized LoansEligible undergrad, grad, & professional students; financial need not considered$5,500 – $12,500 per year if undergrad*

$20,500 per year for grad & professional students
Direct PLUS loansGrad & professional students or parents of dependent undergrads; financial need not consideredAmount of college attendance costs, minus any other financial aid received
Pell GrantsEligible undergrads w/ financial need$6,895 for current academic year
TEACH GrantsEligible undergrad, post-bacc, & grad students$4,000 per year
Federal Supp. Educational Opportunity (ESOG) GrantsEligible undergrads w/ financial need enrolled in eligible schools$4,000 per year
Iraq and Afghanistan Service GrantsEligible students who lost a parent or guardian as a result of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11 & don’t qualify for Pell Grants$7,395 for current academic year
Federal work-studyEligible undergrad & grad students w/ financial needDepends on when you apply, your financial need, & your school’s level of funding
*Depending on your year of enrollment and dependency status

The federal government also offers Direct Consolidation Loans, which allow you to combine your federal loans into a single loan.

In addition to federal student loans, part-time financial aid may also include grants. For example,  with a federal Pell Grant, you can get help with as little as three credits. The amount you receive is based on your enrollment.

There can be a significant difference in the funding you qualify for. For instance, you might only receive $762 in Pell Grants for three credits, but if you’re enrolled full-time, you could get up to $7,395 for the academic year.

Your school’s financial aid office may also be able to offer information on assistantships, scholarships, and other education grants you could apply for beyond federal financial aid options. Remember that scholarship or grant awards for part-time enrollment may be a smaller dollar amount.

Does FAFSA cover part-time students?

Yes, the FAFSA covers students enrolled at least half-time. The first step in exploring federal financial aid for part-time students is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by the deadline. Your school will use the information you provide on the FAFSA to determine how much aid you might be eligible for.

Students enrolled at least half-time can qualify for federal student loans, including Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans. If you’re below half-time enrollment, you won’t be eligible for federal loans.

When you fill out the FAFSA, you must include certain information for yourself, as well as your parents if you’re a dependent student. FAFSA considers:

  • Income
  • Assets, including investments and college savings accounts
  • Net worth
  • Household size
  • Number of students in the household enrolled in school

The FAFSA does not consider credit history or debts, but a credit check is required for PLUS Loans. After submitting the FAFSA, you’ll receive a FAFSA Submission Summary. That document offers an overview of your eligibility for federal financial aid.

If you qualify for federal loans or grants, your school will send you a financial aid award letter telling you how much aid you qualify for. If you’re satisfied with the award, you can accept it and sign a promissory note.

The lender or loan servicer will disburse funds to your school and apply them to your attendance cost, returning any leftover amount to you.

Your federal financial aid options include:

  • Student loans
  • Pell Grants
  • Work-study programs

We recommend considering grants and work-study ahead of loans.

Federal student loans have low, fixed interest rates and flexible repayment options, but you don’t need to repay Pell Grants. With federal work-study programs, you’re working to pay your way through college, which can reduce the amount you need to borrow.

How can I get private student loans as a part-time student?

In addition to federal student loans, part-time college students could borrow using a private student loan. Private loans could make sense if you:

  • Have maxed out your eligibility for federal student loans
  • Don’t qualify for federal student loans because you’re below half-time enrollment
  • Aren’t eligible for federal grants or work-study programs

Some private lenders offer loans to part-time students. Your ability to qualify for private student loans can depend on your credit history and income. Some lenders may also consider which school you attend, the degree program you’re enrolled in, and your career plans.

If you don’t meet the lender’s minimum credit requirements, you may need a cosigner to get private student loans as a part-time student. A cosigner can be a parent, family member, or anyone comfortable assuming equal responsibility for the loans.

Depending on their credit history, a cosigner can work in your favor by making it easier to get approved and qualify for low rates.

To learn more and see specific options, check out our guides:

Can you get financial aid if attending graduate school part time?

The definition of part-time enrollment will differ between undergraduate and graduate students. Graduate students can qualify for financial aid in certain situations, just like undergraduates. However, the amount of aid for part-time graduate enrollment may be less than that of full-time students.

To qualify for federal financial aid as a graduate student, you must be enrolled at least half-time, according to the school’s guidelines. You can double-check your enrollment status with your school’s admissions office.

If you’re enrolled in graduate school at least part-time, you may qualify for Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans, or federal work-study funding.

And if those options aren’t enough to cover your costs of attendance, you can explore your scholarship and private student loan options to pay for graduate school. Find out more about financial aid eligibility.