Getting a college degree can help to increase your earning power. It’s an important step and one that involves many decisions. In addition to choosing a degree program and a school, you will also need to decide whether you’ll enroll full-time or part-time.
There are many reasons why you might choose to go to school part-time. For example, you might be working a full-time job and have limited time to attend classes. Or you may have personal or family obligations that keep you busy.
It’s also possible that the decision to enroll part-time may be financially driven. It may be more realistic for your budget to take a lighter course load if you expect to pay for some of your college costs out of pocket.
The good news is that there are part-time financial aid options, including federal student loans. You may also be able to qualify for private student loans, scholarships, or grants as a part-time student.
In this guide:
- What determines part-time status?
- Is it hard to get federal financial aid for part-time students?
- How can I get private student loans as a part-time student?
- Can you get financial aid if attending graduate school part-time?
What determines part-time status?
Full-time enrollment is generally considered to be 12 credit hours for undergrads. If you take less than 12 hours per semester, you’re considered a part-time student. You need to take six credit hours in order to be considered at half-time enrollment.
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.
In order to qualify for federal student loans, you need to be enrolled at least half-time. However, you might still be eligible for some government grants, even if you’re taking as few as three credit hours. We’ll take a closer look at federal financial aid for part-time students, including loan options, in more detail below.
You can find out more about what’s required to qualify for federal financial aid by visiting Studentaid.gov. It’s also possible to learn about part-time scholarships by using a scholarship search engine.
Is it hard to get federal financial aid for part-time students?
Can you get financial aid for part-time study? That’s an important question to ask if you’re planning to attend school on less than a full-time basis. The good news is, you will likely have options.
The Department of Education offers a number of aid options for part-time students, including loans. Here’s a look at the different types of federal aid for part-time students.
|Financial Aid||Who Qualifies||Maximum Funding|
|Direct Subsidized Loans||Eligible undergraduate students with demonstrated financial need||$5,500 to $12,500 per year, depending on your year of enrollment and dependency status|
|Direct Unsubsidized Loans||Eligible undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; financial need not a consideration||$5,500 to $12,500 per year for undergraduate students, depending on your year of enrollment and dependency status|
Up to $20,500 per year for graduate and professional students
|Direct PLUS Loans||Creditworthy graduate and professional students or parents of dependent undergraduate students; financial need not a consideration||The amount of your child’s college attendance costs, less any other financial aid received|
|Pell Grants||Eligible undergraduate students with demonstrated financial need||The maximum award is $6,895 for the 2022-23 academic year|
|TEACH Grants||Eligible undergraduate, post baccalaureate, and graduate students who are enrolled in a TEACH Grant-eligible program and fulfill a professional service commitment||Up to $4,000 per year|
|Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity (ESOG) Grants||Eligible undergraduate students with exceptional financial need who are enrolled at a participating school||$100 to $4,000 per year|
|Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants||Eligible students who lost a parent or guardian as a result of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11 and do not qualify for Pell Grants based on their Expected Family Contribution (EFC)||The maximum award is $6,895 for the 2022-23 academic year|
|Federal Work-Study||Eligible undergraduate and graduate students with demonstrated financial need||The amount you receive depends on when you apply, your financial need, and your school’s level of funding|
The federal government also offers Direct Consolidation Loans, which allow you to combine existing 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, however, is based on your enrollment.
That’s important to note, as there can be a significant difference in the amount of funding you qualify for. For instance, you might only receive $762 in Pell Grant money for three credits, but if you’re enrolled full-time, you could receive up to $6,895 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. Keep in mind that scholarship or grant awards for part-time enrollment may be a smaller dollar amount.
Filing FAFSA for part-time students
If you’re interested in exploring federal financial aid for part-time students, completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step. Your school will use the information you provide on the FAFSA to determine how much aid you might be eligible to receive.
Again, students who are enrolled at least half-time can qualify for federal student loans, including both Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans. If you’re below half-time enrollment, then you won’t be eligible for any federal loans.
When you fill out the FAFSA, you’ll need to include certain information for yourself, as well as your parents if you’re a dependent student. Some of the things the FAFSA considers includes:
- 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, though a credit check is required for PLUS Loans. After submitting the FAFSA, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). 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 exactly how much aid you qualify for. If you’re satisfied with the award, you can accept it and sign a promissory note.
Funds are then disbursed to your school and applied to your cost of attendance, with any leftover amount returned to you.
As mentioned above, your federal financial aid options include:
- Student loans
- Pell Grants
- Work-study programs
In terms of which type of part-time financial aid to seek first, you might consider grants or work-study ahead of loans.
While federal student loans have low, fixed interest rates and flexible repayment options, Pell Grants do not have to be repaid. With federal work-study programs, you’re effectively 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. Taking out private loans could make sense if you’ve:
- 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
There are private lenders that offer loans to part-time students. Your ability to qualify for private student loans can depend largely on your credit history and income. Some lenders may also consider things like which school you attend, the degree program you’re enrolled in, and your career plans.
You may need a cosigner to get private student loans as a part-time student, if you don’t meet the lender’s minimum credit requirements. A cosigner can be a parent, family member, or anyone who’s comfortable assuming equal responsibility for the loans.
Having a cosigner can work in your favor as it can be easier to get approved and qualify for low rates, depending on their credit history.
If you’d like to learn more and see some specific options, check out our guide to part-time student loans.
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. But the amount of aid for part-time graduate enrollment may be less than what full-time students receive.
To qualify for federal financial aid as a graduate student you must be enrolled at least half-time, according to the guidelines set by the school. You can double-check your enrollment status with your school’s admissions office.
If you’re enrolled in graduate school at least part-time, then you may qualify for Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans, or federal work-study funding.
And if you find that 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.