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Student Loans

Part-Time Student Loans

Updated Apr 26, 2023   |   15 mins read

When it comes to college or graduate school, there are many reasons a student may choose to attend on a part-time basis. Whether you’re working to pay your way through school, raising a family at the same time, or even trying to earn a degree later in life, going to school full-time simply might not work for you.

Part-time enrollment is defined as a student who is taking approximately half of the expected full-time courseload. The exact number can vary by school, but is usually six to eight credit hours per semester (compared to 12 or so for full-time students).

Though part-time students generally have a lower tuition obligation each semester compared to full-time students, financial aid may still be required to fund that education. There are many student loan options for less-than-full-time students to consider. Here’s a look at what’s available.

In this guide:

What type of part-time student loans are available?

Both federal and private student loans can be used by part-time students under certain conditions. It’s important to note that not all loans can be used by part-time students, and some loans that you take out as a full-time student could automatically go into repayment if you later drop to part-time enrollment.

If you’re planning to attend school part-time, here are the types of student loans and lenders you should look into, in this specific order.

Federal part-time student loans

All students—whether going to school part-time or full-time—should exhaust their federal student loan options first. The reason? These loans typically come with lower, fixed interest rates and certain benefits (like income-driven repayment plans or loan forgiveness), which private lenders don’t offer.

That said, your enrollment status is an important condition of your eligibility for a federal student loan. If you’re going to school part-time, your enrollment must be considered half-time (or greater) to qualify for Federal Direct Loans.

To determine whether you’re eligible for federal part-time student loan funding, you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA prior to the annual deadline. You can also view the Department of Education’s eligibility requirements on the Federal Student Aid website to learn more.

Your school will then certify both your enrollment and your expected educational costs prior to any loan funds being offered or disbursed. If you’re not sure whether your enrollment is considered “half-time,” you can contact your school to verify.

If you’ve checked your enrollment status and are eligible for federal student loan funding, you should consider the following loan options to cover your part-time semester(s).

Direct Subsidized Loan

A Direct Subsidized Loan is a federal student loan available to eligible undergraduate students enrolled at least half-time in a qualifying institution who demonstrate financial need. This loan can be used to borrow between $3,500 and $5,500 annually, based on your year of enrollment.

An aggregate (lifetime) limit of either $23,000 or $65,500 also applies. This hinges on whether you’re a dependent or independent student and whether you’re in an undergraduate, graduate, or professional degree program.

If you’re eligible, this is a great first federal loan funding choice. That’s because the interest that accrues on a Direct Subsidized Loan is paid by the government while you’re enrolled in school and during your six-month grace period (after you graduate or drop below half-time enrollment).

Direct Unsubsidized Loan

The next option to consider is the Direct Unsubsidized Loan. Like its subsidized counterpart, this federal loan is also available to eligible students attending a qualifying school, as long as they are enrolled half-time or greater.

Unlike subsidized loans, Direct Unsubsidized loans can be used to borrow between $5,500 and $20,500 annually, depending on your year in school and dependent status. An aggregate limit of between $31,000 and $138,500 also applies, depending on the student.

As the name implies, these loans aren’t subsidized by the government. This means that the interest that accrues on the loan while you’re in school or within your grace period is your responsibility, increasing the overall cost of your debt.

However, with no financial need requirement, these loans can still be a great choice for borrowers of all types.

Direct PLUS Loan

Direct PLUS Loans are available to parents of undergraduate students or to graduate and professional students themselves. Undergraduate students cannot take out these loans.

There is no financial need requirement to qualify for a Direct PLUS Loan, though borrowers will need to meet certain credit requirements when they apply. Students will also need to be enrolled at least half-time in a qualifying school.

With a Direct PLUS Loan, students and/or their parents can borrow up to 100% of their school-certified enrollment costs, minus any other existing aid.

Private part-time student loans

Students who have maxed out their federal funding options may turn to private student loans to cover the rest of their educational expenses. Before going this route, however, it’s important to note that there are eligibility requirements that make qualifying for a private loan different from taking out federal loans.

Most private lenders qualify student borrowers based on their credit history. If you’re young and haven’t built up a solid credit history yet, or don’t have sufficient income, you might not be able to qualify for these loans on your own.

In order to take out a private student loan, you might need to secure a cosigner. Cosigners can be parents, grandparents, spouses, siblings, and others who are willing to share the financial obligation of your loans until they are repaid.

If you’re a part-time student, you may find that private loan lenders have varying loan eligibility requirements. You’ll want to consider and compare each lender individually, paying attention to their own enrollment requirements.

Many lenders will require you to be enrolled at least half-time in order to qualify, although some, like College Ave and Sallie Mae, do not. Here are our picks for the top private lenders if you need a part-time student loan.

College Ave

Editorial Selection: Best Overall

  • Borrowers do not need to be full-time students
  • You choose between 20 different repayment schedules
  • Receive a credit decision in just 3 minutes

College Ave is an online student lender that offers loans to undergraduates and graduates. With competitive interest rates and a lot of flexibility for borrowers to customize their loans, College Ave ranks as our top-rated lender.

In order to qualify for a College Ave student loan, student or parent borrowers will need to have a Social Security number and meet the credit score requirements. Students will also need to be enrolled in an eligible school and show evidence of satisfactory academic performance.

College Ave details
Available loansUndergraduate, graduate, parent, and career training
Fixed APR3.24% to 13.95%*
Variable APR0.95% to 12.99%*
Loan limits$1,000 to 100% of your school-certified costs
Repayment terms5, 8, 10, or 15 years*

*Undergraduate student loan information.


Sallie Mae

Editorial Selection: Best for Cosigners

  • Borrowers can be attending full-time, half-time, or less than half-time
  • Cosigners can be released after 12 on-time payments

Sallie Mae is a well-known lender that also offers student loans to part-time students. It offers loans customized to different courses of study, such as undergraduate, MBA, or law school programs, so you can find the loan that works for you.

Borrowers can qualify for a private loan from Sallie Mae whether they attend school full-time, half-time, or less than half-time. Sallie Mae also offers loans for study abroad students, online students, and those taking winter or summer classes.

Sallie Mae details
Loans offeredUndergraduate, graduate, and career training
Fixed APR3.75% to 13.72%*
Variable APR2.00% to 12.35%*
Loan limits$1,000 to 100% of your school-certified costs
Repayment terms5 to 15 years*

*Undergraduate student loan information.


Ascent

Editorial Selection: Best for Eligibility

  • Borrowers must be enrolled at least half-time
  • Receive 1% cash back when you graduate
  • Check your rate without impacting your credit

Ascent is a lender that offers both cosigned and non-cosigned (also called outcomes-based) loans to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Their loans can help you cover things like an MBA or PhD program, law school, or dental school. They are available to international and DACA students as well.

To qualify for a loan from Ascent, students must be enrolled at least half-time. Depending on the type of loan, the student may need to meet certain criteria regarding their GPA, major, and program of study, and they (or their cosigner) may need to meet certain credit and/or income requirements.

Ascent details
Loans offeredUndergraduate, graduate, and professional
Fixed APR3.22% to 14.75%*
Variable APR0.98% to 11.79%*
Loan limits$2,001 to $200,000
Repayment terms5, 7, 10, 12, or 15 years*

*Undergraduate student loan information.


Earnest

Editorial Selection: Best for No Fees

  • Borrowers must be enrolled at least half-time
  • Skip one payment per year, if needed
  • No origination, late payment, or prepayment fees

Earnest is one of the few lenders that offers student loans geared specifically toward part-time students, in addition to typical undergraduate, graduate, professional, and parent student loans. These loans can help cover up to 100% of your school-certified expenses, as long as you’re enrolled at least half-time.

To qualify for a loan from Earnest, you and/or your cosigner will also need to meet certain credit and income requirements. As of this writing, either the primary borrower or the cosigner need to have a FICO score of at least 650 and an annual income of at least $35,000 to qualify.

Earnest details
Loans offeredUndergraduate, graduate, and parent
Fixed APR3.24% to 12.78%*
Variable APR1.34% to 11.44%*
Loan limits$1,000 to 100% of school-certified costs
Repayment terms5, 7, 10, 12, or 15 years*

*Undergraduate student loan information.


Discover

Editorial Selection: Best Good Grades Reward

  • Borrowers must be enrolled at least half-time
  • Get a cash reward for earning good grades
  • No fees

Discover offers a wide range of products, including student loans. These loans are available to help cover up to 100% of your educational costs for an undergraduate, graduate, or professional degree program, and can also be used to consolidate and/or refinance existing loans later on.

Borrowers are eligible for Discover student loans as long as they’re enrolled at least half-time in an eligible school. Borrowers and cosigners will also need to meet certain credit and income requirements, and be making satisfactory academic progress (as defined by the school).

Discover details
Loans offeredUndergraduate, graduate, and parent
Fixed APR4.99% to 13.99%*
Variable APR2.99% to 12.59%*
Loan limits$1,000 to 100% of school-certified costs
Repayment terms15 years*

*Undergraduate student loan information.


Which part-time student loan is the best?

When deciding how to pay for school, part-time students may need to weigh both their federal and private student loan options. The best loan will depend on your specific circumstances and enrollment status (based on how many hours you’re taking), as well as other eligibility factors like credit score and income.

As long as you’re enrolled at least half-time, you should consider federal student loans first. If you’re attending school less than half-time, or have maxed out your available federal loans, you should consider a top-rated private lender, like the ones listed above.

Are there differences between full-time and part-time student loans?

Once approved, the actual student loan you take out as full-time or part-time student will be the same. The difference is that only certain student loans are available to part-time students, making it more challenging to secure the funding you need. Your enrollment status could also affect when your repayment for that loan begins.

How does enrollment status impact repayment?

Your enrollment status in school, and the type(s) of student loans you have, will impact your repayment for those loans. Changes to your enrollment status can trigger the start of your repayment, such as if you drop to or below half-time enrollment.

If a part-time enrollment status triggers your repayment, you may be able to enroll in additional classes during your grace period to further delay payment.

Full-time

As long as you remain in school full-time, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to start making any payments on your student loans.

Once you graduate, you will enter a grace period, where your loan payments will remain paused. This will typically last for six to nine months, depending on the lender. After the grace period ends, you will receive your first bill and will need to begin paying back your debt.

Some private lenders will not offer a grace period at all and your loans will be payable immediately after graduation (although this is uncommon). It’s important to read your loan documents so you know what to expect as you approach graduation.

If you have private student loans or unsubsidized federal loans, your student debt will accrue interest while you’re enrolled in school. This will increase the total cost of your loan each month, even if you’re not yet required to make payments.

Half-time

Students enrolled in an undergraduate, graduate, or professional program at least half-time will not be required to enter their repayment period in most cases. However, if you drop your enrollment to less than half-time or drop out, any grace period on the loans will kick in and repayment will begin after that.

Once you finish school and graduate (or drop below half-time), you will enter a six-month grace period on your federal student loans. You will need to check with your private lenders to learn more about your applicable grace period and when they’ll send your first bill.

Less than half-time

A student enrolled in school less than half-time will trigger student loan repayment. After any applicable grace period, you will receive your first bill and will need to start making payments as scheduled.

For federal loans, this is a six-month grace period. For private loans, a similar grace period (or sometimes longer) is generally offered, though these loans may be payable immediately.

Drop out

A student who drops out of school will immediately trigger student loan repayment. You’ll receive the first bill for your federal loans after a six-month grace period, just as you would when dropping to less than half-time enrollment.

Again, you can expect a similar grace period for private lenders, though these may also be payable immediately in some cases.

How to apply for part-time student loans

If you plan to apply for a student loan and are attending school part-time, here are the steps you’ll need to take to get funding.

  1. Fill out the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is an annual form that you’ll need to fill out prior to the start of the next academic year. This form will help determine the aid available to you — including federal student loans — as long as you’re in school at least half-time.
  2. Accept any free aid offered. Before taking out any student loans, you should take advantage of any non-borrowed funding you can as a part-time student. This could include various scholarships and grants.
  3. Utilize savings or other sources of income. Will you be working while you’re in school, to contribute to your tuition costs? Or do you have a college savings account that can be pulled from to cover expenses? If so, factor these into your remaining obligation.
  4. Look into federal loans. Federal student loans offer better loan features and often lower interest rates too. You should always take out any federal loans available to you before turning to private loan sources.
  5. Cover the difference with private loans. Private student loans can be used to cover any remaining costs for your part-time education. You should always shop around for the best possible rates and terms to ensure that these loans cost you as little as possible.
  6. Add a cosigner, if needed. In some cases, a cosigner might be necessary in order to get approved for a private loan. Even if a cosigner isn’t required, adding one might get you more competitive loan offers, including lower interest rates.
  7. Figure out when repayment will begin. You can consult with your school’s financial aid office if you have any additional questions about your loans (both federal and private), including when these loans will go into repayment, based on your enrollment status. This can help you be prepared for when you’ll receive your first bill and understand ahead of time how dropping classes could trigger an earlier repayment of your loans.