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

Even if you’re attending college part-time, you still have access to financial aid resources. If you enroll in at least six credits, federal student loans are an option as are some private student loans. And you can always apply for additional part-time student scholarships as well.

Getting a good education can be one way to improve your earning power and build wealth over time. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly earnings for someone with a bachelor’s degree is $1,173 — compared to $712 for someone with a high school diploma.
However, even though there might be a payoff for completing a degree, it can be difficult to shoulder the cost of college today. Family income has stagnated while college costs have increased over the last two decades. As a result, it might make more sense to go to school part-time and work to pay for college. Other students might be going back to school later in life, amid family and personal obligations that make it hard to enroll full-time.
Financial aid can help you pay for college, but if you’re a part-time student, you might not qualify for the level of aid you expect, and some scholarships aren’t available to those who aren’t enrolled full-time. The good news is that there’s still help available for you.
Here’s what you need to know about getting financial aid as a part-time student:
What Determines Part-Time Status?Full-time enrollment is generally considered 12 credit-hours for undergrads. If you take less than 12 hours, you’re considered a part-time student. You need to take six credits in order to be considered at half-time enrollment. However, grad students and online students might have different criteria for part-time status.
Check with your school to see what qualifies. 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 credits. You can find out more about what’s required by visiting StudentAid.ed.gov. It’s also possible to learn about part-time scholarshipsfrom private sources at websites like Scholarships.comFastWeb, and Scholly.
What Factors Are Considered When Applying for Financial Aid?First, in order to qualify for federal financial aid, you need to fill out the Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA). The information from your FAFSA is sent to your schools of choice and is used as the school determines your financial aid package. Additionally, there might be separate applications and forms required by the state, or by the school, to see if you qualify for additional scholarships.
Some of the factors taken into consideration when offering you a package include:

  • Your family’s financial situation, and how much they can reasonably be expected to contribute to your education
  • Enrollment status (part-time or full-time)
  • Grades and other academic achievements
  • Extracurricular activities, including sports or clubs
  • Other qualifications that might make you eligible for special scholarships

In addition to applying for federal, state, and school financial aid, you can also apply for grants and scholarships from other sources. Some companies and nonprofit organizations offer help to students who need it — including those attending school part-time.
Is It Hard to Get Financial Aid for Part-Time Students?If you’ll be enrolled in school part-time, you might be wondering about your chances of getting financial aid. Fortunately, you will likely have options.
“It’s not hard for part-time students to get financial aid,” said Erin Smith, a former financial aid counselor. “However, the amount you receive is affected by your enrollment. As long as you’re enrolled in six credits, you can at least get federal student loans.”
Smith pointed out that with a federal Pell Grant, you can get help with as little as three credits. The amount you receive, though, is based on your enrollment. You might only receive $762 in Pell Grant money for three credits, but if you’re enrolled full-time, you can receive up to $6,095 for the 2018-19 award year.
Additionally, there might be a smaller pool of financial aid opportunities to choose from. Both Smith and Griffin said that it’s possible to apply for scholarships aimed at part-time students, but they are often small-dollar. You can also check with your school to learn about work-study programs, assistantships, and departmental scholarships.
Part-Time Eligibility for Private Student LoansAs a last resort, part-time college students could borrow using a private student loan. Private student loans are traditionally used by full-time students. However, it is possible to use these loans as a part-time student.
Private student loans are provided by banks and financial institutions like Sallie Mae and Discover Financial Services. Salle Mae offers private student loans for students who are considered half-time and even for students who are “less than half-time.” Discover has financing available for students who are enrolled half-time. At Sallie Mae and Discover, the minimum loan amount available to half-time students is $1,000. To qualify, a part-time student must meet the credit and income requirements set by the financial institution offering the loan.
The college financial aid office must certify the amount of the private student loan. In other words, students are able to borrow up to the school-certified cost of attendance. For part-time students, the school-certified cost of attendance is going to be substantially lower than the full-time cost of attendance.

Author: Miranda Marquit
Miranda Marquit has been writing about money for more than 10 years, and is a nationally-recognized financial expert and journalist. She has appeared on Forbes, NPR, CBNC, Yahoo! Finance, and in many other media outlets, online and offline. Her personal finance blog is Planting Money Seeds, and she is a contributor to the Money Tree Investing Podcast. Miranda lives in Idaho with her teenage son and enjoys the outdoors, travel, and reading.

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