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Guide to Financial Aid for Part-Time Students

Enrolling part-time in school allows students to balance their studies with other priorities, which can include parenting, working a job, or pursuing a hobby. Financial aid works differently for part-time students, so whether you are filling out the FAFSA, talking with your school’s financial aid office, or applying for scholarships, it’s important to know how your part-time status affects your opportunities. Our guide to financial aid for part-time students is the perfect place to start.

How many credit hours is considered part-time?

You should check with your school’s financial aid office to confirm whether or not you qualify as a part-time student in the eyes of your school. Colleges and universities vary widely in their definitions of part-time enrollment. Private scholarships also have inconsistent sets of rules regarding enrollment, and often use the terms “part-time” and “half-time” interchangeably. Federal aid follows a stricter set of rules, which we outline later in this article.

Most colleges mandate a minimum of 6 credit hours for students to qualify as part-time and 12 credit hours to qualify as full-time. Enrollment criteria can vary by school so it’s always best to discuss with your admissions or financial aid advisor. For example, Brigham Young University considers students enrolled in 0.5 to 8.5 hours per semester as part-time. Students enrolled in 9 to 11.5 hours are three-quarter time, and only students enrolled in 12 hours are full-time. Some colleges mandate a minimum of 6 credit hours for students to qualify as part-time, and others divide all students between part-time and full-time, eliminating the three-quarter status entirely.

Need-based financial aid and scholarships and part-time status

Part-time students are typically offered the same need-based financial aid opportunities as full-time students. The per-semester award amount typically decreases proportionally with the number of enrolled hours, but your overall award throughout your education should remain the same.

Some merit-based scholarships require full-time enrollment, but you should research the available scholarships at your school to determine if you could be eligible. You can also try reaching out to the financial aid or admission office to ask if there are additional financial aid opportunities for part-time students.

Recommended: How to write a financial aid appeal letter

Federal Aid and the FAFSA

When it comes to filling out the FAFSA, the process for part-time students is the same as for full-time students. You’ll need to fill out the FAFSA before the deadline to qualify for federal aid. Remember, you should fill it out earlier if your school has an earlier deadline.

Part-time students are eligible for all of the same federal aid opportunities as full-time students, although the amounts they qualify for decrease proportionally with the number of hours they enroll in. These opportunities include direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans, Direct PLUS loans, and the Pell Grant

Your Pell Grant award amount is partially determined by the number of credit hours you enroll in. Students are classified into one of four categories: Full-time, three-quarter-time, half-time, or less-than-half-time. 

Your federal aid should end up awarding you the same amount at the end of your studies as if you had enrolled full-time. Although it awards less per semester, part-time students remain enrolled for a higher number of semesters. Therefore, they usually will receive the same amount of aid.

See also: How to apply for student loans: federal and private

Work study

As a part-time student, you may have additional time that you could spend working to help pay for your education. Most colleges offer work-study opportunities for eligible students. These opportunities often come with the added benefit of providing valuable work experience, and potentially building relationships with professors. If you are curious about work study, reach out to your financial aid office about opportunities.

Also read: Is work study worth it?

Private scholarships

Part-time students should also look for private scholarships.  Your life story will make you stand out from others so look for scholarships that cater to your specific situation. Check out our scholarship lists that may be relevant to you: Moms, Online, NonTraditional, and Adults.

Student loans

An estimated 34% of students depend on student loans to pay for college. Part-time students are eligible for many of the same student loans as full-time students. Although your total eligible amount may vary, you can take advantage of many federal programs. These include Stafford Loans and Parent PLUS Loans. Additionally, you can take out private loans. Although their interest rates and repayment options are generally less favorable than federal programs, they can bridge your financial aid gap and make college a reality for you.

Related: How to get scholarships for part-time students