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How Many Credit Hours Do You Need for Financial Aid?

Most financial aid comes with a credit hour requirement. These requirements can be difficult to understand, and leave you unsure of how many credits are required to be a full-time student, or a half-time student. If you’re wondering about the maximum credit hours for financial aid that are needed, you’ve come to the right place!

Federal financial aid has a uniform set of rules regarding credit hours, so it is easy to understand. However, financial aid from foundations or other organizations can set their own rules. We will explain the terms they use in their eligibility requirements to help you understand whether or not you are a candidate.

Credit hour requirements for federal financial aid

Your federal financial aid eligibility is partially determined by the number of credit hours you enroll in. Only full-time students are eligible for the maximum Pell Grant sum, but part-time students can qualify for a lesser award. Students enrolled in 12 credit hours are considered full-time, while students enrolled in 6 credit hours or above are considered half-time. 

Half-time students receive anywhere from half to three quarters of the Pell Grant funds that a full-time student would receive. A similar rule applies to federal loans such as the Stafford Loan. Full-time students can borrow the maximum amount. Remember, the amount you are eligible to borrow decreases proportionally with the number of credit hours you are enrolled in. 

In addition to grants and student loans, federal financial aid also includes work study, which allows students to earn money for their education that won’t count against their financial aid (unlike other types of employment).

Also read: When is this year’s FAFSA deadline?

Maximum number of eligible credit hours for federal aid

In addition to having a minimum number of hours per semester, federal student aid mandates a maximum total number of hours for which students are eligible for aid. Students may only receive federal aid for up to 180 hours in a program. If you exceed this limit, you are no longer eligible for Pell Grants, federal loans, or other federal assistance. However, this is relatively uncommon; students typically complete undergraduate programs in 120 credit hours.

Understanding private financial aid

Most scholarships will specify whether they require students to enroll full-time or will accept part-time students as well. Sometimes they will list exactly how many credit hours are required for eligibility, but if they only include terms like part-time and full-time, here is how you can interpret them.

Full-time students are enrolled in 12 credit hours, while half-time students are enrolled in anywhere between 6 and 11 hours. Some scholarships use the terms part-time and half-time interchangeably. However, part-time can also include students who are enrolled in under 6 credit hours. If you are in this situation, reach out to the organization to confirm your eligibility before you put in the time to apply.

To find private scholarships you can check out our scholarship search tool to find the best-fit opportunities for you.  . 

Bottom Line for Students

Maintaining the necessary number of credit hours is essential when thinking about financial aid. Federal financial aid–which includes grants, loans, and work study–has a 12 hour requirement to be considered full time. Many private scholarships are contingent on your status as a full-time student.

When in doubt, you should always double-check with your college advisor or college registrar’s office for more information about how your credit hours could impact financial aid eligibility. Similarly, read the fine print on any private scholarship award you receive to see if there are any credit stipulations.