As the cost of college continues to rise, many students are trying to find ways to get a higher education without going broke. One of those ways could be choosing to attend school part time.
An estimated 6.7 million undergraduate students will attend school part time in 2018, according to Statista. By enrolling half time in school, you maintain some flexibility to work, look after your family, or take care of other responsibilities. And with fewer course credits, you’ll pay less each semester.
But what does financial aid for part-time students look like? Here’s everything you need to know about paying for college when you’re not a full-time student.
Part-time vs. full-time students
Before you can even worry about paying for college, you should know the difference between a part-time and full-time student.
Colleges may define full-time and part-time enrollment differently. In general, though, a full-time student takes between nine and 12 credits per semester. To be eligible for most financial aid, you must take at least six credits a semester.
Financial aid for part-time students
Even if you aren’t taking the traditional route of enrolling full time in college, you still have many ways to fund your education. Knowing these options will help you make the best financial decision for your future.
Federal aid for part-time students
Even if you’re attending school part time, you’re eligible for federal financial aid. The Department of Education stipulates that you only have to be enrolled half time to qualify for Direct Loans. This is good news for part-time students; federal loans tend to have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment terms than private student loans.
Here are the three federal loans available to undergraduate part-time students.
Direct Subsidized Loan
To qualify for Direct Subsidized Loans, you have to prove financial need and be enrolled no less than half time. It’s up to the school to determine how much you’re allowed to borrow. What makes this type of federal loan great is that the government will cover interest charges while you’re in school and during your grace period. That helps you reduce your cost of borrowing.
Direct Unsubsidized Loan
As with Direct Subsidized Loans, the school will decide how much you can borrow in Direct Unsubsidized Loans. But you don’t need to demonstrate financial need to qualify.
With an unsubsidized loan, you’re responsible for all interest charges. Although you can defer payments until after you graduate, interest will accrue while you’re enrolled.
Direct PLUS Loan
Parent PLUS Loans are also an option for part-time students. Your parents can take out this type of loan to help cover your educational costs. They can borrow up to your cost of attendance minus other financial aid you’ve received.
To qualify, your parents must not have an adverse credit history. Your parents can defer payments until after your graduation. However, they’re responsible for all interest charges.
How to apply for federal financial aid
The process for obtaining federal financial aid for part-time students is the same as for full-time attendees. You need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and submit it by June 30. Double-check deadlines with your school, though. It might have an earlier deadline.
Private student loans for part-time students
Before taking out private student loans, you should exhaust all other options, from scholarships and grants to federal student loans. If you still have a gap in coverage, then you’ll want to consider private student loans.
Unlike a federal loan, which is issued by the government, a private loan is offered by an independent financial institution, such as a bank or credit union. College Ave, for example, is a reputable lender you can consider.
Since these loans are offered by private companies, your eligibility, interest rates, and repayment terms can vary. That’s why it’s important to shop around to find the best private student loans.
To qualify, your credit score and debt-to-income ratio will be considered. If you have poor or unestablished credit, you can get a cosigner. The better your or your cosigner’s credit score, the more likely you are to get a lower interest rate.
Keep in mind that many lenders have loan minimums. If you’re attending college half time, you might not be looking to borrow enough money to meet this requirement. Speak with your potential lender to determine whether you’ll qualify for a loan.
Paying for college as a part-time student
If you’ve decided to attend college on a part-time basis, you should feel confident knowing you have a lot of financial aid options available.
It’s always best to secure as much money through scholarships and grants before considering your loan options. If you need loans, prioritize federal ones before looking into private lenders. But remember: If you drop below half-time status, you won’t qualify for federal aid.
Also, since you won’t have a full course load, you might want to consider getting a part-time job. This could help you keep college costs down and eliminate your need for student loans. The less money you have to borrow, the less interest you’re liable to pay.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2018!
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