According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the need for financial aid for part-time students is increasing as enrollment rates among this group rises. In 2017, there were 6.4 million part-time undergraduate students and that number is expected to grow by five percent from 2017 through 2028.
As more students enter school on a part-time basis, more questions of financial aid come up:
- Are part-time students eligible for financial aid and, if so, how much?
- Is there anything special a student must do to get or keep financial aid while attending school part-time?
Read on to learn more about financial aid for part-time college students.
When Is a Student Considered Part-Time?
Schools generally offer rules for what constitutes a part-time or full-time student. In most cases, if you take anything less than 12 credit hours, you are considered to be a part-time student. Though the number of classes to reach 12 credit hours varies by the school and program, a general rule of thumb is that three to four classes can reach that full-time threshold; taking only one or two classes each semester can put you in the part-time category.
A part-time schedule works well if you need more flexibility. There are several scenarios in which a part-time job could benefit you. Here are four examples where part-time enrollment might be especially suitable:
- If you are working a full-time job
- If you have demanding family responsibilities
- If you have demanding health concerns
- If you need manageable payment installments
In addition, a part-time program can prove quite useful if you want to earn in-state residency -- and thus, the lower in-state tuition -- as it can be tough to prove in-state residency for a new school when enrolled on a full-time basis.
It's also possible for you to begin as full-time and then move down to part-time if circumstances change. For instance, if you find you must work full-time, you can drop down to only one or two courses per semester. Keep in mind, however, that there can be other issues such as the fact that many schools allow only full-time students to reside on campus, and some grants and scholarships can be lost if you drop below full-time status.
Can Part-Time Students Receive Financial Aid?
Contrary to popular belief, part-time students can receive financial aid. The misconception often arises from the rules of some scholarships or grants which specifically state that you must be enrolled full-time. There can also be the fact that what qualifies as "part-time" for one school might not be the same for another -- even if a school deems you to be part-time, the rules governing loans and grants can have a different definition of what part-time means. Keep in mind that in most cases, six credit hours is considered the minimum to be eligible for financial aid.
With that being said, there are numerous scholarships and grants for part-time college students who qualify. You can fill out the FAFSA, look for scholarships and grants, and consider student loans if necessary. However, also be aware of some caveats, such as the fact that the longer you carry a loan, the more interest can accrue, thus making the payoff a bigger amount; or that certain grants, such as the Pell Grant, are only good for a certain number of years, after which you cannot receive more funding.
Given all the potential caveats in financial aid for part-time college students, it's important that if you're interested in a part-time education you should contact the school of your choice and learn the rules governing financial aid for that particular institution.
Filling out the FAFSA as a Part-Time Student
Whether intending to be a full-time or part-time student, if you want to apply for financial aid, you should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. In the FAFSA, the Expected Family Contribution, or EFC, tells the government and potential schools just how much "out of pocket" money you can contribute to your education. That can determine the amount or type of award if you meet their qualifications.
Grants and scholarships for part-time college students are determined by the FAFSA.
Need more help with the FAFSA? Our Ultimate Guide to the FAFSA provides more details on this very important step.
Financial Aid for Part-Time Students
While there may not be as many scholarships for part-time students as there are for full-time students, there are still many funding options worth applying to if you want to pursue a part-time degree program. Here are a few examples of the types of grants and scholarships that may be available to students who meet the eligibility requirements.
Grants for Part-Time Students
Arizona residents who are enrolled at least part-time in an accredited Arizona institution and demonstrate financial need are eligible for this grant, which awards up to $2,500 per year. You must be a U.S. citizen and maintain satisfactory academic progress as determined by your institution. At least 36 schools participated during the 2019-20 school year.
The Pell Grant program awards funds to undergraduate students on the basis of financial need. Though the amounts awarded vary, the total is based on the Expected Family Contribution (as determined by the FAFSA), the cost of attendance, how long you plan to attend college and whether you are a full-time or part-time student. The maximum Pell Grant award for the 2019-20 school year was $6,195.
This grant from the federal government is offered by certain schools on the basis of financial need. Eligible students can obtain up to $4,000 for their education. Only undergraduate students who have not yet earned a degree are eligible for the grant; the schools themselves might have further guidelines as to how much is awarded.
Scholarships for Part-Time Students
This scholarship rewards hard-working part-time students who are also employed at least 20 hours per week. The award varies, as it is based on tuition. You must be attending a Missouri school, and must renew your application every year. This award is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Higher Education.
This award for single parents enrolled in an Arkansas college is designed to help nontraditional students improve the lives of themselves and their children. You must hold a cumulative 2.0 GPA, be a legal resident of the United States, and demonstrate financial need. The amount of the award varies.
The International Furnishing and Design Association offers numerous scholarships for full-time and part-time students who are majoring in interior design or a related field. Currently enrolled or officially accepted students may apply for these high-dollar awards, ranging from $1,500 to $3,000.
Additional Financial Aid for Part-Time Students
Applicant must be a Maryland resident enrolled in at least six but not more than 11 credits per semester at a Maryland school.
Marguerite Ross Barnett Memorial Scholarship
Applicant must attend a participating Missouri school part time and be compensated for work for a minimum of 20 hours per week.
Kansas Teacher Service Scholarship
Applicant must be a Kansas resident attending a Kansas school, with high academic credentials and in a program leading to teacher certification in a hard-to-fill" discipline or under-served geographic area. Preference given to college juniors and seniors and current teachers seeking license or endorsement in hard to fill disciplines."
Graduate and Professional Scholarship
Applicant must be a Maryland resident who demonstrates financial need. Applicant must be degree-seeking, either full-time or part-time and attend one of the eligible institutions.
Other Resources for Part-Time Students
Part-time college student grants, scholarships and loans are among the most important financial resources you can access -- some students even opt for a combination of the three to afford their education. Our "Ultimate Guides" are a great way to get up to speed on a variety of financial aid for part-time college students -- or full-time students, for that matter.