How does financial aid for part-time students work? (2024)

When pursuing higher education, some students decide to go part time for a variety of reasons. They may be juggling multiple responsibilities like working to support themselves or their families, or they may not have the financial means to afford attending school full-time. The good news is that financial aid for part-time students is an option.

Let's take a closer look at how financial aid for part-time students fits into the landscape of higher education and how you can get help to pay for your degree program even if you're not taking classes full time.

Can you get financial aid as a part-time student?

Luckily, many types of student loans, grants and work-study jobs may be offered to part-time students. In order to qualify, you should complete the FAFSA which will enable you to explore those benefits. But remember: To qualify for federal student loans and other programs, you must be enrolled at least half-time. Undergraduate students considered full-time are taking 12 or more credits or around 4 classes per term. Students classified as half-time enrollment must be registered for at least 6 credits generally 2-3 classes per term.

Part-time students applying for financial aid should start with the FAFSA

The most important first step in applying for financial aid for part-time students is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). No matter how much money your family might have saved in a 529 college savings plan, how old you are, how much money you make, or whether or not you have a financial need, everyone should start with the FAFSA.

This application is the most important step to take to learn what federal student aid programs may be available to you. Even if you don't expect to qualify for federal student aid, you should still fill out the FAFSA. Many colleges use it to help decide which students receive grants, loans or scholarships. Start by checking the FAFSA deadlines—federal, state and any college-specific ones.

Why is the FAFSA so important? Because it helps determine eligibility for federal student aid based on personal and family finances. It also gives college financial aid offices the ability to offer students college-specific financial aid packages of grants and loans based on a shared source of recognized data.

The FAFSA uses family income and assets to help determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your college will take their Cost of Attendance (COA) which is comprised of tuition, room and board, books, fees, etc.) and subtracts your EFC from the college's COA to determine the amount of your financial need and in turn, how much financial aid you may qualify for.

You will need to fill out the FAFSA every year, especially if your family's financial circumstances have changed. One hypothetical example is if your parent has lost their job or your family has experienced a loss in income. In that case, your expected family contribution to help pay for the cost of your education might have decreased, which might help you get more federal student aid.

Learn more about the financial aid application process at

How federal financial assistance works for part-time students

You may be able to receive federal student aid if you are a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen, have a Social Security number, are enrolled at least half-time in an eligible degree or certificate program, and meet a few other requirements.

These are the main types of financial aid offered by the federal government for college students:

Pell Grants

Federal Pell Grants are "free" money that is given to students (mostly undergraduates) who have financial need. You may still qualify for a Pell Grant if you are a part-time student, but the amount of your grant might be less than you would receive as a full-time student.


The Federal Work-Study Program is a way to support college students who are working their way through school, and you can get this financial aid even if you're a part-time student. With work-study, students who have a financial need can get part-time jobs (on- or off-campus and typically related to your major) while enrolled at college. These jobs are available to undergraduate or graduate students.

Direct loans (subsidized and unsubsidized)

The U.S. Department of Education offers the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, which provides loans to eligible students who are pursuing higher education. Direct subsidized loans are for undergraduate students who have demonstrated a financial need. Direct unsubsidized loans are not based on financial need and can be issued to students in undergraduate, graduate or professional degree programs. There are limits to how much you can borrow from the Federal Direct Loan Program. Depending on whether you are a dependent of your parents or an independent student, you may be able to borrow a maximum of $5,500 to $12,500 per year.

Direct PLUS loans

These loans can be issued to students in graduate or professional programs or to parents of children who are dependents and who are pursuing undergraduate degree programs. A credit check is required to qualify for direct PLUS loans, and eligibility is not based on financial need. Loans must be repaid with interest, and your loan payments typically begin upon graduation or if your class credit course load goes below half-time.

Federal student loans have a few special advantages: They tend to have lower interest rates than private loans, they might have more flexible repayment terms, and—depending on your future career—you might qualify for student loan forgiveness.

What other financial aid options are available to part-time students?

Even if you do not qualify for federal financial aid, there are various other student loans and financial aid options available that might be offered by your college or university, your employer, civic and nonprofit organizations, and private companies.


Look for grant opportunities at your college or university financial aid office. Some schools have specific grants available for certain fields of study or degree programs. Even a few small grants can add up to a significant amount of money over four years.

Private scholarships

Get involved in your local community and look for scholarships. Some community service organizations like Rotary and Kiwanis offer scholarships.

Private loans

If you do not qualify for student loans or have already borrowed the maximum amount of federal student loans, you might consider private student loans from a bank, credit union, or state agency or from your college. Even if the interest rate is slightly higher than federal loans, these loans can help you bridge the gap to complete your degree and get on track for higher earnings for the rest of your life.

Employer tuition reimbursement

Major companies like Target, Walmart, Amazon, Chipotle, FedEx, UPS and Starbucks offer tuition reimbursement for employees. If you work for a company that has a tuition reimbursement program, see how you can qualify. You might need to enroll at a certain college or university or choose from select majors.

Free college credit from Modern States

What if you could earn an entire year of college credit for free? Modern States is a nonprofit organization that lets people take free online classes that prepare them to earn college credit by taking nationally recognized College Level Examination Program exams. They call it Freshman Year for Free.

Just because you're a part-time college student, don't assume that you have to settle for less financial aid. You still have many options to help fund your degree. Start by filling out the FAFSA, talk to your school's financial aid office, and keep working hard to achieve your college dreams.

To learn more about creating a college savings and/or spending plan, connect with a Thrivent financial advisor.

How does financial aid for part-time students work? (2024)


How does financial aid for part-time students work? ›

The Department of Education stipulates that you must be enrolled half-time to qualify for federal financial aid. Not sure how many credits is part time? For government-funded assistance, half-time enrollment is defined as a minimum of six credit hours each semester. This is good news for part-time college students.

How does being part-time affect FAFSA? ›

The Department of Education stipulates that you must be enrolled half-time to qualify for federal financial aid. Not sure how many credits is part time? For government-funded assistance, half-time enrollment is defined as a minimum of six credit hours each semester. This is good news for part-time college students.

How do you answer Question 86 on FAFSA? ›

What is the net worth of your parents' investments? This is question 86 on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) PDF. The net worth of your parents' current investments is the amount left over after deducting the debt from the value of each investment as of the day you submit your FAFSA form.

How do you answer a work-study question on FAFSA? ›

Select “Yes” if you're interested in being considered for a work-study job. Selecting this response doesn't guarantee that you'll be offered a Federal Work-Study job.

What happens if I say yes to work-study on FAFSA? ›

You'll get your work-study funds through a regular paycheck.

You'll get paid at least once a month, although some schools may pay you weekly or biweekly. Most schools offer direct deposit, but some may still use paper paychecks. Check with your school's financial aid office about how you would be paid.

How many credit hours is part-time for FAFSA? ›

Part-time: 6–11 credits (financial aid may be reduced). Less than half-time: 5 credits and fewer—you are generally not eligible for financial aid, although some students may qualify to receive a partial Pell Grant.

How much money can a student make without affecting FAFSA? ›

There are no income limits on the FAFSA. Instead, your eligibility for federal student aid depends on how much your college costs and what your family should contribute. Learn how your FAFSA eligibility is calculated and other ways to pay for college if you don't qualify for federal student aid.

What is the question 73 on the FAFSA? ›

This is question 73 on the FAFSA. The response indicates the number of people in the student's parents' household, including the student, who will be college students between July 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023.

What is the question 72 on the FAFSA? ›

This is question 72 on the FAFSA. The response indicates whether the student, the student's parents, or anyone in the student's parents' household (question 69) received benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at any time during 2021 or 2022.

What is the question 93 on the FAFSA? ›

This is question 93 on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) PDF. the number of people (not your children or spouse) who live with you and receive more than half of their support from you and will continue to receive more than half of their support from you between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023.

How to answer Question 44 on FAFSA? ›

This is question 44i on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) PDF. Enter the total amount of cash support you (and if married, your spouse) received in 2020 from a friend or relative (other than your parents, if you're a dependent student).

What is the question 28 on the FAFSA? ›

This is question 28 on the FAFSA. Yes means the student already has a bachelor's degree or an equivalent degree from a college in another country, or will have one by July 1, 2022.

How do you answer student assets on FAFSA? ›

As a general rule, you should only report assets that are cash-based (i.e. not your car) and liquid (meaning you can easily turn them into cash). Things like trust funds and 529 savings plans (if they're owned by you or your parent) do need to be reported, as well as more obvious things like your bank balances.

Does FAFSA know if you work? ›

As it turns out, a part-time job – or the earnings from a part-time job – can impact financial aid. When the FAFSA is filed, it not only takes into account parental finances and contributions but a student's as well. When a student includes their income on the FAFSA, it makes them appear less in need of financial aid.

Is FAFSA work-study worth it? ›

Having a work-study job offers you the opportunity to earn extra cash that you can put aside towards paying tuition costs. This means you may be able to take out fewer college loans and accumulate less debt in the long run.

How does student aid verify income? ›

This is a routine part of the financial aid process every year for many students across the country. The verification process involves submitting documents such as tax transcripts and W-2 forms so the financial aid office at your college can see that the information on these documents matches your FAFSA application.

What is considered half-time for financial aid? ›

For financial aid purposes, enrollment status for all terms is as follows: full-time is 12 or more credit hours, three-quarter time is 9-11 credit hours, half-time is 6-8 credit hours and less than half-time is 1-5 credit hours.

Do part-time students have to pay back student loans? ›

Repaying Student Loans as a Part-Time Student

In general, part-time students may not need to pay back their federal student loans while they are attending school as long as they don't drop below half-time enrollment — or as long as they haven't graduated.

What can affect FAFSA? ›

The information you report on your FAFSA form is used to calculate your EFC. The EFC is calculated according to a formula established by law. Your family's taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security) all could be considered in the formula.

What is the maximum income for FAFSA? ›

There is no set income limit for eligibility to qualify for financial aid through. You'll need to fill out the FAFSA every year to see what you qualify for at your college. It's important to make sure you fill out the FAFSA as quickly as possible once it opens for the following school year.

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