There are a number of reasons you might choose to be enrolled in college part-time: returning to school while working a full-time job, childcare or other family responsibilities, or even just needing a bit of a break for a semester. While many students end up reducing their course load at some point while in school, keep in mind that financial aid for part-time students may be different depending on the type of funding awarded.
Before deciding to enroll at a part-time status, make sure to consider the following:
Federal grants, such as the Pell Grant, are usually awarded in proportion to your enrollment status (as long as all other conditions of eligibility are met). So dropping to part-time status, whether it's taking one less course for a quarter or significantly cutting your coursework over a longer period can reduce the amount of aid you are eligible to receive. Additionally, grants (for part-time or full-time students) typically don't need to be paid back, meaning that it's often in your best interest to take advantage of the full amount available each term.
Some scholarships may also be dependent on full-time enrollment. While some colleges and universities may offer distinct scholarships for part-time students, others require all scholarship recipients to be enrolled full-time. Be sure to check with the financial aid office if you have any funding awarded directly from your school.
Federal Student Loans
You must be taking at least 6 credits per term (typically two standard classes in an academic term) in order to qualify for federal student loans. The amount you may be eligible for, however, is not determined by enrollment status, but rather your cost to attend school.
Keep in mind there is a limit to the total amount of loans you can borrow over the course of your entire education. If you plan to take longer to complete your program by enrolling part-time each quarter, you also want to make sure you leave yourself future funds and don't hit your limit before you're ready to graduate.
Financial aid for part-time students operates on the same basic repayment system as full-time students. The longer you take to complete your degree, the more interest accrues on your loans (with the exception of federal subsidized loans while in school). This means that even if you're not borrowing the full available amount when you're attending classes part-time, you may end up repaying more over time (due to interest) than a student attending full-time.
Likewise, additional terms in school may mean more borrowing to cover living expenses, and a longer period of time before you can enter the job market and start repaying your loans.
These last two factors are especially important to keep in mind if you intend to work while attending college part-time. While possibly helping to offset needs for some additional aid, you may simply be pushing these extra payments until after graduation. Loan repayment periods are affected by attending less than half-time. In some instances, you may be required to begin loan repayment if you are enrolled in fewer than two courses in an academic term.
Make sure to speak with your school's financial aid office before making a decision about your enrollment status to ensure that reducing your course load to part-time won't have any unforeseen effects on your grants, loans or scholarships.
Learn more about how to pay for college: Download our Financial Aid Guide
Financial aid is available for those who qualify.