10 Financial Aid Options for Part-Time Students in 2022


Whether you’re going to college or career-training school, you may have trouble finding a student loan if you plan to take just a few credits each semester. Many lenders require borrowers to attend school at least half time to qualify. Here’s what to know if you’re a part-time student and you need financial aid.

Sallie Mae

3.75% to 13.72% with autopay Fixed APR
Cost of attendance, minus aid Max. Loan Amount
Mid 600s Min. Credit Score

College Ave

3.22% to 13.95% with autopay Fixed APR
Cost of attendance, minus aid Max. Loan Amount
Mid 600s Min. Credit Score

Earnest

3.22% to 13.24% with autopay Fixed APR
No maximum Max. Loan Amount
650 Min. Credit Score

SoFi

3.75% to 13.35% with autopay Fixed APR
Cost of attendance, minus aid Max. Loan Amount
Not disclosed Min. Credit Score

Ascent Funding

3.89% to 13.16% with autopay Fixed APR
$400,000 Max. Loan Amount
540 Min. Credit Score

LendKey

3.99% to 8.49% with autopay Fixed APR
Cost of attendance, minus aid Max. Loan Amount
Not disclosed Min. Credit Score

Citizens

4.24% to 9.93% with auto and loyalty discount* Fixed APR
Up to $350,000 Max. Loan Amount
Not disclosed Min. Credit Score

PNC

2.99% with autopay* Fixed APR
$50,000 Max. Loan Amount
Not disclosed Min. Credit Score

Purefy

3.26% to 14.50% with autopay Fixed APR
Not disclosed Max. Loan Amount
Not disclosed Min. Credit Score

U.S. News selects the Best Loan Companies by evaluating affordability, borrower eligibility criteria and customer service. Those with the highest overall scores are considered the best lenders.

To calculate each score, we use data about the lender and its loan offerings, giving greater weight to factors that matter most to borrowers. The scoring factors for private student loan providers are customer service ratings, fixed APR, variable APR, loan product availability, minimum and maximum loan terms, minimum and maximum loan amounts, minimum FICO score, and online features.

The weight each scoring factor receives is based on a nationwide survey on what borrowers look for in a lender.

To receive a rating, lenders must offer qualifying loans nationwide and have a good reputation within the industry. Read more about our methodology.

Find the Best Student Loans for You

Sallie Mae is a publicly traded consumer bank that offers private student loans to pay for undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees, among other educational needs. Congress started Sallie Mae in 1972 as a government-sponsored entity that serviced student loans. The lender went private in 2004 and today provides a range of student loan products. Additionally, Sallie Mae Bank offers savings products and other tools to help families plan and pay for college, including a credit card that earns bonus cash back to help you pay off any student loan.

College Ave exclusively offers student loans. Founded in 2014 and based in Wilmington, Delaware, College Ave offers undergraduate, graduate and parent loans for students enrolled at schools affiliated with College Ave in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. College Ave’s advantage is speed, with applications that take a few minutes to complete and instant decisions.

Earnest is an online lender offering private student loans to college and graduate students, as well as student loan refinancing. The company was founded in 2013. Borrowers can choose their own loan terms to fund up to the full cost of their education.

SoFi is an online lender founded by Stanford business school students in 2011. Originally focused on student loan refinancing, the San Francisco-based company added private student loans in 2019. Choose from undergraduate, graduate, law or MBA, health profession, or parent loans with no fees.

Ascent Funding is an online lender offering undergraduate and graduate student loans for those with or without a co-signer at more than 2,200 eligible schools nationwide. Students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents or those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status – aka “Dreamers” – may apply for an Ascent loan. Ascent Funding was founded in 2015 and is based in San Diego.

LendKey’s digital platform connects borrowers who need private student loans or refinancing loans with credit unions and community banks. Since 2009, LendKey has helped more than 135,000 people by funding $5 billion in loans. The company offers fixed- and variable-rate loans for undergraduate and graduate students.

Citizens Bank was founded in the late 1800s in Rhode Island. Today, it’s one of the largest commercial banks in the U.S. Branches are concentrated in the New England, mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions.

PNC offers student loans in all 50 states for students at all stages of postsecondary education, including professional training loans and refinancing. The bank is also engaged in a number of community efforts, including financial literacy programs and PNC Grow Up Great, which supports early childhood education. For eligible undergraduate students, PNC offers opportunities to win $2,000 scholarships toward education expenses.

Founded in 2014, Purefy is a student loan refinance rate comparison site, and it also originates refinanced student and parent loans via a partnership with Pentagon Federal Credit Union. As a rate comparison tool, Purefy shares interest rates and terms from lending partners, including Earnest, ISL Education Lending and College Ave. This lender review will focus on the loan refinancing options Purefy and PenFed offer together.

Education Loan Finance, also known as ELFI, is a student loan program offered by Tennessee-based SouthEast Bank since 2015. The company provides private student loans and refinancing options for private and federal student loans.

While a part-time schedule can give you flexibility when pursuing a degree, it may also limit your financial aid options. Students attending school less than half time can’t access federal loans and many private student loans.

Part- or half-time status “usually refers to any student not enrolling full time,” says James Anderson, director of financial aid at Montclair State University in New Jersey.

That typically means you’re taking fewer than 12 credits per semester, Anderson says, although each school defines what qualifies as full time. Generally, six credit hours per semester is half-time status.

If you want a federal student loan: The Department of Education offers three types of federal loans, and all of them require students to enroll at least half time.

Direct subsidized loans are available to undergraduate students based on financial need and do not accrue interest while you are in school or during deferment periods. Direct unsubsidized loans are not need-based and made to undergraduate, graduate or professional students but begin to accrue interest immediately.

Graduate and professional students as well as eligible parents of undergraduates can obtain Direct PLUS loans but must meet the Department of Education’s eligibility requirements. PLUS loans require a credit check, but direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans do not.

If you want a private student loan: You’ll need to be enrolled at least half time to qualify for most private loans. Private student loans are made by banks, credit unions and other financial institutions, such as online lenders, rather than the government.

“There are some private loan lenders who will make loans to less-than-full-time students,” Anderson says.

A number of lenders offer private loans for less-than-half-time students. Eligibility requirements, interest rates, repayment options and loan terms vary by lender, but borrowers must usually apply and pass a credit check.

Sallie Mae

3.75% to 13.72% with autopay Fixed APR
Cost of attendance, minus aid Max. Loan Amount
Mid 600s Min. Credit Score

Purefy

3.26% to 14.50% with autopay Fixed APR
Not disclosed Max. Loan Amount
Not disclosed Min. Credit Score

RISLA

4.99% to 6.67% Fixed APR
$45,000 Max. Loan Amount
Not disclosed Min. Credit Score

Lender

Learn More
3.75% to 13.72% with autopay Fixed APR
Cost of attendance, minus aid Max. Loan Amount
Mid 600s Min. Credit Score

Lender

Learn More
3.26% to 14.50% with autopay Fixed APR
Not disclosed Max. Loan Amount
Not disclosed Min. Credit Score

Lender

Learn More
4.99% to 6.67% Fixed APR
$45,000 Max. Loan Amount
Not disclosed Min. Credit Score

Lender

Learn More

Fixed APR

Max. Loan Amount

Min. Credit Score

3.75% to 13.72% with autopayCost of attendance, minus aidMid 600s

3.26% to 14.50% with autopayNot disclosedNot disclosed

4.99% to 6.67%$45,000Not disclosed

Sallie Mae is a publicly traded consumer bank that offers private student loans to pay for undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees, among other educational needs. Congress started Sallie Mae in 1972 as a government-sponsored entity that serviced student loans. The lender went private in 2004 and today provides a range of student loan products. Additionally, Sallie Mae Bank offers savings products and other tools to help families plan and pay for college, including a credit card that earns bonus cash back to help you pay off any student loan.

Founded in 2014, Purefy is a student loan refinance rate comparison site, and it also originates refinanced student and parent loans via a partnership with Pentagon Federal Credit Union. As a rate comparison tool, Purefy shares interest rates and terms from lending partners, including Earnest, ISL Education Lending and College Ave. This lender review will focus on the loan refinancing options Purefy and PenFed offer together.

Best for fixed APR

The Rhode Island Student Loan Authority is a nonprofit quasi-state authority that provides college financing to students and parents. The lender specializes in providing loans to Rhode Island residents and students, though not all loans have residency requirements.

Students enrolled at least half time can also pay for college using grants, scholarships and employer-paid tuition reimbursement benefits. Enrollment status and other requirements vary with each program.

Grants: Students may apply for need-based federal grants that don’t have to be repaid regardless of enrollment status. Unfortunately, grant awards generally decrease when you’re taking fewer than 12 credits.

“Other types of grants and scholarships, whether state sponsored, university provided or from private institutions, will have their own eligibility criteria,” says Amy Lins, vice president of enterprise learning at Money Market International, a nonprofit credit counseling agency.

Try searching for private college grants using CareerOneStop, a free online grant and scholarship search tool from the Department of Labor.

Scholarships: Usually scholarships are merit-based, while grants are often need-based, and both are gifts that don’t need to be repaid. You may qualify for scholarships based on academic, athletic, leadership, artistic or other talents.

“Generally, schools and private scholarship programs (that) offer merit scholarships will require full-time enrollment, but not always,” Anderson says.

Always check scholarship requirements, including enrollment conditions, before applying. You can apply for as many scholarships as you want, but awards may affect your financial aid package because you cannot receive more than your school’s cost of attendance.

Employer-paid tuition reimbursement programs: Your company may cover some or all of the costs of your education as a job perk. Employees who use this benefit are usually enrolled less than half time, Anderson says, because they’re also working full time.

Tuition reimbursement programs typically have company-specific rules you must follow, says Will Geiger, co-founder and CEO of Scholarships360 and former senior assistant director of admissions at Kenyon College.

For instance, Geiger says, the employer may ask you to:

  • Work a minimum number of hours weekly to become eligible for the program.
  • Limit your education to specific academic programs or colleges.
  • Stay with the company for a certain period of time after completing the degree because, “They are investing in you as an employee and don’t want you to immediately leave for another opportunity,” Geiger says.

Find the Student Loan That’s Right for You

Part-time students must meet eligibility requirements, such as enrollment status, to qualify for federal or private student loans. Eligibility depends on how many credits you’re taking.

Federal student loans require at least half-time enrollment, but you may qualify for some grants, scholarships and private student loans if you plan a lighter academic load. Your school has the power to define enrollment status for financial aid, Geiger says.

Before applying for financial aid, consider how many credits you want to take each semester. Then check your enrollment status with the registrar’s office at your school to see how you are classified.

Requirements for federal student loans: Qualification depends on your family’s financial situation, your academic achievements and extracurricular activities, and your enrollment status: generally, at least six credits per semester.

Requirements for private student loans: Qualification is often based on your creditworthiness, loan amount, enrollment status and other factors. Lenders may require a creditworthy co-signer and at least a half-time schedule, although some may allow less than half time.

You can often apply for student loans with private lenders by completing an online application and consenting to a credit check. You do not need to file a FAFSA if you are seeking private student loans.

When you’re searching for financial aid and attending college at least half time, start with your federal options, says Mary Jo Lambert-Terry, a managing partner at Yrefy, a private student loan refinancing company.

“Federal programs offer the best rates, options and protections for students during and after enrollment,” Lambert-Terry says.

If you’re taking fewer credits, you may need to check out private student loans. Here are some factors to consider when comparing your loan options:

  • Interest rates. Private student loans may come with a fixed interest rate or a variable rate that can fluctuate over the loan term. Private lenders usually advertise a range of interest rates that borrowers may qualify for based on creditworthiness. On the other hand, federal student loans offer one fixed rate for each loan type. If you’re going to school less than half time, your options may be limited to variable-rate private student loans.
  • Fees. Private lenders may charge fees to offset the cost of processing and managing student loans. Compare charges such as origination, application and late fees.
  • Loan uses. You may be able to use private loan funds for school-certified expenses, such as tuition costs, fees, books, housing and meals, and travel and supplies. But your enrollment status may influence these options. For instance, Sallie Mae requires borrowers to be enrolled at least half time to use loans for personal expenses on top of tuition and fees.
  • Loan amounts. Lenders usually set minimum and maximum amounts you can borrow based on factors such as your cost of attendance and your creditworthiness. But keep in mind that a part-time student might not be looking to borrow enough money to meet the minimum requirement.
  • Repayment plans. You may be able to make interest-only or fixed payments in school, which could reduce the interest you owe later. “Students who are enrolled less than full time are more likely to be working full time or at least part time,” says David Tabachnikov, CEO of ScholarshipOwl, a scholarship matching service and management tool. “As such, they may be better positioned to cover some of their education expenses.”
  • Deferment options. Most lenders allow you to pause payments while you’re enrolled in school at least half time. If you drop below half-time status, that break could end and you may need to start paying. Make sure you understand the circumstances that may qualify you for a deferment before applying for a loan.
  • Hardship options. Private student loans may come with forbearance programs and loan modifications for borrowers who have trouble making payments. Check whether a lender offers these hardship programs before you apply for a loan because they could come in handy later. Private lenders also set different rules about what happens if a payment is late or whether loans may be discharged upon a borrower’s death or permanent disability.

Pros

  • Gets you the funds: If you can’t pull off a higher education without financial assistance, a part-time student loan can help make that happen.
  • Offers flexibility: Not every student has the ability or time to take on a full class load, and part-time student loans offer funds for the course hours you can manage.

Cons

  • Approval not guaranteed: Because some loans aren’t available for students considered half time or less, you may need a certain credit score or have a creditworthy co-signer for a part-time loan.
  • Less relief: Some part-time loans may not offer ideal deferment, forbearance or discharge options.
  • Potentially higher cost: Depending on the loan you choose, you may pay a higher interest rate and/or higher fees than what you might get as a full-time student.

Sparrow, founded in 2020, is an online marketplace where students and parents can fill out a single application to see whether they qualify for loan offers from a variety of lenders. Although Sparrow is not a lender, the free service allows you to compare rates across lending partners. Sparrow is also available to international students.

Credible is a loan comparison marketplace that allows would-be borrowers to shop around for loans that meet their needs – including mortgages, mortgage refinancing, student loans, student loan refinancing and personal loans. The company was founded in 2013 in San Francisco as a tool to empower borrowers to shop rates and products.

Best for fixed APR

The Rhode Island Student Loan Authority is a nonprofit quasi-state authority that provides college financing to students and parents. The lender specializes in providing loans to Rhode Island residents and students, though not all loans have residency requirements.

Best for co-borrowers

The Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority is a state-chartered nonprofit established in 1982 to offer low-cost financing options to college students and their families. You can live anywhere in the U.S. and access Boston-based MEFA’s private student loans, including undergraduate, graduate or refinancing options.

Best for small loan amounts

EDvestinU is the nonprofit student loan lending and refinancing organization of the New Hampshire Higher Education Loan Corp. Undergraduate and graduate loans and student loan consolidation are available to borrowers with both fixed and variable rates available in select states and Puerto Rico.

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