Difference Between Part- & Full-Time Financial Aid

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Schools have sole discretion in determining your registration status.
Schools have sole discretion in determining your registration status. (Image: Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Because of increasing higher education costs, many college students are faced with the decision of how to balance school and work. When deciding whether to attend school on a full-time or part-time basis, the amount of financial aid you would qualify to receive in both scenarios should be carefully considered.

Status

Your status as a full-time or part-time student is assessed by your individual college or university. At most schools, a student is classified as full time if he is enrolled for at least 12 credit hours during the semester. Other schools however, may define full time as 9 credits, as is often the case in graduate school. To qualify for most types of aid, students need to be enrolled for at least 6 credit hours -- usually considered part-time status.

Aid

How your school defines your enrollment status plays a significant role in determining the amount of financial aid you can receive. Many financial aid loans, awards and school-sponsored scholarships require a student to be enrolled full time. Grant awards, which do not have to be repaid, are directly correlated with you status, and are usually available in limited and relatively smaller amounts for those students enrolled on a part-time basis. Some states do, however, offer financial aid for part-time students.

Loans

Loans are an increasingly common option for students in need of additional funding. Subsidized Stafford and Perkins loans, which do not earn interest while you are enrolled in school, are based on your total financial need. Because students who are enrolled part time have a lower cost of attendance than those who are full time, switching from full-time to part-time enrollment will also reduce the amount of loan aid you can receive. Unsubsidized loans, which are not need-based, do not vary based on your enrollment status.

Other Factors

When evaluating enrollment status, students should also review important factors like graduation, the job market and student loan debt. Attending school on a full-time basis can increase your chances of graduating on time and increase your potential job prospects. However it can also increase your loan debt, since you would not be working full-time. Part-time attendance can allow you to earn more money while in school, requiring you to borrow less money. However, it may take you significantly longer to finish school.

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