Your enrollment status — half time or less than half time — will determine what student loan options you have.
Summary of Part-Time Student Loan Options for 2019
A caveat for part-time students
Each school determines its own full-time or part-time status. Typically, full-time status means you’re enrolled in at least 12 credit hours per semester. Half-time status means enrolling in six credit hours per semester. Taking fewer than six credit hours would be considered less than half time.
One big challenge part-time students face is that they may need to make payments while still in school. It will depend on your enrollment status and your lender.
- Federal student loans: Repayment will begin if you fall below half-time status.
- Private student loans: Check with your lender. Many will require repayment to begin if you fall below half-time status, but a few will allow you to defer payments even if you take just one class per semester.
If you have existing student loans you took out as a full-time or half-time student and transition to less than half-time enrollment, you may need to begin repaying those loans while you’re in school. Check with your lender or servicer.
How to shop for part-time student loans
- Submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. It’s the key to grants, scholarships, work-study, and federal student loans. Your cost of attendance is lower, since you attend one or two classes per semester. You may not qualify for need-based aid. But federal loans are still available to you. You can borrow an amount up to your total cost of attendance.
- Build credit or find a co-signer before you apply for a private student loan. While undergrads generally don’t have the credit history required to get a loan without a co-signer, students over the age of 21 might. You’ll have the best shot at a private loan with competitive interest rates if your credit score is 690 or above. Strengthen it before applying for a loan by fixing errors on your credit report, paying all bills on time and using as little of your credit limit as possible. Otherwise, you’ll need to find a co-signer who can qualify to take out the loan with you.
- Compare private lending options. Attending college less than half time will limit your private student loan options, but there are a few lenders who offer loans for less than half-time enrollment. Compare private loan offers to get the lowest interest rate you qualify for. Note whether the lender will postpone payments in case you have difficulty affording them, and for how long. Find out if there are origination, prepayment or late fees, and how easily you can reach the lender by phone, email or live chat if you encounter a billing or customer service issue.
- Opt for a fixed interest rate. Given the choice, a fixed interest rate is a safer bet than a variable interest rate. It won’t increase over time.
Keep an eye on the bottom line. Use a student loan calculator to see what kind of payment you’ll face after borrowing for multiple years.
Last updated on October 15, 2019
To recap our selections...
NerdWallet's Part-Time Student Loan Options for 2019
- Federal Subsidized/Unsubsidized Loan: Best for All student loan borrowers as a first option
- Sallie Mae Private Student Loan: Best for Students who want flexibility with repayment
- Wells Fargo Private Student Loan: Best for Existing Wells Fargo customers
- RISLA Private Student Loan: Best for Rhode Island students or those who intend to pursue medical careers