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Part-Time Student Loans: Compare Options for 2019

Your enrollment status — half time or less than half time — will determine what student loan options you have.
Feb. 1, 2019
Loans, Student Loans
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College students who go to school part time may have difficulty finding student loans, depending on how many classes they take. Most private lenders require that borrowers attend at least half time or full time to qualify. Federal direct loan borrowers must be enrolled at least half time.

Part-time students enrolled at least half time should start by taking out federal student loans before considering a loan from private lenders. If you’re enrolled less than half time, there are a few private lending options to choose from, which you’ll find below.

Part-time students enrolled at least half time should start by taking out federal student loans before considering a loan from private lenders.

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.

A caveat for part-time students

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.

1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.

Top student loans for part-time students 2019

LenderGet started

5.0 NerdWallet rating

Federal loans review

4.5 NerdWallet rating

Sallie Mae review

4.5 NerdWallet rating

Wells Fargo review

5.0 NerdWallet rating

RISLA review

How each part-time student loan stands out


Federal direct loans offer generous repayment flexibility and among the lowest fixed interest rates you’ll find. They’re also available to borrowers without a co-signer or credit history.


Sallie Mae offers flexible repayment options including its interest-only repayment option in school and during the grace period and a rate that is 1% lower than the traditional deferred repayment option. Borrowers can defer payments while enrolled in school, even while attending less than half time.


Wells Fargo offers generous forbearance and repayment options like short-term payment relief, grace-period extension and loan modification. Borrowers also get individual attention with an assigned, dedicated student loan advisor. Borrowers can defer payments while in school even while attending less than half time.


RISLA is one of the only private lenders that offers income-based repayment, allowing borrowers to pay a maximum of 15% of income per month and earn forgiveness after 25 years. Undergraduate borrowers must be enrolled for at least one credit per semester to qualify for deferment, while graduate borrowers must be enrolled at least half time.

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