Part-Time Students Can Get Financial Aid
Jennifer LeClaire, FastWeb
Has someone told you that only full-time students can cash in on financial aid programs? If so, listen up. It’s time to bust another higher education myth.
It’s true that many financial aid programs are limited to full-time students, but determined part-time college-goers like you can also leverage the system to subsidize your educational opportunities. If knowledge is power, then arming yourself with the tips in this article could prepare you to win the college budget battle.
Before you read another paragraph, go online and file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You can find it at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Applications for the 2007-2008 academic year are available now. The FAFSA is a tool used to determine a student’s eligibility for aid at the federal level, but states and individual institutions also use the info to put together aid packages for students. This single step alone can help you make the most of financial aid opportunities.
Now that you’ve done that, read on for other options – and requirements. What you discover may pleasantly surprise you. Indeed, finding financial aid may not be as laborious as you thought.
Demonstrating Your Need
Of course, the jumping off point for all student financial aid eligibility is demonstrated need, according to Richard Eddington-Shipman, director of the financial aid office at Michigan State University. Aid givers calculate that need like this: the cost of attendance minus the family contribution toward college costs. The bigger the gap between the two the greater the need.
“Students who enroll part time have much lower tuition and fee amounts than full-time students but the same contribution is used,” Eddington-Shipman explains, “so a student who might demonstrate need when full time might not when part time.” That part-time status has been a problem, and can still close the door on some financial aid programs.
The good news is that needy students taking as few as three credits a semester can qualify for Federal Pell Grants. The size of the grant increases as you enroll in more classes, but you can cover at least part of your educational costs if you can demonstrate a bona fide need. Most financial aid programs based on financial need – such as the Federal Guaranteed Student Loan Programs – are available to part-time students on a pro-rated basis.
Aid for All
Even if you aren’t as needy as some, you can still strike gold if you are willing to jump through a few financial hoops and commit to at least two classes a semester. “Virtually all students taking six credits in a degree or certificate program can obtain a low-interest student loan,” said Chris Pesotski, director of financial aid at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
You may also find that some schools offer programs that other schools do not. According to Douglas McNutt, director of financial aid and student enrollment services at the University of Akron, “The bulk of institutional dollars still are awarded to their full-time population, however, many schools serving a large part-time population, such community colleges and urban universities, have set aside some funds for the part-time student.”
For example, beginning this year the state of Ohio is making funds available to students with dependent children who are attending either full or part-time through the TANF Educational Awards Program. The Tuition Assistance for Needy Families program back the awards. There may be similar programs in your area. Again, knowing what’s available is the first step to making the most of financial aid programs.
A Long-Term View
Dr. Tiffany Wagner, author of Debt Dilemma and a former independent career and college counselor, offers a long-term tip for making the most of financial aid: attend a community college first so the aid you do receive stretches farther.
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“Take your freshman and sophomore level classes through a community college and then transfer to a four-year college to complete the last two years,” Wagner suggests. After your first semester at community college, you may be able to tap into some scholarship programs if you’ve studied yourself onto the Dean’s list, she adds. And scholarships are the best kind of money – the kind you don’t have to pay back after graduation.