Qualifying for financial aid can be the deciding factor between students attending college or being forced to wait before starting their college careers. Many adult and working students only have the option to attend college on a part-time schedule. In order to determine if you are qualified to receive financial aid, you must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.
Types of Financial Aid
Through the federal government, there are two basic types of financial aid: grants and loans. Grants do not need to be repaid. Loans are considered self-help aid which must be repaid with interest six months after your last day of school -- not necessarily after graduation. There are two types of federal loans: subsidized and unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are awarded to students who demonstrate financial need, while unsubsidized loans have no financial need requirement. In addition, some students may qualify for work-study programs funded through the federal government. Work-study programs allow students to work on campus within a budget determined by the FAFSA and the school; however, it is the student's responsibility to find eligible employment through his institution. Work-study is administered by the school, so eligibility and enrollment requirements can vary.
The FAFSA will require you to enter your most recent tax return information, investments and business income, and other financial information. In addition, the FAFSA will ask if you have dependents that you support financially and how many of those dependents are enrolled in college. When you complete the application, you will be given an expected family contribution, or EFC, number. This is the number by which your financial strength is measured, and will be sent to any of the schools included in the application. Just remember, if you are in default on any federal student loans, you may not receive financial aid until the delinquency is rectified.
As a part-time student, you may qualify for federal grants. The amount of federal grant money you may receive is based on two factors: your EFC number and your enrollment status at your college. The EFC range is 0 through 99,999, with "0" meaning that neither you nor your family can contribute financially to your education. For instance, in the case of Pell grant eligibility, if you have an EFC of 0, and enroll in six credit hours, you will qualify for 25 percent of the maximum annual Pell grant award. If your EFC is above 3,500, you may want to contact a financial aid advisor to see if you can qualify for a Pell grant as a part-time student.
As a part time student, you can qualify for federal student loans. The maximum amount of federal loan money you may receive is based on your dependency status and your academic year in college. You are considered dependent if you were required to include your parent's information on the FAFSA. Dependent freshman receive the smallest loans, while independent juniors and seniors qualify for the largest. Your EFC will determine how much of the loan funding will be subsidized or unsubsidized, but the aggregate award amount will be the same. As of 2013, subsidized loans have a low interest rate at 3.4 percent, and the government pays the interest on the loan while you are at least a half-time student. Unsubsidized loans have a higher interest rate -- 6.8 percent as of 2013 -- and interest starts accruing immediately.
Shannon Kelly has worked in various roles in higher education, including financial aid and Title IV regulations. She earned her BS in philosophy from Illinois State University and her Master of Management in higher education administration from Robert Morris University. Kelly is a member of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and National Association of Veteran's Program Administrators.