Does Financial Aid Cover Summer Classes?

Many college students want to take a break from the books over the summer. However, for students planning to enroll in a summer term — whether to make up a class or reduce the length of time to graduation, among other reasons — the cost doesn’t always have to come out of pocket.

There are options for financial aid. Here’s what students should know about paying for college courses over the summer.

Why Take Summer College Classes?

Summer classes typically are cheaper per credit hour than during the academic year, experts say.

“During the academic year, we have a base tuition amount that we are charging for full-time tuition,” says Chip Bryan, assistant vice president and director of financial aid at the University of Richmond in Virginia. “Most private colleges and universities are more expensive in the full-time tuition than state schools. And I think during the summer, most students are part-time, so it’s set up more on a per-credit or per-unit basis as opposed to a full-time and then slicing that up into a part-time rate.”

[Related:How to Pay for College Without Loans]

However, the benefits aren’t just cost-related. Taking classes over the summer allows students to reduce their course load during the academic year and, in some cases, graduate early.

“Our curriculum is rather challenging, or can be,” Bryan says, “so I think sometimes students will use it as a way to get a little bit ahead so that they don’t have to take as full of a course load during the academic year. We also have a lot of students that will double and even triple major or have a minor or two as well, so it helps them take a number of classes to satisfy those requirements.”

What Financial Aid Is Available for Summer Classes?

Federal aid is available for qualifying students who fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

Pell Grant

Students may qualify for “year-round Pell,” which was reinstated in the 2017-2018 school year. This means they could be eligible to receive up to 150% of their award, and some of it can be applied to summer terms.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, a student awarded a $3,000 Pell Grant, for instance, is likely to receive $1,500 each for fall and spring semesters and may qualify for up to $1,500 more for summer term if enrolled at least part time.

The grant amount students can receive depends on several factors, such as their student aid index, the cost of attendance at their college and whether they will have full-time or part-time status. Students may also be eligible for additional Pell Grant funds if a parent died as a public safety officer or during active duty in the U.S. military.

The Pell Grant is limited to a maximum of 12 semesters or six years.

[Read: FAFSA Deadlines You Should Know.]

School Aid and Outside Scholarships

Institutional aid and outside scholarships are more limited during the summer, experts say.

“Due to the lower tuition costs, we do not offer as much aid as we do during the academic school year,” Mindy Schaffer, executive director of student financial assistance at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., wrote in an email.

However, for outside funding, Kenneth Ferreira, director of student financial services at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire, suggests students ask the scholarship organization if the award can be broken up into three disbursements instead of two — the third for summer courses.

Another option, he adds, is that students “can appeal to the scholarship organization to let them know that they plan on enrolling in the summer and therefore, their cost is more than it might be during the academic year, so their need for scholarship support is higher.”

Federal Student Loans

Federal student loans are also available to help cover the cost of summer classes.

Students “can ask their institution to do what’s called a borrower-based award year, where the award year for the student is defined based on their enrollment instead of the academic calendar,” says Ferreira, who is also president-elect of the Eastern Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. “So there’s absolutely access to financial aid in the summer. It’s just how students choose to use all of their eligibility over the course of a 12-month period versus the nine.”

[Read: How to Avoid Scholarship Scams.]

When to Start Planning for Summer Term

Planning for summer classes and aid should start early in the spring semester, such as February or March, experts say.

Bryan encourages returning students, who often have later aid deadlines, “to submit their applications earlier than that for summer so that the school has an opportunity to process their aid before the summer term actually starts. So by the time the summer term is starting, the aid has already been processed and it will pay over into their account in a timely manner. It takes a little bit more forethought and planning to make sure everything runs on time during the summer.”

Students with questions can reach out to their college’s financial aid office. They can work with a financial aid counselor to discuss options and “explore all creative avenues,” Ferreira says.

“The financial aid counselor can help guide them on how they’ll be using their financial aid and maximizing it for use over the summer.”

Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. NewsPaying for Collegecenter.

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