Taking summer classes is an excellent way to knock out core course requirements and graduate on time (or even early!). However, some forms of financial aid are based on a traditional, two-semester academic year; summer classes don’t fit into that model, so getting funding for your summer courses can be challenging.
As a college student, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is essential to qualify for financial aid. But does FAFSA cover summer classes? It depends on your program and available funding. Here’s what you need to know to get as much financial aid as possible.
Why Do Students Take Summer Classes?
Completing summer courses can be advantageous for several reasons:
- You can complete electives or core requirements: Many students take summer courses to meet core or elective requirements. These courses tend to have shortened term lengths, so you can get them out of the way and focus on your major and minor.
- You can earn credits sooner: By completing credits in the summer, you can earn the necessary credits faster and graduate early, potentially saving you money.
- You can catch up on failed courses: If you struggled with courses during the normal semester, you can use summer courses to retake those courses.
- You can take advantage of smaller class sizes: Summer classes tend to be smaller, so you get more personalized attention from professors.
Does Financial Aid Cover Summer Classes?
You should fill out the FAFSA every year to see if you are eligible for financial aid. The FAFSA helps determine your eligibility for several types of federal and state aid, including grants, federal student loans, and work-study positions. Some colleges even use the FAFSA for certain types of institutional aid.
In general, these funds can be used to pay for fall and spring semester classes, and in some cases, financial aid can be used to cover summer classes.
Determine Which FAFSA Year Your College Uses for Summer Financial Aid
What financial aid you’re eligible for is partially dependent on which FAFSA form your college financial aid department is using to determine aid for summer courses; it varies by school. For example, some colleges will use FAFSA from the 2022-2023 academic year for summer classes, but others will use the 2023-2024 FAFSA. To find out, contact your financial aid office.
Why is the FAFSA year important? There are annual caps on how much you can take out in federal student loans and limits on Pell Grant funding. If your school uses the FAFSA from the previous academic year, you may have already reached the limit and not qualify for additional aid.
Additionally, you need to be enrolled at least half-time to qualify for federal student loans. Each school has different criteria for defining enrollment status, but if you’re only taking one or two summer classes, you might not meet that requirement. If that’s the case, you won’t qualify for federal student loans, and you’ll have to explore other options for financial aid for part-time students.
When Might FAFSA Cover Summer Classes?
In some cases, you may be eligible for federal financial aid if you meet the following requirements:
- You completed the FAFSA and have a demonstrated financial need.
- You’re enrolled at least half-time during the summer.
- You’re taking credits that count toward your degree requirements at an approved institution, such as a community college.
- You make satisfactory academic progress toward your degree (this requirement is defined by each school, so check your student handbook for what this means for you).
- You have not yet reached the annual or aggregate limits for federal financial aid.
Alternative Ways to Pay for Summer Classes
If you’ve already maxed out your federal financial aid, don’t worry. There are other avenues to pay for summer courses.
Apply for Scholarships
If you need money for summer college courses, apply for scholarships to cover the cost. Start with your university; they may even have specific awards just for the summer semester. Ask your department advisor if there are any eligible awards and how to apply.
Once you’ve applied for all internal scholarships, look at popular sites like Bold.org and CollegeBoard.org. Search for scholarships that are specific to your major and interests. For example, if you’re an international studies major, look for scholarships geared toward students pursuing a career in international affairs.
Apply For Summer Grants
Like scholarships, grants are a form of gift aid that don’t have to be repaid. There are some grant programs specifically for students taking classes over the summer. Grants may be available from your state, college, or local non-profit organizations. For example:
- University of Central Florida (UCF): UCF grants are available to undergraduate students taking summer classes. Your eligibility for UCF grants for summer 2023 classes is determined by the 2022-2023 FAFSA.
- Pennsylvania Summer State Grant: Residents of Pennsylvania may qualify for the PA Summer State Grant program. To qualify, you must be enrolled at least half-time at a qualifying school.
Check with your school’s financial aid office and visit your state’s education agency to see if grants are available.
Take Cheaper College Courses
If your college charges high rates for classes, you may be able to find less expensive options elsewhere. For example, if you attend an out-of-state public university, look for summer classes at a local in-state college. You’ll have to apply to that university and submit your transcript, but you could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Before you enroll, just be sure to confirm that the course will transfer over and count toward your degree requirements.
Get a Job or Side Hustle
Depending on how much money you need, a summer job or side hustle can supplement your financial aid to cover summer classes. Start looking for a job before the summer starts. Talk to adults you know, like professors, resident advisors, teaching assistants, and academic advisors, and ask if they have any suggestions. They may know of an administrator who’s looking for a house sitter or a dorm building that needs a part-time receptionist.
If you have friends that are also staying in town, ask them if they know of anyone hiring. Keep your eyes peeled around campus – you may be surprised at how many businesses still post physical job ads.
Your college may also have an online job bulletin where companies post openings. Many retailers and restaurants are having trouble finding employees right now, so it may be easier than you think to land a gig.
Take Out Private Student Loans with ELFI
If you have used up your federal, state, and institutional aid and need additional funds to pay for summer classes, private student loans can be a useful option. With ELFI, you can qualify for loans for summer courses as long as you’re enrolled at least half-time.* You can borrow as little as $1,000 or as much as the school-certified cost of attendance, and you can have up to 15 years to repay the loan.
You can get rate estimates with ELFI’s Find My Rate tool without affecting your credit.