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How Many Years Can I Receive Financial Aid for College?

It takes 4 years for a student to complete a typical undergraduate degree, right? Not necessarily. Today, students are taking longer to graduate for a variety of reasons, from a decline in personal and institutional resources to indecision about choice of major at the time of enrollment. If you’re currently weighing options for a fifth year (or more) of college, we’ve provided a few things to consider as you manage your college payment plan.

150 Percent Rule for Subsidized Direct Student Loans: A new federal regulation may impact students who receive Federal Subsidized Direct Loans. These programs are now available for only 150 percent of the semesters that the college publishes as the typical time it takes students to complete their degree or certificate. This “150 percent rule” means students in a four-year degree program will be eligible for subsidized student loans for the equivalent of six years.  Eligible fifth and sixth year students should be able to benefit from this loan program as long as they meet the college’s definition of Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) and are on track to graduate within this time frame.

Keep in mind, however, that the Direct Loan program has both annual and aggregate borrowing limits, so even within the 150 percent time frame, a student may hit his aggregate borrowing limit and be restricted in his loan eligibility.

Limited Institutional Monies: Some schools do not give undergraduates institutional grant funds or scholarships for more than eight semesters. The circumstances for the student’s additional year will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis before the school will renew the previously awarded institutional scholarship beyond the original four years.

Pell Eligibility: Students who are eligible for federal Pell Grants are subject to a lifetime limit of six years of funding.  In addition, a student can only receive a Pell Grant for completion of his or her first bachelor’s degree.  Students pursuing double bachelor’s degrees should consider timing their studies so that they complete both degrees at the end of their schooling.

Private Scholarships: Recipients of a private scholarship should talk to their scholarship’s donors to see if they are able to spread their award over the additional year(s) of their education. While some donors will work hard to make sure their chosen recipient maintains full use of the awarded funds, some donors will be more restrictive.

What if you are a fifth, sixth, or seventh year undergraduate running into these limiting factors and you still need money to cover college costs? We advise students to check their state financing authority or higher education commission website for any loan opportunities available beyond the fourth year of an undergraduate education. In some states, students may be able to secure education loans under their own name. Another option is for students to secure a private loan with a co-signer. Whatever the financial options available to you, it’s important to think ahead if you expect your schooling to take longer than four years. Our college finance experts can help you understand your options to pay for college and find scholarships and merit based aid.



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Written by Robyn Stewart
Robyn Stewart is a member of College Coach’s team of college finance experts. Prior to joining College Coach, she worked as a former financial aid officer at College of the Holy Cross.