How to get a student loan if you're a non-degree seeking student

Some federal and private student loans are available even if you are not pursuing a degree. Learn about them here. (iStock)

Most people attend school to earn a degree – but not everyone. Non-degree seeking students may want to complete a certificate program or get recertified to work in a particular field or job, such as an electrician or paramedic. Or they may be taking courses just to improve their skills or to become eligible for admission to a particular academic program.

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In some cases, it's possible to get federal or private student loans even when not pursuing a degree – but options for aid are more limited if you aren't aiming to get this credential. That is particularly true if you're pursuing federal student loans, which tend to have low student loan interest rates and offer income-driven repayment options.

If you're thinking about borrowing for a non-degree granting program, here's what you need to know about your options.

When does the federal government provide financial aid to non-degree seeking students?

The federal government provides aid to non-degree seeking students in very limited situations.

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You may be eligible for this aid if:

  • You're completing an eligible certification program. To find one, use College Navigator and select “Certificate” as the level of award when searching for academic courses in your area  
  • You're a graduate non-degree student. You must be enrolled at least half time in your program and must be completing courses that serve as a prerequisite for admission to a graduate-level program. You will need a graduate program director to certify that you need to complete the coursework before starting a degree-granting program.

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You also must meet other eligibility requirements including having earned a high-school diploma or equivalent or enrolling in a career pathway program and demonstrating an ability to benefit from the education provided.

Federal aid options for non-degree seeking students

If you are enrolled in an eligible certification program or are completing courses necessary to enter into a graduate program, you may be eligible for:

  • Federal Pell Grants: While you generally must be enrolled in a degree-granting program to qualify for a Pell Grant, it's possible to obtain one if you're enrolled in a teacher certification program. In most cases, these grants do not have to be paid back. However, you must demonstrate extreme financial need to qualify for one.HOW TO APPLY FOR STUDENT LOANS — FEDERAL AND PRIVATE  
  • Unsubsidized Direct Loans: These loans have a low fixed interest rate and a low origination fee. Credit score is not a factor in determining approval  
  • PLUS Loans: These are available only if you don't have adverse credit. While they have a relatively low fixed interest rate, both the rate and origination fee are higher than on Unsubsidized Direct Loans.

Other non-degree-seeking student loan options

If you cannot qualify for federal financial aid, you may have some other options to get help paying for school. Alternative student loans could include the following types of financing:

  • Private student loans: Some lenders offer loans for students completing career-training or certification programs. Credit and income are considered when qualifying and you will not enjoy the same flexibility in repayment or other borrower benefits available with federal student loans.5 THINGS YOU CAN USE STUDENT LOANS FOR (BESIDES TUITION)  
  • Companies that provide tuition assistance: If you're getting certified in a particular field or training for a specific profession, some companies offer financial assistance to help you afford your coursework.  
  • Payment plans offered by your school: The program you're completing may allow you to pay over time.  
  • Alternative types of loans: Personal loans or home equity loans could be used to help you pay for the cost of schooling.

Should non-degree seeking students take out student loans?

Whether you qualify for federal aid or other types of loans to fund your education, you should carefully consider whether borrowing makes sense to complete coursework when you're not getting a degree.

Remember, you will owe interest on your loans and repayment can be a financial burden. A high loan balance can also affect your debt-to-income ratio and make it more difficult to qualify for credit in the future. This could affect your ability to buy a home. Before you borrow, make sure the classes you're paying for as a non-degree seeking student are likely to have a positive impact on your income so you can repay the debt you're taking on.