Full Time vs. Part Time Student: Which is Right for You?

If the idea of going back to school is on your mind, one of your first decisions may be to address the issue of being a full time vs. part time student.

Full Time vs. Part Time Student

Full-time students may complete their studies sooner, but part-time students may find it easier to balance work and school.

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There are benefits to each approach, so what’s best for one student might not be the top choice for another. It may help to take a look at the pros and cons of part-time vs. full-time enrollment to decide which is the right one for you.

What’s the Difference Between Full Time vs. Part Time Student Hours?

college students on campus

When looking at the difference between full-time versus part time students, the first thing to consider is: How do college credits work?

Full-time students typically sign up to take 12 or more credit hours per semester. That usually entails taking 4 or more classes at a time. The more classes you complete per semester, the sooner you may be able to graduate.

If your goal is to finish your program within the standard 4 year timeframe, it’s strategic to take at least 15 full time credit hours per semester. You can usually get 15 credits by signing up for 5 classes.

Anything less than 12 credits per semester will often qualify you for part-time status. That typically involves taking 3 or fewer courses at a time. To be eligible for federal financial aid like grants and loans, you may need to take at least 6 credits—around 2 classes—per semester.

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Some schools use a different system than semester credit hours. For example, they may assign their courses quarter credits instead of standard credits. Alternatively, they may use a fast-track calendar with 6 week or 8 week terms instead of full 16 week semesters.

If any of those scenarios apply to your school, you may want to inquire about how those credits compare to semester hours. That knowledge may help you register for the correct number of classes to meet your financial aid and graduation goals.

Should I Attend College as a Full-Time or Part Time Student?

college students studying together

Full-time vs. part-time enrollment is a personal decision that should take into account your availability, your responsibilities, and your goals.

What works for you might not be the best approach for someone else, so you may want to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each approach for yourself.

Attend College Full Time

  • Plenty of availability. If there’s space in your schedule to devote a good portion of each week to studies, then you may be a good candidate for full-time enrollment.
  • Immediate goals. The heavier your class load is, the sooner you’ll likely accomplish your goal of graduating.
  • Focused attention. If multitasking isn’t your strong suit, you might appreciate having college as your primary responsibility instead of trying to juggle work and school.

Attend College Part Time

  • Work and family commitments. For those who need to share their study time with responsibilities at work or home, part-time college might be the solution.
  • Patience for the end goal. Part-time may work well for you if you don’t mind waiting a while to be ready for graduation.
  • Determined spirit. Part-time enrollment often takes longer and requires more multitasking, so determined, self-motivated students are most likely to succeed.

Both approaches are valid and may lead to respected, accredited degrees.

Pros and Cons of Being a Full Time vs. Part Time Student

Full Time Student Part Time Student
Pros
  •  Typically able to graduate in less time
  • May qualify for more financial aid opportunities, such as more scholarships or larger grants
  • Might have a more immersive experience since most of your attention is focused on coursework
Pros
  • Easier to keep working a full-time job or taking care of things at home
  • May receive more financial support from your employer
  • May try out new skills and ideas in your workplace right away
Cons
  • May necessitate taking time off work or recruiting more family support
  • Quitting work or reducing your hours may lead to lost wages
  • May have to wait until after graduation to start implementing new ideas in the workplace
Cons
  • Usually requires a longer time commitment before graduation
  • May not qualify for as much grant money or as many scholarship opportunities
  • May be difficult to split your focus between work, home, school, and social life

Financial Aid for Full Time Students

Full-time college students are often eligible for state or federal financial aid. To get started with the process of securing tuition help, you can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

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Depending on your need, you might qualify for low-interest loans, work-study programs, or grants. Full-time students may receive higher grant money than part-time students. Many scholarship programs are targeted at full-time scholars. Also, your workplace may be willing to chip in toward your tuition costs.

Financial Aid for Part Time Students

Financial Aid for Part Time Students

You may qualify for federal financial aid if you’re registered for at least 6 credit hours per semester. The government considers 6 credit hours to be half-time enrollment.

If you’re registered for at least 6 part time credit hours, then you may qualify for state or federal grants, loans, or work-study programs. Scholarships may be another option, but some programs are available only to full-time students.

On the plus side, your employer might chip in toward your tuition costs during each semester that you’re in school if your workplace has a type of tuition reimbursement program or scholarship.

Plus, there are options for specific demographics, such as the scholarships for women that some universities and organizations offer.

Is It Ok to Be a Part Time Student?

college student studying

Yes, for many students, part-time enrollment is the best choice! This can be especially true for those who have a lot of credits but no college degree and are returning to school to finish up or for those who are busy with work or family commitments.

If you’re working a full-time job while going to school, you may be able to put some class lessons into practice right away. Some employers may offer you a raise just for finishing a number of classes. You may also receive tuition assistance from your workplace.

Even if graduating from college takes longer for you than for other students, you’ll still have earned a degree that may take you just as far in life.

How Many Hours Is Considered Full Time?

college students in university

To be considered a full time student, you should register for at least 12 credit hours. The federal government considers anyone enrolled for at least 12 credits per semester to be full time for the sake of financial aid.

You’re not limited to 12 full time student credits, though. In fact, you may be encouraged to take more. To graduate in 4 years, you may want to aim for at least 15 credits per semester.

How Many Hours Is Considered Part Time?

college student studying in class

To be considered a part time student, you should register for no more than 11 credit hours. To qualify for federal financial aid, you’ll need to register for at least 6 part time student credits per semester.

In other words, part-time enrollment usually involves taking 2 or 3 classes per term. You can also decide to take just 1 course at a time, but doing so may limit your financial aid opportunities and further stretch out your time in school, depending on your program.

How Many Credits Do You Need to Be a Full Time Student?

To be considered a full time student, you should register for at least 12 college credits. If you sign up for at least that many classes, you may be eligible for federal financial aid at the full-time student level.

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Considering how many credits you need to graduate college, though, more credits per semester may be beneficial. Earning at least 15 credits per semester, which is about 5 classes at a time, may help you graduate within 4 years. Research also shows that students who carry 15 credit loads are more likely to graduate than those who sign up for fewer classes at a time.

Do You Need to Be a Full Time Student for FAFSA?

No. Both part-time and full-time college students may qualify to receive government financial aid, a process that starts by filling out the FAFSA form. Your benefits may include grants or loans with low-interest rates.

Part-time students must be enrolled for at least 6 credit hours per semester to qualify for government aid. The level of assistance you receive may vary depending on your enrollment status, though. For example, qualifying full-time students may receive higher levels of grant money per semester than part-time students.

Does Financial Aid Cover Part Time Students?

college students in library

Yes, if you’re taking at least 6 credits at a time, you may be eligible for government assistance with your tuition bills. A 6 credit load is usually 2 college classes. The federal government considers this half-time enrollment.

You might receive low-interest loans from the government. If so, you’ll repay these after graduation. Depending on your income level, you might also receive grants, which entail free tuition money that never needs to be repaid. Some scholarship programs are open to part-time students as well.

Is It Better to Be a Full Time or Part Time Student?

college students studying together

In the full-time vs. part-time debate, one option isn’t necessarily better than the other. The key is to figure out which one will work best for your unique situation.

A key advantage of full-time enrollment is that you may be able to finish school more quickly. That might mean being able to qualify sooner for raises, promotions, or a job in a new line of work.

With part-time school, though, you may more easily fit coursework around other responsibilities, like caring for your family or holding a full-time job. Either option may lead to you earning an accredited and respected degree.

Full Time or Part Time Student – Which Is Best for You?

college students walking in university

Some students want to get done with college as quickly as possible. They may be willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen, perhaps even quitting their jobs or reducing their work hours.

Other students would rather strike a more even balance between school and work responsibilities. They might be okay with waiting longer to graduate if it means that they can keep bringing home full-time paychecks.

Both full-time and part-time enrollment are valid approaches to earning degrees. You can take a look at accredited universities to find the college program that best suits your needs and goals.

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Joy Cromwelle
WRITTEN BY
Joy Cromwelle
Joy is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Policy & Foreign Policy and holds a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management, as well as a Bachelor's in Business Administration. Joy's focus is helping non-traditional students find accelerated degree options and credit for prior learning opportunities.