Full-Time vs. Part-Time Student: What Are the Differences?
Updated February 16, 2023
Choosing between full-time and part-time enrollment is a big decision that can affect your college experience. Depending on your personal, financial and lifestyle needs, you may find either full-time or part-time school better. Understanding the different factors involved in each type can help you make a more informed education decision. In this article, we discuss the differences between being a full-time and part-time student.
What is a full-time student?
A full-time student is enrolled in at least 12 credit hours per semester, which is usually four classes. For graduate students, full-time enrollment usually begins at nine credit hours per semester. Full-time students can take more than 12 credit hours per semester depending on their schedules and level of difficulty per class.
What is a part-time student?
A part-time student takes fewer than 12 credit hours per semester. It's possible for students to be part time for one semester, then become full time the next semester and vice versa. They usually need to inform university representatives of their intention to transition to a new course load.
Full-time vs. part-time student
There are similarities and differences between full-time and part-time enrollment due to school policies and the varying course loads. Here are factors to consider when choosing between the two:
Program enrollment requirements
Depending on your financial situation, the availability of assistance programs might influence your choice to be a full-time or part-time student. Many programs require full-time enrollment to receive financial aid, health insurance and scholarships. Some financial aid is usually available for part-time students based on a minimum number of enrolled credits.
Academic course load
Full-time students take more courses than part-time students. As your academic course load increases, you may need more time-management and organizational skills to succeed. A higher academic load can allow you to complete your program more quickly, study more than one major simultaneously or add a minor to your program without adding years to your schooling. A part-time course load might be useful if you prefer focusing on fewer classes at the same time.
Family and personal responsibilities
Being a part-time student might allow you to have extra time for personal responsibilities. If you're a parent or caregiver, being part time could give you a more flexible schedule and offer a better balance. As a full-time student, you need to take at least 12 credit hours per semester, which could leave you less time for external responsibilities.
A part-time schedule may be a good choice if you want to work while enrolled in school. Having a job while in school can help you develop time-management skills and pay some or all of your tuition and living expenses. If you are a part-time student, your more flexible schedule could lead to more job opportunities as you may have more availability to work various shifts.
Full-time students can also work, but they may require more job flexibility. If you are a full-time student, you may be more likely to work in the evenings, on weekends or during holiday breaks when you are not in class.
Related: Best Jobs for College Students
If you're part time, you may be able to complete internships during the semester since you have more time outside of class. You could apply what you're learning in your courses to your internship, helping you gain practical experience.
If you're a full-time student, you can complete internships during summer or winter breaks. These internships are usually full time, so you can spend whole workdays learning about typical responsibilities and workflows in businesses.
Read more: 10 Benefits of Doing an Internship
Athletics, hobbies and extracurriculars
As a part-time student, you may have more time for athletic commitments or other hobbies. For full-time students, more time on campus can lead to more opportunities to learn about groups you might want to join. Also, full-time students are more likely to be on campus when a group or team is meeting, so it might be more convenient for them to join.
Tuition costs generally are less for part-time students. A student may choose part-time enrollment based on their budget and if they are paying out of pocket or taking loans. Full-time undergraduate students often pay a capped tuition per semester, while part-time students pay per credit. If you're a full-time student, you can take more than 12 credit hours per semester and pay the same amount.
Time to complete the program
Consider your goals after graduation and their time frames. If you want to start working as quickly as possible in your desired career, you may want to go to school full time. Part time might be a good choice if you want more time to consider your career choices and decide what you want to do long term.
Consider what you want the experience to feel like outside of the classroom. If you attend school full time, you likely will spend more time on campus, which can help you feel more immersed in the campus culture. Since you'll also spend more time in class, you may interact more with other students and professors. As a part-time student, you can still take part in campus activities and collaborate with other students, but you could also have more time to pursue other interests off campus.
As a full-time student, you usually devote a lot of your energy to your program of study. Immersion can be helpful to keep you excited and engaged in your field. As a part-time student, you may have commitments outside of your coursework. The amount of time devoted to schooling includes in-class hours and after-hours to study and work on assignments or projects, which can be much higher for full-time students than for part-time students.
Preference for location and school
Not all schools offer both scheduling types for all areas of study. Therefore, if location is the most important factor to you, there is a chance your enrollment could depend on what the college offers. Alternatively, you could pursue online education to remain in the same area and study at another college. If attending a specific school is most important to you, you may have to decide based on what is available.
If you want to live in campus housing, your school may require full-time enrollment. Schools may require people to live on campus during their first years as full-time students. Otherwise, both full- and part-time students usually have the option to live in private housing off campus.
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