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Full-Time vs Part-Time College Students: What’s the Difference?

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    There are lots of advantages to being a full-time college student. Similarly, there are lots of advantages to being a part-time college student. It all depends on your individual needs and goals. For instance, part-time enrollment is often a great opportunity for working parents or for students with other obligations. Part-time students enjoy more flexible schedules and pay less per year than full-time college students. Full-time college students, however, qualify for more financial aid and are eligible for more scholarships. 

    While full-time vs part-time college enrollment may seem straightforward, there is actually a fair amount of nuance involved. So if you have questions like, What does being a part-time student mean? How many classes is a full-time student? Or how many credits is part-time for financial aid?, don’t worry! You’ve come to the right place.

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    What is a part-time vs a full-time student?

    The main difference between part-time and full-time students is how many college credits they are enrolled in. So how many credits is part-time? And how many credits are considered full-time? In general, students enrolled in 12 or more college credits are considered full-time and students who are enrolled in fewer than 12 college credits are considered part-time. 

    That said, it’s important to keep in mind that while 12 credits are considered full-time, students will need to take an average of 15 credits per semester in order to graduate in 4 years. Many schools have restrictions on how long students can work towards a degree. For bachelor’s degrees, students may be limited to 6-10 years. For graduate degrees, students may be limited to 5-7 years. 

    So how many credit hours is half-time? Generally, 6 college credits is the cut-off for half-time enrollment. That said, each college has the potential to have different enrollment policies. This is why it’s important to confirm these policies with student services and the financial aid office before you make any formal decisions. Remember, your enrollment status isn’t just about how many classes you’re taking. It also impacts your cost of tuition and financial aid. 

    And what about graduate school? Are the credit requirements the same as they are for undergraduate students? Not quite. Graduate students must be enrolled in at least 9 credits to be considered full-time. Students enrolled in fewer than 9 credits are considered part-time. 

    What is the difference in cost?

    Students often pursue part-time enrollment as a way to save money. So, for the sake of College Financial Planning, let’s take a closer look at some of the financial factors you’ll have to consider.

    Cost of tuition

    Let’s start with the cost of tuition. Part-time students pay tuition based on how many credits they are enrolled in. This means that, depending on how many classes you decide to enroll in, your tuition could be pretty affordable. Let’s take a look at the actual costs.

    According to the Education Data Initiative

    • The average public, 4-year college charges in-state residents $390 per credit.
    • The average public, 4-year college charges out-of-state students $1,126 per credit.
    • The average private 4-year college charges $1,365 per credit.
    • The average community college charges $141 per credit. 

    This means that for part-time students, the cost of taking one 3-credit college class ranges from $423-$4,095. 

    Full-time college students, however, pay a fixed semester-based tuition rate. This rate is often based on the cost of 12 credits. That said, full-time college students are often eligible to take up to 18 credits per semester. That means that if you take 13+ credits per semester, you’ll save money in the long run. 

    So, in conclusion, paying full-time tuition costs a lot more upfront, but has the potential to save you money in the long term. 

    Cost of tuition

    Let’s start with the cost of tuition. Part-time students pay tuition based on how many credits they are enrolled in. This means that, depending on how many classes you decide to enroll in, your tuition could be pretty affordable. Let’s take a look at the actual costs.

    According to the Education Data Initiative

    • The average public, 4-year college charges in-state residents $390 per credit.
    • The average public, 4-year college charges out-of-state students $1,126 per credit.
    • The average private 4-year college charges $1,365 per credit.
    • The average community college charges $141 per credit. 

    This means that for part-time students, the cost of taking one 3-credit college class ranges from $423-$4,095. 

    Full-time college students, however, pay a fixed semester-based tuition rate. This rate is often based on the cost of 12 credits. That said, full-time college students are often eligible to take up to 18 credits per semester. That means that if you take 13+ credits per semester, you’ll save money in the long run. 

    So, in conclusion, paying full-time tuition costs a lot more upfront, but has the potential to save you money in the long term. 

    Financial aid

    Now what about financial aid? 

    While part-time students are certainly eligible for financial aid, they won’t receive as much assistance as full-time students. For example, if a student was offered a $6,000 Pell Grant, but decided to enroll part-time, their award would be reduced. 

    It’s also worth noting that part-time students are only eligible for federal financial aid if they are enrolled in at least 6 college credits. Furthermore, if a student drops below 6 credits, even if it’s only for a semester, student loans will immediately go into repayment. Additionally, full-time students may qualify their families for tax breaks. 

    ​​How to decide whether to go to school part-time or full-time

    Now that we’ve answered questions like, How many credits is full-time for financial aid? And are there ​​any full-time student tax benefits?, we can shift our attention to other factors. There are lots of factors that can affect a student’s decision to enroll in college full-time or part-time. These factors include work and family obligations, finances, and other commitments.

    Benefits of being a full-time student

    There are lots of benefits to being a full-time college student. As you reflect on your own educational goals, consider some of the following benefits listed below.

    Full-time college students:

    • Complete their degrees faster.
    • Have a higher probability of graduating. 
    • Are eligible for more scholarships.
    • Receive more financial aid.
    • May earn their families a tax break.
    • Pay less money in the long run.
    • Are able to live on campus.
    • Enjoy more social and networking opportunities.

    Full-time students are often more involved in their schools. They have a greater likelihood of living on campus and enjoy more social opportunities. Students passionate about extracurricular activities, such as sports or music, may even choose to attend colleges where there are ample opportunities for them to commit to these interests. Other students may want to fully immerse themselves in a Liberal Arts Education. For guidance on how to choose your dream college, click here.

    Benefits of being a full-time student

    There are lots of benefits to being a full-time college student. As you reflect on your own educational goals, consider some of the following benefits listed below.

    Full-time college students:

    • Complete their degrees faster.
    • Have a higher probability of graduating. 
    • Are eligible for more scholarships.
    • Receive more financial aid.
    • May earn their families a tax break.
    • Pay less money in the long run.
    • Are able to live on campus.
    • Enjoy more social and networking opportunities.

    Full-time students are often more involved in their schools. They have a greater likelihood of living on campus and enjoy more social opportunities. Students passionate about extracurricular activities, such as sports or music, may even choose to attend colleges where there are ample opportunities for them to commit to these interests. Other students may want to fully immerse themselves in a Liberal Arts Education. For guidance on how to choose your dream college, click here.

    Benefits of being a part-time student

    Now, maybe being a full-time college student isn’t the right choice for you, regardless of its advantages. So, let’s take a look at the benefits of being a part-time college student. 

    Part-time college students:

    • Have greater scheduling flexibility.
    • Are able to work, either part-time or full-time, and earn money.
    • May have employers with tuition reimbursement plans.
    • Have the option to pursue internship opportunities.
    • Are able to fulfill other obligations, such as childcare.
    • Can pay their tuition more easily as they go and avoid taking out loans.
    • Are able to work towards establishing in-state residency for public school tuition.

    As you can see, there are lots of benefits to enrolling part-time. While students will not earn their degrees as quickly, their flexible schedules allow them to balance other priorities, such as internships, employment opportunities, and family obligations. Part-time students are also able to work towards establishing in-state residency — something they cannot do if they are enrolled full-time. Additionally, many part-time students are even able to avoid taking out student loans, due to the more manageable upfront expenses. 

    Overall, due to their flexible schedules, part-time students need to have excellent time management skills. If you struggle with organization and time management, check out our article, Tips on Staying Organized in School

    Key takeaways and moving forward

    There is no right or wrong answer in regard to your enrollment status. Higher education is specialized, so make it work for you! Keep in mind that you can also change your enrollment status from semester to semester. That means that if there’s a family emergency or an internship opportunity you’d like to pursue, you can always reduce your course load and become a part-time student. On the flip side, if you’re a part-time student, but are eager to earn your degree more quickly, you could change your enrollment status to full-time. Again, whatever works best for you is the best decision!

    There are lots of factors to consider when determining your ideal enrollment status. In the meantime, if you’re still in high school, check out our College Planning Checklist For Seniors

    Key takeaways and moving forward

    There is no right or wrong answer in regard to your enrollment status. Higher education is specialized, so make it work for you! Keep in mind that you can also change your enrollment status from semester to semester. That means that if there’s a family emergency or an internship opportunity you’d like to pursue, you can always reduce your course load and become a part-time student. On the flip side, if you’re a part-time student, but are eager to earn your degree more quickly, you could change your enrollment status to full-time. Again, whatever works best for you is the best decision!

    There are lots of factors to consider when determining your ideal enrollment status. In the meantime, if you’re still in high school, check out our College Planning Checklist For Seniors

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