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

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A full-time student is one who has enrolled in a minimum of 12 credits or about four classes per semester. A part-time student is one who is enrolled in less than 12 credit hours. Full-time students generally spend more time in class during a semester than part-time students.

The most notable difference between part-time and full-time student hours is the number of credit hours they take during a semester. But there’s more to the difference between full-time and part-time students than just the amount of credit

Here’s what you need to know about how many hours constitute a full-time student and the pros and cons.

How Many Classes Is Full-time?

Generally, a student who takes 12 credits or hours per semester is considered a full-time student. As every class typically requires at least 3 classes, you would need to take at least 4 classes per semester to be considered full-time.

However, this may vary from one college to another. Every school sets its own minimum requirements for a student to be considered full-time. It’s important that you find out your school’s specific requirements. What makes you a full-time student at your school may be different from that of other schools. Knowing your enrollment status matters as it impacts your financial aid as well as your taxes.

It’s important that you find out your school’s specific requirements. What makes you a full-time student at your school may be different from that of other schools. Knowing your enrollment status matters as it impacts your financial aid as well as your taxes.

Advantages Of Being A Full-Time Student

One benefit of full-time enrollment is that you’ll complete school faster. This means you’ll be able to get out there and start working earlier. The earlier you start working, the faster you’ll be able to earn an income and start paying back your loans. Paying off your debt earlier could save you thousands in accrued interest.

As a student earning full-time credit hours, you’ll be eligible for a wider range of scholarships. Many scholarships are only available for full-time students. As a part-time student, you’ll be automatically disqualified from applying to some of these awards, potentially losing out on opportunities to earn free money. Winning a scholarship can make a big difference to your cost of college. Of course, you have to put in the work to win a scholarship but it is well worth the effort.

Another benefit is that your tuition is cheaper in the long run. Many colleges cap tuition at 12 credit hours, so if you are taking more than that, you are essentially getting free classes. That means you get more bang for your buck (more about this below). So, your up-front cost may be harder to swallow, but your long-term costs are lower.

Some schools also require that you be a full-time student to live on campus. Check with your school’s policies on the matter before making your decision if living on campus is what you want to do.

Lastly, families of full-time students may also be eligible for tax breaks.

To recap, here are the benefits of being a full-time student:

  • Complete degree faster.
  • You are eligible for a much wider range of scholarships.
  • Cheaper tuition in the long run.
  • You are eligible to live on campus.
  • Families of full-time students may be eligible for tax breaks.

How Many Classes Is Part-time?

If you enroll in fewer than 12 credit hours in college, you’ll be considered a part-time student. Taking 12 credit hours typically requires you to take at least 3 courses a semester.

As with full-time enrollment, this too can vary from one institution to another. Make sure you check your school’s policies so you understand your enrollment status and its implications.

Advantages Of Being A Part-Time Student

With a part-time student status, you’ll have more flexibility in your schedule. After all, there is only so much time in the day and if you are working while you go to school, it’s easier to fit in three classes than a full course load.

An open schedule allows you to work more hours while moving through your college career. Studying part-time can make it easier to pay off tuition costs as you go because you’ll have the time to take on a job. This is most useful if you do not want to take out big loans or cannot get scholarships.

Going to school part-time can also help you earn in-state residency (and therefore in-state tuition, which can be useful if there is a significant difference). This is because you cannot get residency in most states while going to school full-time.

To recap, here are the benefits of being a part-time student:

  • More flexibility in scheduling classes.
  • Allows you more time to work and earn money.
  • More feasible to pay for your tuition as you go.
  • Can aid you in earning in-state residency.

How Enrollment Status Impacts College Tuition

In some cases, you must be enrolled in full-time student hours to be eligible for federal financial aid. In others, part-time enrollment is enough to qualify but the amount of aid you receive will be prorated to your enrollment status. For example, if you’re eligible for a Pell Grant, the amount you’ll receive will be prorated based on your enrollment status. As a part-time student, you’ll receive a smaller grant amount than if you enrolled full-time.

You may also be required to enroll as a full-time student to be eligible for certain state financial aid programs such as free tuition programs.

If you fall below the minimum part-time enrollment requirement of at least 6 credits, the student loans you’ve taken may enter the repayment period immediately. This applies even if your credits drop for only a single semester.

Basically, it comes down to this:

  • You’ll receive the full financial aid you’re entitled to if you enroll in full-time student hours, that’s 12 credits per semester.
  • You’ll receive financial aid on a prorated basis if you enroll in half-time student hours, that’s less than 12 credits per semester.
  • Your federal student loans will enter the repayment period immediately if you fall below the minimum part-time student hours, which is less than 6 credits per semester.

How Enrollment Status Impacts Your Time to Graduate

Full-time student hours are calculated differently for the purpose of graduation. For financial aid purposes, 12 credits a semester is considered full-time. However, to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in 4 years, you will have to take a minimum of 15 credits each semester.

You will not earn a Bachelor’s degree in four years if you take only 12 credits a semester. If you wish to enroll in full-time student hours but want to take the minimum 12 credits per semester, it will take more like 5 years (or possibly more) to meet graduation requirements.

Does Enrollment Status Impact the Cost of Tuition?

Yes, enrollment status has a significant impact on the total cost of tuition. However, it impacts the short-term and long-term costs differently. The cost of tuition is calculated differently for part-time and full-time student hours.

When you enroll in full-time student hours, many colleges cap the total annual tuition fee at 12 credits. That means you can take up to 18 credits but only pay the cost of taking 12. This can lower your tuition cost significantly, over four years.

When you enroll in part-time student hours, you’ll pay less each semester because of the fewer credits. However, in the long term, you’ll pay more in total tuition because you’ll lose out on the benefits of tuition capping.

Can You Be Both a Part-Time and A Full-Time Student?

It is completely acceptable to mix the two types of statuses. Sometimes the stress of full-time school can get to be too much, so taking a part-time semester or part-time year can help.

Or maybe you’ve gotten most of your credits through part-time schooling and want to finish up your last year and a half with fifteen credits each semester. Situations change, and so you can adapt your status to fit your situation best.

There are also research positions or internships that might make you drop to part-time to earn that vital experience. The important thing to remember is that you have the ability to adjust your schedule to whatever fits your needs.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time Student Hours: Which Is Right for You?

Every decision concerning college has its pros and cons, but almost none more so than deciding between going part-time or full-time student hours. The most important thing to remember about this decision is that it should be based on what is best for you as a student.

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3 thoughts on “Full Time Student Hours vs. Part Time: What’s the Difference?”

  1. Shandy says:

    Well this clears up everything for me.

  2. Full time students gets the chance to study first hand. They also can score very good in their exams. Part time students learn and earn side by side. This can be more fruitful because you are getting the experience on interacting with the outside world and learn about it along the way. If I may say the part time students who are working as well are more open to world than full time students.

    1. Erika says:

      That’s my situation right now, working in my field of studies while still studying (but full time student in my case) and I agree that my work has opened me up to a world of new lessons and experiences in ways that simply being a student would never have.

      Also, my grades have not suffered; it’s just a matter of learning how to manage your time better.

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