Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment: Which is Right For You?

Ana-Marcela Lopez / Colleges of Distinction »

Pursuing a college degree can help you gain more knowledge, develop your skills, and set you up for success. However, people don’t talk enough about whether you should enroll in college part-time or full-time. Is it better to potentially finish your studies sooner or to be able to have more free time to do as you please while you pursue your degree?

How you enroll is a big decision—each path has its own pros and cons. Here is what you need to know to make an informed decision on whether you should be a full-time or part-time student.

What is a part-time student in college?

While specifics can vary from college to college, a part-time student takes fewer credits than a full-time student. Typically, part-time undergraduate students take 11 credits or fewer in a semester, and part-time graduate students take even less than that. In most universities, this means that part-time students might take 1-3 classes, while full-time students might take as many as 5 to 8 classes simultaneously, depending on credit hours.

What is a full-time student in college?

A full-time student usually signs up for at least 12 credit hours a semester. Depending on your college, credits and courses may be counted differently. Typically, full-time means that a student takes 4 or more classes at the same time.

What are the benefits of going to college part-time?

Lighter class load

Having to spend fewer hours per semester going to class and studying can make college a lot easier for you. While full-time students are not the only ones who have to complete projects, exams, homework, labs, and research for every class, a part-time schedule with fewer classes has less work overall. Since you do not have to attend as many college classes as a full-time student, you end up doing fewer class lessons, class hours, and class assignments.

More flexibility

The more classes you have, the tighter your schedule will be. This is especially true if the classes you want or need to take are only available in certain time slots—you may be forced to commit to awkward class times.

What this means is that, if you want to work or intern while also attending college, you may be able to balance your schedule more easily with a flexible schedule.

Being a part-time student also allows you to accommodate any pre-existing or expected responsibilities you might have. If you need to take care of your family or work overtime, part-time enrollment may be the choice for you.

Lower college tuition costs

Many students get headaches over their tuition. Tuition can be a real nightmare due to high upfront costs, which likely leads to student loan debt. If you enroll as a part-time student at your college, you can spread out your financial burden over a longer period of time. Not only can this mean less stress for you, but it can also make your graduation goals a lot more attainable.

There may be a significant cost difference between being a full-time and part-time student. This notable difference is one to take seriously, and each student should evaluate the different costs of part-time and full-time enrollment at their school of choice.

More financial opportunities

If you’re studying without much financial support, it may be easier for you to prioritize job opportunities over full-time study. Since you have to study less, you get more time to work a suitable job. You may also receive more financial support from having a paying employer, and your workplace might even offer some tuition reimbursement program!

You can train your determination and willpower

Students who choose to complete their program of study while multitasking to meet other commitments often have to hone their determination and work ethic. Between managing their study time and additional commitments, students who are self-motivated can find great success and satisfaction in attending college part-time.

What are the disadvantages of being a part-time college student?

You receive fewer scholarship opportunities

Unfortunately, for those who are working hard on the side to make tuition money, going part-time may affect whether you are eligible for tuition assistance. Financial aid opportunities may not be given to those who are counted as working full-time. You may not qualify for certain scholarship programs that require full-time enrollment, and you may receive less grant money because you are part-time.

Life might feel hectic

Many people feel more comfortable and in control when they are focused solely on one particular area of their lives. If you have chosen part-time enrollment and are splitting your attention between classes and other challenges, you might find yourself needing to juggle too many responsibilities. Some students who multitask end up stretching themselves too thin.

Graduation takes longer

Generally, part-time students who take fewer credits will have to commit a longer amount of time to college before they can graduate. This may not be ideal for those who want to simply finish their college education so they can move on to other endeavors.

What are the benefits of going to college full-time?

You can graduate sooner

Students who choose to attend college full-time typically take fewer years to graduate because they fit more classes into their schedule at a time. With a clear expected graduation date, you may be able to plan for the future more effectively.

You may receive more financial aid

Eligibility for scholarships may depend on whether someone is a full-time student at a college. By enrolling full-time, you may qualify for more financial aid opportunities to relieve your financial burden. You may also obtain larger grants if you are enrolled full-time.

More immersive college experience

Some students find that they can immerse themselves more wholeheartedly in their studies if they go full-time. For those who enjoy the academic side of college and want to concentrate on their coursework, full-time might be preferable.

What are the disadvantages of being a full-time college student?

Heavy course load

One of the first things people compare in the full-time vs. part-time debate is the different course loads. Full- and part-time students, as stated before, have different course loads. A full-time student can expect to study a lot more than if they dropped a course or two and went part-time for a term.

Higher college tuition bills

Since full-time students take more classes per semester, they usually have to pay more for tuition at once. This may mean that they have to take out student loans in order to meet the upfront tuition bill every term.  

Harder to prioritize personal life

Every degree has its own challenges and minimum requirements for graduation. Being a full-time student means you have to spend more hours in college on your academics. You might have to choose between reaching your optimal studying hours per semester depending on your classes and family commitments.

You may miss out on job opportunities

It’s hard to handle work and school at the same time. You may not be able to manage a job at the same time as you study full-time because there are simply not enough hours in the day.

Meanwhile, if you already have a job, attending college full-time may mean you have to quit your work or reduce your hours.

How does going part-time affect your college tuition?

Full-time students are usually eligible for federal or state financial aid by filling in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). However, there are credit requirements for financial aid; if you enroll in fewer than 6 credit hours per term, you may not qualify for federal or state grants, loans, or work-study programs.

If you’re planning on attending college part-time so that you can find a job on the side, it’s important to make an informed decision about your education. Your employer may pay you enough so you can meet your tuition, but it is never a guarantee.

So, which is really better?

Everyone has their own unique goals, which intersect with their realities and dreams. The key differences between full-time and part-time enrollment are time commitments, tuition, graduation times, and scholarships.

If you have things outside of your studies that you want to prioritize, part-time enrollment might be better. If you want to graduate as soon as possible, consider studying full-time. Ultimately, it’s a very personal decision, and there is no one correct answer that applies to every student. Colleges of Distinction offers resources for prospective college students who want guidance for their enrollment status, college choice, and more.