Are you at that important time in your life when you are seriously considering going to college? If so, you probably have a shortlist of colleges that you would like to attend. However, just as important as where you will go to college is the consideration of how you will go to college. Will you be a full-time student or a part-time student? It seems pretty obvious that a full-time student will go to school more often during the academic year than a part-time student. However, what you probably don’t realize is that what distinguishes the two tends to vary by college or university. It’s essential that you know the enrollment requirements of any college that you are thinking of attending.
What Is the Definition of a Full-Time College Student?
The most obvious difference between a full and part-time student relates to how many credit hours are taken during a semester. To be regarded as a full-time student generally means working toward a minimum of twelve credits (approximately four classes). Part-time is usually considered to lie somewhere in the area of two to eleven credits (one to three classes).
However, what counts as full time at a school that uses a semester system will likely vary from what counts as full-time at a school that uses a quarter system. To make things easier to understand, students are usually classified as full-time as long as they take more than half of a traditional course load.
To learn if you will be considered a full-time student, check with the college of your choice. The registrar’s office will most likely have the college’s definition posted online. If not, a quick phone call or email is the best way to go.
Note: if you are a student with some learning differences, then a full-time course load for you might vary from that of other students. Be sure to check with your college on your particular situation.
Does my Enrollment Status Impact my Tax Deductions?
Whether or not you are classified as a full-time student can affect different aspects of your education – including any impact it might have on your taxes. For example, you may qualify for certain tax credits and deductions as a full-time student that you would not be eligible for as a part-time student. As we saw above, sometimes this status question is school specific. Luckily, the IRS simplifies things by stating that it will regard you as a full-time student if: you are ‘attending an education program for at least five months per calendar year’. Keep in mind, the five months do not need to be consecutive or full. If you are counting on certain deductions, then you should check with your tax advisor before taking any action (such as dropping a class) that might affect your enrollment status.
These tax implications also apply if your parents or guardians claim you as a dependent. To do so, you (the student) must be under the age of 24 and be a full-time student.
Will My College Enrollment Status Affect My Student Loans?
Most importantly, financial aid packages and student loans are influenced by whether your status is a full-time or part-time student. Often times, academic scholarships require a certain grade point average and the maintenance of a certain enrollment status – think full-time vs part-time enrollment. Check with your financial aid office when considering the shift from full-time to part-time to better understand the cost impact to not only your college provided aid but federal aid as well.
If you are a full-time student with private student loans and have selected deferment payment plan while in school, you do not have to begin paying back many student loans until you drop below full-time status (and often times 6 months after that due to a grace period). This is designed to allow students to make it through their college career and find employment prior to paying off their student debt. If you change your status you may trigger the commencement of your student loan payments sooner. Don’t let yourself be blindsided by reducing your course load only to discover that you have to start making student loan payments you had previously thought were delayed until after graduation. If in doubt call your lender to get clarifications on your individual scenario.
Does course load impact student athletes?
If you’re a student-athlete, you are already balancing your class load and practice and travel schedules. That could be a strain and it might have you thinking about scaling back your class load. Keep in mind, you may not be eligible to compete if you fall below specified enrollment requirements. This full-time status is very similar to grade requirements, codes of conduct and other requirements set forth by your college and the conference it belongs to. Be sure to speak with your coach prior to making changes to your schedule or class load if this is of a concern.
What Are the Benefits of Being a Full-Time Student?
One obvious benefit of going to college full-time is that you’ll get through college faster than a part-time student. As mentioned earlier, there are also many scholarships with the eligibility requirement that you must be a full-time student. Don’t underestimate the positive impact these scholarships and grants can have on your total cost of attending college. And, if you want to live on campus, some schools require you to be a full-time student.
Can I Be Both a Full-Time and Part-Time Student?
It’s completely acceptable to mix the two types of statuses varying between semesters. If the stress of full-time school gets to be too much, you might benefit from taking a part-time semester or even a part-time year. Situations change, and the important thing to remember is that you can adjust your schedule to whatever fits your needs. Just remember to talk to your financial aid office at your college so that you understand how your decision affects your status at the college and your college finances.
After you have that well-earned degree in your hand, it will be time to begin tackling your student loan debt. If you are burdened by high monthly payments from your existing student loans, there is a way out – it’s called student loan refinancing. Talk to ELFI to find out how we may be able help you lower your monthly student loan payments or help you pay down your balance faster*.
*Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.
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