Full Time vs Part Time College Credit Hours: Which is Best for You?January 4, 2022
Once you get into school, it’s time to create a schedule. Choosing how many credit hours to take is essential for figuring out how to move forward since you want to avoid being overwhelmed by your course load. In some cases, it can make sense to only take part-time credits, rather than go to school full time.
Here’s what you need to know about being a full-time vs. part-time student.
Differences Between Full-Time vs. Part-Time Credit Hours
A full-time student is one who is taking what’s considered a “full load” of classes, usually 12 credit hours. However, whether you’re a full-time vs. part-time student also depends on the system used by your school. If your school uses a quarter system instead of a semester system, the number of credit hours might be different.
A part-time student might be someone who takes less than 12 credit hours, usually someone who is signed up for between two and 11 credit hours. However, in some cases, the school might decide to give you full-time status if you’re taking more than half the traditional load. Check with your school’s admissions and financial aid offices to find out what qualifies you as a full-time vs. part-time student.
When you pay your tuition, your status can impact the cost. For example, a part-time student often ends up paying on a per-credit basis. On the other hand, a full-time student is likely to pay tuition based on a per-semester or per-quarter cost.
A part-time student often pays tuition over time, spreading out the cost. However, a full-time student can potentially get more bang for the buck by loading up on classes. If you take a full course load, you might end up with a lower per-credit cost. Some schools allow students to take up to 18 or 21 credit hours per semester. If you can fit that many classes into your schedule, you can finish faster and save money overall.
Your full-time vs. part-time student financial aid can also be impacted by your enrollment status. Depending on the type of financial aid, you might need to take at least six credit hours to qualify for federal student aid. No matter your situation, you can usually find financial aid for part-time students.
Full-time vs. part-time student financial aid also impacts how much you get in grants, like the Pell Grant. If you’re taking less than a full course load of 12 credit hours, then you’ll get a proportional amount. For example, if you’re taking six credits instead of 12, you’ll only get 50% of the Pell Grant amount.
Another option when paying for college is to apply for scholarships. Depending on the scholarship, though, you might be required to be a full-time student. Some scholarships are available to part-time students as well. When you apply for a scholarship, review the requirements to find out if there are minimum credit-hour criteria.
Learn more about scholarships:
When deciding between becoming a full-time vs. part-time college student, you also need to consider the time commitment and the amount of flexibility your schedule allows.
As a college student who just graduated from high school, you might have more time to attend school because you’re just starting out. For adults returning to school later, though, it might make more sense to go part time to accommodate family and job obligations.
Don’t forget to consider the time it will take to complete your course of study. In general, if you take a full-time student load of 12 to 15 credit hours per semester, you should be able to finish a degree in about four years. However, when you go to school part time, you stretch out the amount of time it will take to complete your coursework. Carefully consider how quickly you want to finish and whether your situation allows you to do so.
Don’t forget to consider the availability of classes and programs when you’re a full-time vs. part-time college student. You might have a wider variety of options as a full-time student than you do as a part-time student. If you have schedule constraints, you might not be able to get the courses you need when you need them as a part-time student.
College Tax Credit Eligibility
You also have to consider full-time vs. part-time student taxes and those implications. Some college credits can help you save money on your taxes. To qualify for the American Opportunity Tax Credit, you have to be enrolled at least half time. However, you can be eligible for the Lifetime Learning Credit for up to $2,000 no matter your full-time vs. part-time student status.
In addition to full-time vs. part-time student taxes and other considerations, you also need to think about what you want in terms of your college experience. A full-time college student is more likely to spend more time on campus and experience a “traditional” college experience.
On the other hand, part-time students might not have the same experience, especially if they commute to campus. Additionally, some extracurricular activities and sports programs require full-time enrollment to participate.
Student Loan Repayment
For the most part, you don’t have to start repaying your student loans until you finish school — or you drop below half-time enrollment. As a result, you might need to maintain at least six credit hours if you want to be a part-time student and keep your deferment for federal student loan repayment.
No matter your enrollment status, though, you may be able to refinance your student loans after graduation to potentially get a lower interest rate. In addition to saving you money on interest, refinancing can also help you pay off your student loan faster.
Pros and Cons of Full-Time vs. Part-Time Credits
Carefully consider whether it makes sense for you to be a full-time vs. part-time student, based on the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Pros and Cons of Full-Time Credits
- Finish school faster
- More bang for your buck when you reach the tuition cap
- Eligibility for more scholarships
- Larger upfront cost might require borrowing loans
- Less flexibility in your schedule to work or meet other obligations
Pros and Cons of Part-Time Credits
- Might be easier to manage the upfront cost when you pay per-credit
- More flexibility in your schedule for work and family obligations
- Takes longer to complete your degree or course of study
- You might not have access to the same activities or scholarships
Can You Be a Full-Time & Part-Time Student At The Same Time?
Depending on your situation, you can mix whether you attend school part time or full time. Perhaps it makes sense to start out as a full-time student, but then you find you need a break, and so you drop to being a part-time student for the next semester. Additionally, if you want to accelerate your graduation date, you could switch from part-time student to full-time student during your time at school.
The main issue to be aware of is your credit hour status with regard to student loan repayment. Even if you go part time, it can be a good idea to enroll in at least six credit hours per semester, so you don’t have to start repaying your student loans. Once you drop below those credit hours for half-time enrollment, you may lose your in-school deferment for federal student loans.
Apply for Private Student Loans With ELFI
If you decide that being a full-time or part-time student is the right move for you, you may find that you need to fill some funding gaps. Once you reach your federal student loan limit, you might want to apply for private student loans. Private student loans often come with lower interest rates, especially if you have good credit.
Additionally, a private student loan through ELFI comes with flexible repayment options, as well as loan terms designed to fit your needs.* You can even get help from one of ELFI’s personal loan advisors to help you review your options and come up with an approach that’s likely to work well for you.
Deciding whether to be a part-time vs. full-time college student has pros and cons. Think about your individual situation and what’s most likely to fit with your financial situation, as well as your other family and work obligations. Then, come up with a strategy to pay for school that involves a combination of savings, work, scholarships, and student loans.