Full-Time vs Part-Time Students | Which Type is Best For You?

Santiago Mallea

Santiago Mallea

Chief of Content at Gradehacker

Updated March 2023

Comparing full-time vs part-time students to choose what type of student you’ll be is a hard decision before starting a new degree.

Whether you need more availability to continue with other responsibilities or mainly focus on your studies, deciding which one you’ll go after will change how many credit hours you will take and how fast you earn that degree.

What happens when we become full-time or part-time students? Which is the best choice? We are here to clear up all those questions you may be having!

At Gradehacker, we dedicate ourselves to helping students have the best possible college experience, making us the non-traditional adult student #1 resource.

We understand how vital time commitment is when starting new classes, and that’s why we made this article comparing full-time students vs part-time students and listing all the information you need to know before making that big decision.

Let’s begin!

Full time vs part time students College

What's the difference?

From the start, the main difference is the number of college credit loads each student gets per semester.

A full-time student generally has a minimum of twelve credits, which is between four and five classes per semester, depending on the college.

When you enroll as a part-time student, you take fewer than 12 credit hours, which means taking between two or three classes per semester.

But who chooses which? 

Well, based on the report made by Education Data, most college students first enroll in their late teens as full-time students. Part-time students are more likely to be older.

So, if we consider the time required for each, it’s easy to assume that people with family and work will choose a half-time enrollment, while those with fewer obligations and who have more choose a Full-time enrollment.

However, the reality can often be more complex than this.

Based on the report made by Best Colleges in the spring of 2022, there were almost twice as many full-time students as there were part-time students.

Full-time studies are more common across every institution type except for public two-year colleges, where part-time enrollment is the norm. 

Part-time enrollment is the least common at private nonprofit colleges.

And if we consider the last report by The Bureau of Labor Statistics, 41.5% of full-time students have a job. That leads us to 4.9 million students choosing to study full-time, even with a schedule filled with responsibilities.

Still, 82% of employed students are part-time, according to that same study. So, millions of students continue to struggle to balance work and full-time studies. But why? Or how?

Let’s see the factors that all college students need to consider first.

Time Commitment

First is time commitment because you must be sure that you will attend classes once you enroll; otherwise, you will likely be wasting your money.

Part-Time

If you have a tight schedule full of responsibilities, you will have more flexibility in managing your time as a part-time student. If you pick two classes in different timelines, you’ll have plenty of time to focus on your work while completing your degree.

However, under the part-time status, it will take you significantly longer to finish your degree program since part-time students will continue studying once the full-time students have graduated.

Full-Time

As a full-time college student, you will finish your career earlier. 

Most can graduate in four years by taking approximately 15 credit hours per semester, which would be around five classes.

That number of classes requires much study time, reading material, discussion posts, and assignments. By no means is it impossible to ace every one of them, but with full-time student status, you will need many hours available per week.

Full time vs part time students Students in class

Cost

Another important and well-known aspect is the cost. Let’s see which way requires you to pay more and which less.

Part-Time

Usually, people in part-time enrollment pay for their studies per credit. 

According to EducationData.org, students in a four-year public institution pay an average of $390 per credit. Therefore, a 10-hours per semester will cost approximately $3,900.

In comparison to full-time students, they pay less for each semester

One of its advantages is that if you have at some point difficulties paying for college and can’t access any financial aid programs, you can get a part-time job.

You will have your schedule filled with more responsibilities, but it will definitely reduce your financial burden.

Full-Time

Typically, full-time students are charged an annual or semester-based tuition fee, which can be costly. However, many colleges offer a flat fee for students taking 12-18 credits every semester.

The more credits you take, the less you’ll pay! 

This a cool benefit that will help you save a lot of money in the long run. Once you reach the tuition cost cap, you will stop paying per credit.

Overall it ends up being a similar amount of money you spend as a part-time student, which means you’ll have to deal with a higher cost up-front, but in return, you’ll get your degree faster!

Full time vs part time students Adult student in class

Financial Aid

Many people need access to financial assistance programs before even starting college, so it’s critical to evaluate your program of study because it will directly affect your financial aid eligibility.

Scholarship programs help alleviate the heavy burden of college costs, and there are many options for all types of students, but to get them, you need to meet specific requirements.

Those in full-time enrollment have the upper hand regarding financial aid options since it is a common requirement for most scholarships.

Even though you have more chances of getting financial aid as a full-time student, there are scholarships for people with part-time status based on merit or need; just consider that the amount granted is probably lower.

And if you are in need of a financial aid option, you can apply for any federal student loans.

For this option, you will need a minimum of six credits per semester hours, and because the eligibility will be based on the number of credits taken, know that the fewer credits you take, the less money you’ll receive.

If taking a scholarship or federal student aid is what you find best for your situation, you can get check out our list of scholarships for adult students!

Full-Time Pros and Cons

In brief, some pros and cons are:

Pros
Cons

Earn your degree faster

Larger tuition upfront

More scholarships available

Less time for hobbies and responsibilities

Some colleges offers discounts for taking more than 12 credits per semester

On the contrary, being a part-time student gives you the time to fulfill all your obligations. By taking two or three classes per semester, you will be able to work, take care of your family, and study.

It will take you more time to earn your degree, but you won’t have to prioritize one thing over the other. It’s not easy, but balancing college life and work is 100% possible.

The good news is that you pay less per semester, and while it’s true that there are fewer scholarships available, you can still work and pay for college with that.

Part-Time Pros and Cons

At first glance, there are certain pros and cons to consider:

Pros
Cons

Lets you work, take care of your family, and study at the same time

Earn your degree slower

Pay less per semester

Fewer scholarships and financial aid available

Being a part-time student gives you the time to fulfill all your obligations. By taking two or three classes per semester, you will be able to work, take care of your family, and study.

The good news is that you pay less per semester, and while it’s true that there are fewer scholarships available, you can still work and pay for college with that.

It will take you more time to earn your degree, but you won’t have to prioritize one thing over the other. It’s not easy, but balancing college life, college, and work is 100% possible! And if you want to find more ways how to achieve that, check our tips!

How to Choose The Right Option

While part-time and full-time students have clear differences, the most important thing to consider is whether your needs are met.

Maybe you want a college degree, but you can only pay for tuition by getting a job, and if you have family obligations and are in no rush to earn your degree, then the flexibility of part-time enrollment is the right choice for you.

But perhaps you have plenty of time available and only think about working your dream job. The only problem is that you need the degree and experience, and you want it now. If you can afford a higher attendance cost upfront, the full-time status is for you!

Still, don’t stick with one for your whole college experience! 

You can start part-time, work for a year, and then change to a full-time schedule. Or, you may begin as a first-year student paying for full-time tuition, but as you find a job that gives you experience, you change to part-time study.

Consider your needs, see what you can do to improve your life, and do it. You can trace your own college journey!

full time vs part time- last photo-two girls laughing

This is definitely not an easy choice, but it’s necessary to take the time to consider your options and know what way will work best for reaching your goals!

We hope you better understand what full and part-time students have to deal with, and next time you start a college semester, you’ll consider how you can take the most advantage of your situation, regardless of which enrollment status you choose.

But if you need more time and are looking for extra help, you can check out our services! 

Get help with your essays, exams, and entire classes. And if you are thinking of studying full-time while still working, don’t miss our degree accelerator subscription and get your degree three to five times faster!

If you want to see more tips and learn more about how to improve your college journey, check out some of our related content: