Full-Time Vs Part-Time Student – Which Study Path Suits You Better?

When enrolling in a college or any educational institution, you must decide whether to be a full-time or part-time student. You must take at least 12 credits or more per semester if you are a full-time student. Otherwise, you can take 11 credits or less as a part timer.

Another difference between these two is the time it takes to complete your studies. In addition, a part-time student differs from a full time student in schedule flexibility, availability of Federal financial aid, and payment flexibility.

So, which is a better option, studying full-time or part-time? Check out their differences, pros, and cons to decide which study mode suits you.

Full Time Vs Part Time Student
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Full-Time Vs Part-Time Student: At a Glance

Here is a summary of the key features that set apart a full-time student from a part-time one.

Key DifferencesFull Time StudentPart-Time Student
Number of Credits12 and more per semesterLess than 12
Payment FlexibilityFlat-rate tuition fees paid upfrontCharged per credit
Time for CompletionLess time (4 to 5 years)Longer time (6 to or more)
Schedule FlexibilityA little tightMore flexible
Financial AidAvailableNot available if you take less than 6 credits

Read: Do Colleges Look At Senior Year Grades?

Differences Between a Full-Time and a Part-Time Student: In Detail

Torn between enrolling as a full-time and a part-time college student? Check out their differences before making the ultimate decision.

1. Number of Credits

Typically, you are considered to be a full-time student when you take at least 12 credits. This is approximately four classes per semester. However, you can still take more than 12 classes, depending on your schedule and the college’s policies.

You can take up to 11 credit hours per semester as a part-time student. Most students choose to enroll in at least 9 credits. In this case, you can only enroll in one, two, or three classes depending on the policies of the school you attend.

Payment Flexibility
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2. Payment Flexibility

As a full-time student, you pay a semester or annual-based tuition fee. This means you must pay a flat rate per semester regardless of how many credits you are taking. Also, payments are upfront.

On the other hand, part-time students are charged tuition fees per credit. Therefore, you can choose how many credits to enroll in based on your budget since the price is not capped per semester.

3. Time to Complete School

When you enroll full-time, you will take less time to complete school. For example, you may graduate within 4 years if you take 5 classes at a time or at least 15 credits per semester. And if you opt for 12 credit hours, this may take you 5 years to complete college.

If you are doing a bachelor’s degree, completing school as a part-time student may take over 6 years. This is if you are taking around 9 credits per semester. So, if you are taking 6 or fewer credits, it will take you longer to finish school.

4. Schedule Flexibility

As a full-time student, you only have a little spare time to handle personal responsibilities. This is because you must devote most of your time to your studies since you must take 12 or more credits.

However, you can easily fit your coursework around other obligations when studying part-time. For example, you could work full-time, care for your family, or engage in various extracurriculars. Also, you can complete your internships in the course of the semester.

5. Financial Aid

You are eligible for Federal financial aid whether you are a full or part-time student after filling out the FAFSA form. But there is a catch. Generally, you are eligible for financial aid as a full-time student regardless of how many credits you take.

However, you can also be eligible for financial aid when studying part-time if you only enroll in 6 to 11 credits. That means if you take over 6 credit hours, you may get less financial assistance than a full-time student.

Read: Why Do Colleges Reject Good Students?

Can a Full-Time Student Switch To Part-Time Or The Vice Versa?

The answer is yes and no. Yes, if the program you are studying is offered on both a part-time and full-time basis. However, you must provide a good reason for making the switch before the relevant board can approve your request.

Generally, most schools allow you to switch from part-time student to full-time after completing your first year. But in some schools, you can change from full-time to part-time and vice versa after the first semester.

And No, because not all departments provide part-time study. In this case, you cannot switch from full-time to part-time. The only possible way is to complete the program you are studying part-time and apply for another course full-time.

Can You Change From Full-Time to Part-Time On an F1 Visa?

Yes, but you need a good reason to do that. This is because the F1 student visa is intended for full-time studying only.

Simply, it is a non-immigrant visa given only to international students who want to pursue education in the United States. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule, including:

  • When you have a medical issue
  • Financial emergency
  • Struggling to adapt to the English language environment
  • Improper course placement

But, of course, you must seek approval from your school’s international office before making the change. And once the permission is granted, the switch will be recorded in the governmental reporting system.

Related: Can You Enroll In Two Colleges At Once?

Which is Better Between Full-Time and Part-Time Student?

If you have the time and money, studying full-time is better than part-time student considering its high retention rate. However, being a full or part-time student has pros and cons.

For instance, the pros of being a full-time student over a part-time student include the following:

  • Faster path to completing your studies
  • More financial aid opportunities
  • Full and better college experience
  • Tax credit eligibility
  • Higher retention rate

But even with the above advantages, there are several cons to being a full-time student.

  • One is that you may only have a little time to take care of other responsibilities or work full-time.
  • Secondly, you must pay the tuition fee upfront.

When it comes to part-time studying, this mode also has its advantages over full-time. These include:

  • Flexible schedule
  • Students can take full-time jobs
  • Best when you want to make a career change
  • Tuition fees are charged per credit
  • The employer may provide financial support

However, compared to full-time, you may take longer to complete your studies as a part-time student. Also, part-time studying only gives you partial college experience.


Apart from the number of credits, another critical difference between a full-time and part-time student is the time to complete your studies. These two study modes also differ in payment flexibility, availability of financial aid, and schedule flexibility. Also, each method has its own pros and cons.

The good news? Most schools and programs allow you to switch from a full-time to a part-time student and vice versa. And depending on the institution’s policies, you can change with or without any approval. However, if you are on an F1 student visa, you can only switch to part-time under specific conditions.

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