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What’s the Difference Between Full-Time vs. Part-Time Student?

Primary to secondary education is a requirement for all children under the age of 18. Students are required to have an education, so they’re all full-time students. Tertiary and continuing education, however, isn’t mandatory for everyone. So, those attending can choose to be full-time or part-time students.

But what are the differences between full-time and part-time students? We explore their differences and the implications on one’s education.

Full-Time vs. Part-Time Student

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When you enroll for classes in a semester, you have to enroll for a certain amount of credits to be considered a full-time student. If you don’t reach that number, you’ll be considered part-time student. Different colleges and universities have different limits on how to define full-time and part-time students, so it’s best to double check your school’s policies and other implications that may not be mentioned in this article.

What Is a Full-Time Student?

A full-time student is generally someone enrolled for at least 12 hours of credits (or units, as some schools call them). College classes do not have equal units, and it varies depending on factors like the class’ level, importance, level of difficulty, and the number of hours the class has per week.

For example, classes that only have one hour of lecture a week are considered one-unit courses, while more difficult, labor-intensive classes can get four of five units. Most standard classes where classes meet twice for 1.5 hours are considered a 3 or 4-unit course. Many colleges recommend taking 15 units, since most bachelor’s degree programs have 120 credits. At 15 units per semester, a person can complete all their required units and graduate after 4 years.

A full-time college student taking at least 12 units a semester means they have around four standard classes a week on their plate. This means they have a bigger load per semester than a part-time student. While that means they have less free time outside of classes than a part-time student, it also means that full-time students can complete their required credits faster than part-time students and can graduate and get their diplomas quicker.

The drawback is that they won’t have a lot of time for part-time jobs, extra-curricular activities, and time dealing with personal concerns. It not impossible for them to juggle these things on a full-time load, but it will be more difficult. In the United States, around 75 percent (10.37 million undergraduate students) studied full-time.

What Is a Part-Time Student?

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A part-time student, on the other hand, has less than 12 credits per semester. This means they have less than four classes and spend roughly 12 hours a week (around 2 hours a day) in school. Around 6.7 million undergrads are considered part-time students.

College students can choose to be part-time for a number of reasons. Some students have part-time jobs to support themselves, so they need lighter class schedules to have time to balance work and their class requirements. Other students with organizational ties like athletes need a lighter load because they need to train or have more time with their organization. Some may also have personal responsibilities at home (e.g. parents, single parents, students who act as a caregiver to a family member at home) that require them to have more free time.

Part time students have to pay a smaller tuition fee than full-time students. However, because they take on less credits per semester, their credits are spread out for a longer period of time. This means that they most likely can’t make 120 credits in four years, so they’ll be graduating much later than someone who started at the same time but remained a full-time student.


Full-time and part-time students attend the same classes and receive the same quality of education. But aside from the fact that they graduate at different times, there are other implications during their stay in college.

Enrolled Hours

A full-time student will spend more time in school than a part-time would. A full-time student will have at least four classes to keep them occupied throughout the week. On the other hand, a part-time student will have around three standard classes, thus a more flexible schedule.

Because college is different from middle school and high school, a student’s time is treated just as invaluably as a teacher’s time. For example, while it’s not illegal to keep students after the bell rings in high schools, professors understand that some of their students need to head to their next class, so they should dismiss their students on time, if not earlier.


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Part-time students pay smaller tuition fees per semester than full-time students. Part-time students have to pay per credit, while full-time students have a tuition cap regardless if it’s 12 or 15 units. Students who go over the full course load (over 12 or 15 credits, depending on the university) need to pay extra along with the tuition cap to pay for the credits. However, they’ll need permission from the school to go over the course load.


Most financial aid and scholarship grants are focused on full-time students. There are some scholarships available for part-time students, but some financial aid and scholarships require a minimum number of credits (usually at least 6 credits). Like scholarships for full-time students, part-time students may need to show above-average grades and a financial need to receive aid. And the financial aid they do receive is much smaller than the ones full-time students receive.

Before enrolling in classes, it’s important to consider your options and whether you can afford to be a full-time student, or if you need the flexibility of a part-time student.

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