Understanding what is considered part-time status and what is full-time status at your school doesn’t have to be confusing. It can be as simple as checking in with your advisor. But you do need to know the implications of how many credits you take.
For example, federal financial aid is only available for full-time students. So, how many credits is full time? We answer that and more.
How Many Credits is Full Time?
“Student studying with book and pencil on lawn”
Most undergraduate programs consider between 10-15 credits per term to be full time, and for graduate students, the number is 7-12 credits.
This may seem like quite the range, and that’s because it is. Certain factors go into determining how much credit is full time, and that includes if your school is on a quarter system, semester system, or trimester system, and how closely the college follows federal guidelines.
How Many Credits to Take for Financial Aid
Students are only eligible for U.S. federal financial aid if they are considered a full-time student by their university.
If you are planning to pay for college tuition with financial aid, then it is imperative that you know what your school’s policy is on full-time vs part-time status. You could unknowingly become ineligible for aid simply by not registering for the correct number of credits! To be certain how many credits is considered full time at your school, check with your program advisor or your financial aid office.
Part-Time College Tuition
Part-time students usually need to pay per credit, rather than one lump fee per term as some full-time students do. Because many schools allow full-time students to just pay one fee for full-time status, they can take however many credits they can handle. This is not the case for part-time college tuition. Part-time college students must pay per credit, which may be more expensive over time.
Difference Between Part-Time and Full-Time Status
The difference between part-time status and full time-status is the number of credit hours you take per quarter or per semester. Part-time student status means you are taking less than a full-time student, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a lot of work!
Some part-time students only take one class, but others may take 2-3, resulting in almost as much time as a full-time student. Being a full-time student does not necessarily mean that you will be studying as much as a full-time job. It could mean more or less depending on the rigor of your coursework, and your personal study style.
Undergraduate vs Graduate Credits
Schools can vary in what they consider to be full-time status for both undergraduate and graduate programs. To find out exactly what your school requires, ask your academic advisor, or have a look on your school website.
Some undergraduate programs will charge a flat fee per term for ‘full-time study’ while most charge per credit.
Graduate programs vary even more in the way they may define part-time or full-time credits. Some schools may require a minimum of 8 credits per semester, while others charge full-time tuition no matter how many classes you register for, or credits you are taking.
Benefits of Full-Time Credits
“University of the People student studying at computer on desk with pen and notebook”
Students who take a full course load each term are usually able to graduate faster than those who only commit to part-time study.
Many scholarships and student loans are only made available for full-time students, so while it may seem less expensive to only take one or two courses at a time, it may be more expensive in the long run.
Also, for many schools, once you reach the tuition cap per term, you can take as many credits as you want. This can lead to a hectic term, but can save you money as well.
Some schools also require students to have full-time status to be able to live on campus, so check if that is the case for your school before you decide to lower your course load for the following term.
Benefits of Part-Time Credits
Being a part-time student means you have more flexibility in your scheduling. You may have an easier time managing your work schedule with your class hours. Depending on your income and your tuition costs, you may also be able to pay off tuition costs as you go, resulting in no student loans, or lower student loans.
Residency is also a big plus for part-time students. Part-time students can earn in-state residency while they study, whereas full-time students’ time spent in one state will not count towards any residency status.
How Many Credits to Take
There are a number of factors to consider when choosing whether you should register for full-time or part-time credits in a given academic term. Here are a few to keep in mind:
Consider Your Work/Family Life
Are you in the middle of a busy career? Do you have a family to take care of? If there are other important responsibilities in your life that you must be involved in, then part-time student status might be best for you.
How Difficult Are Your Classes?
You may want to consider the rigor of your coursework, and if you can handle multiple difficult courses at one time. If you anticipate that any one particular class may be extra challenging and require more time than usual for study hours or on assignments, you may want to take that course on its own one semester. If you feel like you can get a good balance of difficult and moderate or easy classes, then you should do just fine signing up for a full schedule.
Think about the order of the classes you plan to take. Many mathematics, hard science, fine arts, and language courses have a number of courses in a series, and you must take those courses in a particular order. Keep this in mind as you are planning your schedule and how many classes to take each quarter or semester.
The Bottom Line
How many credits is full time? It depends on your school, but usually the number sits at around 12 credits for undergraduates and 9 credits for graduate students.