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Full- or Part-Time School: 5 Questions to Help You Decide

Most undergraduates attend college full-time, but it's not right for everyone. Ask these five questions to determine if full- or part-time is right for you.

Making the decision to enroll in college is only one part of choosing to pursue your higher education; the other is figuring out whether to enroll as a full-time or part-time student. Although attending school full-time is more common, not all students follow this path. In the fall of 2018, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) recorded 6.3 million part-time undergraduate students. If you’re unsure whether to attend college full- or part-time—due to family obligations, having to work full-time, or another reason—here are five questions to help you find the solution that works best for you.

1. How much time can you realistically commit to school?

A typical full-time college schedule is 12 or 15 credit hours per semester, which usually equates to four or five classes. Responsibilities outside the classroom, like being a caretaker for a loved one or needing to keep a full-time job, can make it difficult to balance a full-time education. One in four working college students admit to cutting class to go to work, for instance—but working your way through school might be essential to cover living costs or even pay for tuition. Regardless of your reasons for being on the fence about your enrollment status, it’s important to have realistic expectations about how much you can manage. If your other responsibilities lean more toward a full-time commitment, keep an open mind about going to school part-time. 

Related: Balancing Your Life: 5 Keys to Lifestyle Stability While Earning Your Degree

2. How much money can you put toward tuition right now?

According to the latest data from the NCES, the average tuition at a public institution is $18,383—a price tag that has caused 47% of students to consider dropping out of school. Part-time enrollment means your fees are typically lower per academic year since you’re taking fewer course credits at a time. Meanwhile, you’ll have the opportunity to work your way through school. If you already have student debt, a part-time course load with a full-time job can help you make in-school loan payments so you’ll have less debt after graduation. 

3. What are the financial aid package requirements of your college?

Although there are financial aid options for part-time students, some programs might impose limitations based on your enrollment status. For example, Pell Grants are need-based federal aid  available to full-time and part-time undergraduate students. However, your grant award amount is determined based on various factors, including your enrollment status. The maximum award for eligible full-time students is $6,495; part-time students generally receive lower award amounts. Private scholarships may also have a full-time enrollment requirement to be eligible. If you’re relying on student aid to primarily fund your education, pay close attention to enrollment status requirements for recipients.

Related: Understanding (and Maximizing) Your College Financial Aid Package

4. What type of degree are you pursuing?

Certain degree programs are so rigorous that they demand full-time enrollment. For example, Stanford University requires graduate program students to enroll full-time, which is at least eight units per quarter. Conversely, some institutions, like the University of San Francisco and University of Berkeley, offer part-time graduate curriculums specifically designed for students who can’t commit to a full-time course load. Part-time grad programs take longer to complete but give you the flexibility to balance schoolwork and other nonacademic commitments. Reach out to your degree program department to learn about its enrollment criteria and your options.

5. What kind of college experience are you looking for?

As a part-time student, you’ll have less of an on-campus presence for social activities, student groups, and building a rapport with professors and department faculty. In fact, 51% of working students said they don’t have time to participate in extracurriculars. If you prefer a hands-off college education and are perfectly content with this, going to school part-time might be a nonissue. However, if you want an immersive campus life experience, full-time attendance will grant you the most opportunities. 

Related: Top 5 Tips for Having the Best College Experience

There’s no one right way to attend college, and how you choose to enroll should be entirely up to your unique situation. Consider these questions as you make your college-related decisions to figure out which schedule works best for you, your goals, and your responsibilities. Either way, you’ll be receiving a great education and benefitting your future. 

If you’re unsure what type of college will support you full- or part-time, check out our blog What Kind of College Is Right for You?

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