As if deciding where to go to college and what to go for aren't difficult enough, you may also need to figure out if you want to be a full-time college student. While part-time studies may seem like the ideal option, especially if you are working or have family obligations, the benefits of being a full-time student often outweigh those of going on a reduced schedule.
Determine the Length of Degree
One of the primary advantages to attending college on a full-time basis is the length of time it will take you to complete your degree. Taking a full course load each semester means you will get all of your credits in well before you would by taking classes part-time. In fact, the average four-year degree takes 5.1 years to complete. Half of all students pursuing four-year degrees at public institutions took more than five years to achieve a degree. That said, the more classes you take, the higher the likelihood that you'll graduate from college in four years or so. For example, the University of North Alabama requires students to complete 125 credits in order to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in art. The benefits of being a full-time student is that you can graduate in four years. Even at a full-time rate, this means that a student must take between 14 and 18 credits each semester to complete the degree in four years. Cut that in half, and you end up with an eight-year program.
Consider Full-Time Student Benefits
The amount and type of financial aid you can receive to pay for your post-secondary education often depends on how many credits you take. When it comes to federal loans and grants, most lenders require a certain level of attendance for full eligibility. This doesn't mean part-time students can't get loans or grants, but they may have trouble finding full funding. Federal loans such as Perkins, Stafford and PLUS loans will typically vary depending on how many credits you take during a semester. Likewise, grants -- money you don't have to repay -- also are dependent on your full- or part-time status. For example, during the 2017-18 school year, federal Pell Grant recipients could receive a maximum of $5,920 per year. A full-time student is more likely to receive the full amount of the grant than a part-time student is. In most cases, part-time students can't secure full funding through any one loan or grant program, while this is entirely possible for full-timers.
Look at Scholarship Requirements
Like loan and grant programs, having a full-time college student status often equals having a greater likelihood of securing scholarships. For example, the Nicholls State University's teacher education program offers several privately funded scholarships -- such as the Camille Herbert Memorial Scholarship in Education -- that require students to enroll at a full-time status. Attending college full-time may mean you could go to school tuition-free. On the other hand, choosing a part-time option may preclude you from finding private funding.
Evaluate the Time
While taking 15 or more credits each semester may seem like a heavy course load, the more intense nature of a full-time schedule provides an added incentive to focus. Part-time status may allow you time to work, hang out with friends or take care of other responsibilities, but it will also allow you to go days at a time without being in class. Given that the average full-time college student spends only 2.8 hours each weekday on educational activities, moving to a part-time status significantly diminishes this already somewhat low time. If you need constant contact with university professors and other students to keep on track with your academics, full-time status will allow you to focus and maintain an eye on the academic prize.
Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.