The Difference Between a Full-Time and Part-Time Student

by Hazel Baker
The difference between a full-time and part-time student can directly impact eligibilty for financial aid and other benefits.

Deciding to make the transition from a full-time to a part-time student or vice versa is a choice that can significantly impact the amount of time it takes for students to earn a degree, the amount of financial aid that they are eligible to receive, their eligibility for certain tax benefits and other related circumstances. It is important for anyone who is considering a change in their student status to be as informed about the possible effects of this change as possible.

Full-Time vs. Part-Time Student Status

In terms of classes and course work, the difference between a full-time and a part-time student is determined by the number of credit hours that they are enrolled in each semester. A full-time student is a student who is taking the amount of credit hours that the college or university that they are attending considers a full course load. The amount of credit hours varies by institution, but for undergraduates, 12 to 14 credit hours and above per semester usually qualifies a student for full-time student status. Any amount of credit hours below the full-time amount is considered to be part-time.

Financial Aid

When it comes to financial aid, the difference between a full-time and a part-time student is an important distinction. Students who are enrolled on a full-time basis are usually entitled to more financial aid and grant money then part-time students, and a student who drops down to part-time status during the course of a semester may be required to repay funds from grants and loans that they received at the beginning of the semester.

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Tax Benefits

Full-time and part-time students are eligible for certain tax credits under federal law, provided that they meet the necessary income and eligibility requirements. Students can check with their school's financial aid office, the Department of Education in their state and the IRS to determine their eligibility. As with financial aid requirements, it is important to point out that students who decrease their status from full-time to part-time during the course of a school year or semester may lose their eligibility for certain tax credits.

Other Benefits

Both full-time and part-time students can usually qualify for student discounts on movies and products by showing a valid student ID. Full-time students, however, are usually eligible for benefits, such as the right to live in off-campus or on-campus student housing, that part-time students are not.


Your school's financial aid office is the first place where you should go to find answers to any questions that you may have about full-time and part-time student status and how a change in status mid-semester or mid-year will effect your financial aid benefits and scheduled graduation date.

About the Author

Hazel Baker has been writing professionally since 2003. She covers e-commerce, technology and legal topics for various online publications. Baker has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism with a minor in history from Point Loma Nazarene University.

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