Pros and Cons of Being a Part-Time Student: What’s Right for You?

Wondering if you should attend college part-time? We’re here to help you decide.

Written By: Anna Baluch

Published: 8/31/2022

College may be worthwhile if you want to broaden your knowledge and skills, develop meaningful relationships, and enjoy a stable career with excellent earning potential. While many students attend college on a full-time basis, there are a number of reasons you might want to enroll part-time.

Factors like your employment status, family life, and finances can help you determine whether you should become a part-time student or go the full-time route. Below, we’ll dive deeper into what it means to be a part-time student, as well as the pros and cons of becoming one, so you can figure out if it’s the right choice for your unique situation.

What Does It Mean to Be a Part-Time Student?

A part-time student takes fewer credit hours than a full-time student. Most undergraduate degree programs consider anyone enrolled in fewer than 12 credits a part-time student. Since college courses are usually three to four credits, part-time students typically take three or fewer classes each semester. The criteria for part-time graduate students may be different. 

You may be a part-time student throughout your entire degree program or alternate between part-time and full-time status to accommodate your changing goals and priorities. According to the most recent back-to-school data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), of the 19.4 million students who attended college in 2020, 7.5 million were part-time students.

What Are the Advantages of Studying Part-Time?

There are a number of benefits to attending college part-time, including:

Flexible Schedule

As a part-time student, you’ll have more flexibility with your schedule. Since you’ll take fewer classes each semester, you’ll be able to focus on other important aspects of your life, like your job, family, and hobbies. A part-time course load can allow you to learn at your own pace and avoid feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

Lower Short-Term Costs

If you’re a part-time student, you’re likely to pay per credit for tuition. This means you’ll pay less each semester, saving money in the short term and spreading your education costs over a longer period. 

That said, earning a degree may cost you more in the long run. Full-time students who take more than 12 credits per term can count on significant savings, as many colleges charge a flat rate for 12-18 credits per semester. Part-time students, on the other hand, might pay additional fees for each semester they’re enrolled, adding extra costs. 

Ability to Work

With a part-time course load, you’ll have enough time in your schedule to work. Whether you need to maintain a job to support yourself and your family or wish to gain valuable, hands-on experience through an internship, enrolling in college part-time will allow you to do so. It’s a great way to further your education and earn an income simultaneously.

Career Advancement

If you already work in a field you enjoy, pursuing a part-time program may be just what you need to advance your career. You can continue to work and gain real-world experience while acquiring the new knowledge and skills that may open the doors to more responsibilities, promotions, and raises. For example, if you currently work in sales but wish to land a manager position or enhance your resume, it might make sense to complete a business management degree part-time.

What Are the Disadvantages of Studying Part-Time?

Attending college part-time also comes with some drawbacks, such as:

Fewer Financial Aid Opportunities

Many colleges and universities require you to be enrolled at least half-time or a minimum of six credit hours per semester to qualify for certain loans, grants, and other financial aid programs. Therefore, if you only decide to take three credit hours per semester, for example, you may miss out on some financial aid opportunities. Also, if you’re a part-time student who works, you may not qualify for need-based scholarships.

Lack of Social Engagement

If you decide to attend college part-time, there’s a good chance you’ll live at home and commute to campus to take your classes. You may even take them online without ever stepping foot onto campus. This can lead to a lack of social engagement, which may make it more difficult to develop strong relationships with professors and peers.

Fewer Program Options

Not all degree programs are available on a part-time basis. If you hope to become a nurse, for example, you’ll find that some programs require full-time enrollment so you can complete your coursework in a certain time frame. Depending on your unique goals and desired career path, you might need to attend college full-time. 

Length of Studies

While taking your classes at a slower rate can free up your schedule, it will also prolong the amount of time it takes to complete your program. The longer you spend in school, the longer you’ll have to wait to begin working in your ideal industry and occupation. Increasing your length of studies may also lead to a lack of motivation and reduce your lifetime earning potential. 

Lower Chance of Degree Completion 

Since they typically juggle work, family life, and school, part-time students are less likely to graduate than full-time students. In fact, a study found that those who enroll full-time are five times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree within six years than students who choose to study part-time. If you do become a part-time student, you’ll need to prioritize your studies so that you can graduate in a reasonable timeframe.

Full-Time or Part-Time Student: Which Is Best for You?

Before you decide whether to attend college full-time or part-time, consider the following.

Desired Commitment Level

If you enroll in a full-time degree program, you’ll need to devote most of your time and energy to it. Not only will you have to attend classes, but you’ll also be expected to study for tests and complete assignments. You may find it difficult to commit to a full-time program if you have a job or a family. In this case, part-time courses and degree programs are likely your best bet as they don’t require as much of a commitment.

Financial Situation

As a full-time student, you’ll be required to pay more for your education upfront. If you prefer to pay for it in small chunks, the part-time path is a good choice. You’ll be able to work as you study and might find it easier to cover the cost of your schooling. Additionally, if you must maintain a job to cover your living expenses, attending college part-time is ideal.

Program Availability

Since part-time programs aren’t always available, it’s a good idea to check with the colleges and universities you’re considering to determine if completing your desired program part-time is even an option. You may find that you have to commit to a full-time program to achieve your particular degree and career goals.

Career and Lifestyle Goals

Think about what you hope to accomplish with a degree. Maybe you want to advance in your current field while you support your family. Or perhaps you wish to become a nurse, engineer, or teacher as soon as possible and don’t mind devoting several years to your studies. By understanding your unique career and lifestyle goals, you can determine whether you should study full-time or part-time.

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