Full-Time vs. Part-Time Student: What Are the Differences?

Updated September 30, 2022

Educational institutions often provide full-time and part-time enrolments to cater to the different needs of their students. Depending on your expectations and financial situation, you may find a specific type of learning more suitable for your lifestyle. Understanding the factors that differentiate full-time vs. part-time students can help you make informed decisions regarding your education.

In this article, we provide definitions of full-time and part-time education, list the factors that influence a person's choice to pursue full-time or part-time studies, and describe the part-time options on offer for employees and job seekers.

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What is a full-time education?

Full-time students regularly attend a university, college, or educational institution to earn a post-secondary certificate, diploma, or degree. They take at least 60% of the expected course load, which is typically at least four classes or 12 credits for their program. They usually attend between 20 and 40 hours of classes per week.

What is a part-time education?

Part-time students regularly attend a university, college, or educational institution to earn a post-secondary certificate, diploma, or degree over a lengthier period than full-time students. They take less than 60% of the expected course load, which is typically between one and four classes or fewer than 12 credits for their program. They usually attend less than 20 hours of classes per week.

Related: What Is Flexibility at Work? (With Examples and Benefits)

Full-time vs. part-time student

Understanding the difference between being a full-time vs. a part-time student can help you determine which path is right for you. There are many similarities and differences between full-time and part-time enrolments, which vary by individual and institution. Students can be part-time for one semester, then become full-time the next semester and vice versa.

Students usually inform their educational institution of their intention to transition to a new course load. Here are some factors to consider when deciding between becoming a full-time vs. a part-time student:

Program enrolment requirements

Depending on the program and the faculty staff, you may require a full-term course to graduate. Also, the availability of assistance programs may influence your decision to study full-time or part-time. Some programs require full-time enrolment to receive financial aid, health insurance, and scholarships. Others make financial aid available for part-time students, depending on the minimum number of enrolled credits.

Related: Contract vs. Full Time in Canada (With Steps to Decide)

Academic course load

Full-time students take more courses than part-time students. A considerable course load may also require additional time-management and organizational skills depending on the individual. Students that can effectively cope with a higher academic load can complete the program quicker, study multiple majors, or add a minor to the program without adding years to the schooling. A part-time course load can be beneficial for focusing on fewer classes if you have limited study time available to you.

Personal responsibilities

Studying part-time may grant you more time to focus on personal responsibilities. Parents or caregivers may prefer learning on a part-time schedule to accommodate their situation. A part-time work schedule can allow for more flexibility and offer a better work/life balance. The high academic workload required of full-time students can affect their availability for personal responsibilities.


Depending on your employment status, learning on a part-time schedule may be a good choice if you wish to work more flexibly while enrolled in classes. There are some benefits to having a job while in college, including developing skills and earning money to pay for college and living expenses. You can be a full-time student while employed, as long as you can sustain a healthy workload and have evenings, weekends, and holidays available to you.

Related: What Does Part-Time Employee Mean? (With Job Examples)

Internship opportunities

Depending on the program and institution, students may be able to benefit from internship opportunities. If you're a part-time student, you can complete internships during a semester because you have more free time outside of class. You can apply your learning from your courses directly to your internship, which can help you gain practical experience.

You can complete internships during summer or winter breaks if you're a full-time student. Internships are usually full-time, allowing you to experience the typical responsibilities and workflows of a business.

Athletics, hobbies, and extracurriculars

It's important to keep mental health in mind when deciding whether to be a full-time student or a part-time student. To sustain a healthy relationship with your mind and body throughout your learning experience, you may want to participate in sports or hobbies. As a part-time student, you may have more time for this. Full-time students spend more time on campus, which can lead to more opportunities to learn about and join groups or clubs, also making it more convenient to attend them.


The cost of tuition depends on the program, but typically payments are less for part-time students. Individuals may choose part-time enrolment based on their budget and whether they're paying out of pocket or taking out loans. Full-time students often pay a capped tuition per semester, while part-time students pay per credit. If you're a full-time student, you can take over 12 credit hours per semester and pay the same amount.

Time to complete the program

It's often important to consider time frames when choosing part-time or full-time learning. If you want to work as quickly as possible in your desired career, you may choose full-time learning. Part-time might be a good choice if you want more time to consider your career choices and decide what you want to do in the long term.


People attend educational institutions for many reasons and experiences. Consider what experience you expect outside of the classroom. If you attend university full time, you may spend more time on campus, which can lead to meeting more people and help you feel more immersed in the campus culture. You typically also spend more time in class and interact more with other students and professors. As a part-time student, you can still take part in campus activities and collaborate with other students, but you also have more time to pursue other interests off-campus.


It's important to have realistic expectations of what full-time and part-time learning entails. As a full-time student, you usually devote a lot of your energy to your program of study. Immersion can help keep you excited and engaged in your field. As a part-time student, you may have commitments outside of your coursework. Time devoted to schooling not only includes in-class hours but also after-hours study and work on assignments or projects, which can be much higher for full-time vs. part-time students.

Location and institution preferences

Different institutions offer different learning options. Therefore, if your location is the most crucial factor, your enrolment could depend on what your local institutions may offer. Alternatively, you could pursue online education to remain in the same area while studying at another location. If attending a specific college is the most important factor to you, you may base your decision on what learning options are available there.


If you want to live on campus in residences, your university may require full-time enrolment. Full-time students often live on campus during their first years of study. Otherwise, both full-time and part-time students usually have the option to live in private housing off-campus.

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Part-time studies for employees and job seekers

There are many part-time options available for working professionals who want to take a single course to work towards a certificate. Many trade-specific colleges offer evening and weekend courses to accommodate people who follow a typical work schedule. Some employees and job seekers also opt to study remotely through online learning programs.

Instructor-led online learning may be a practical option for those who are looking for more freedom during the weekday, and many educational institutions offer online learning, depending on the program.

Part-time study allows individuals who are already in the workforce to advance their skills and career. This can lead to promotions and other job opportunities. Limitations around finances and time are often the key factors influencing why people decide to enrol as part-time students. Here's a list of programs that typically offer part-time scheduling:

  • Business and marketing

  • Language courses

  • Graphic design

  • Multimedia communications

  • Computer science

  • Social work

  • General sciences

  • Related: 19 Companies That Offer Part-Time Jobs With Benefits

  • Related: How To Get a Part-Time Job (With Tips and Benefits)

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