What it means to be a full-time student often depends on the institution where the student attains, as schools have their own definitions. Read our article on “what is a full-time student” here.
A full-time student is typically one who enrolls in 12 units credits, or hours per term at an institution where the standard course load is 16 units, credits, or hours.
Of course, this is a very broad description.
Each institution calculates credits differently, and what counts as full-time at a semester-based school will differ from what counts as full-time at a quarter-based school.
Full-time students are often defined as those who take more than half of a traditional course load.
Definition of a Full-Time College Student
The most obvious difference between a full and part-time student relates to how many credit hours are taken during a semester.
To be regarded as a full-time student generally means working toward a minimum of twelve credits (approximately four classes).
Part-time is usually considered to lie somewhere in the area of two to eleven credits (one to three classes).
However, what counts as full-time at a school that uses a semester system will likely vary from what counts as full-time at a school that uses a quarter system.
To make things easier to understand, students are usually classified as full-time as long as they take more than half of a traditional course load.
Full-Time Student and Financial Aid
Financial aid is money awarded to help pay for educational costs.
It is awarded to students who demonstrate a financial need, and the amount awarded is based on the extent of that need and other factors, such as enrollment and degree-seeking status.
Eligibility for financial aid depends on the criteria set by the institution and the awarding entity.
Generally, in addition to having a financial need, students must be enrolled at least part-time, at least six credit hours, a US citizen, and in a degree-seeking or certificate program.
When thinking of financial aid, what often comes to mind is federal student aid. However, financial aid can be awarded by organizations, local and state governments, academic institutions, employers, and other grantors.
The most well-known financial aid is awarded by the federal government.
Benefits of Full-Time Student Status
There are many benefits to being a full-time student. Perhaps one of the most rewarding is being able to finish school on time or faster than what would be achieved part-time.
A four-year bachelor’s degree usually requires the completion of 120 credit hours.
If attending each semester in an academic year and taking at least 15 credit hours, the student can expect to complete the program in four years.
Alternatively, if only taking nine credit hours per semester, the student can expect to complete the program in 6.67 years.
Many universities with on-campus housing require students to be enrolled full-time to reside there. For those wanting to experience dorm life, being full-time may be the only way to achieve that.
Also, many grants and scholarships, especially full-ride scholarships, require students to be full-time to be considered.
Even tuition reimbursement from employers may stipulate that the employee be enrolled full-time to be eligible.
Example of a Full-Time Student
The government’s technical definition of a full-time student can be quite broad.
For example, the IRS considers a child under the age of 19 or an adult child under the age of 24 to be a full-time student if they attend an education program for at least five months per calendar year.
Furthermore, the adult child under the age of 24 must not be self-sufficient for their parent or legal guardian to claim them as a dependent on their own taxes.
Parents or guardians may also claim the American Opportunity Education Credit, which is based on full-time college tuition and related fees.
However, this credit has its own requirements for full-time students between the ages of 18 and 24 who are enrolled in a program.
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