Deciding to start grad school can be quite overwhelming. After all, deciding to go to grad school is just the first of many other decisions you’ll have to make. From there, it’s deciding which program you want to go for, which schools you’re applying to, which scholarships and funding options to seek, and more. And, of course, one of the decisions you’ll eventually have to make is whether full-time or part-time graduate school is better for you.
As more and more people return to school for higher education, the “typical” college and grad school experience continues to evolve.
A report by Georgetown University shows that more than a staggering 75% of grad school students work a minimum of 30 hours while they study. On top of that, one in four students is balancing full-time work and full-time studies simultaneously (some with children to boot).
When you’re considering if it’s better for you to be a full-time vs part-time student, there are honestly many factors that can affect your decision.
The best choice can differ from person to person, especially since no two people are in the same situation.
So, if you’re feeling stuck and don’t know which option suits you best, this guide should help you out.
What is Full Time in Grad School?
As the name might suggest, full-time grad school studies involve more credit hours or units taken per semester (compared to part time studies). Unfortunately, if you’re a grad student looking for full-time credit, there’s no getting around these requirements.
For students seeking graduate degrees, most educational institutions require a minimum of nine credit hours taken during each fall/spring semester. If you’re planning to do the summer term as well, you’ll have to sign up for a minimum of six credit hours.
What is Part Time in Grad School?
Often, colleges and universities will count you as a “half time” or part-time student if you are taking what they consider “half time” credit hours. For the fall or spring semesters, four and a half credit hours is deemed half time. For the summer term, three hours counts as half time.
However, if a student is taking any less than the minimum credit hours required per term, they are still usually considered a part-time student. For example, even if you’re taking eight credit hours per semester for your Master’s in Science, you’re still only completing a part-time MS program.
Full Time vs Part Time Student: Pros and Cons
As with anything, there are pros and cons to being a full-time or a part-time grad student. Let’s take a look at each option and see.
For this comparison, full time means a full credit hour load without a full time job on top.
Benefits of Being a Full-Time Graduate Student
- Most of your focus can go to your studies. When you’re a full-time student working a part-time job, it’s more likely you’ll have the time and energy to devote to your studies. Chances are, you’ll be able to immerse yourself further into your studies and the grad school experience.
- You might be able to finish your studies faster. Taking on a full credit load means it’ll take you less time overall to complete your program or degree requirements. Add summer terms in between, and you might be able to finish your studies in record time.
- Full-time studies may allow you to build better relationships with your fellow students and your mentors, such as your professors. You’ll be able to spend more of your time on campus, which increases the chances you’ll run into your classmates and professors. This also allows you to take advantage of social or community opportunities that may present themselves.
- You may be eligible for more financial aid opportunities when you’re enrolled full time. Many financial aid providers offer aid packages that require full-time enrollment status. In general, full-time students receive more financial aid than their part-time student equivalents.
Challenges of Being a Full-Time Graduate Student
- More credit hours mean more fees and higher tuition costs. Schools usually charge units you take during your graduate courses per credit hour. Because of this, it follows that the more credit hours you sign up for, the higher your costs will be.
- A full-time credit load means you’ll have less time for a job. It may be difficult to balance your full-time study load and your part-time job. If you want to try studying full time and working full time, it might be even more difficult. Your income may suffer as a result. Because of this, you may want to focus on finding scholarships or other financial aid opportunities that can help you pay for grad school.
- Full-time workloads may contribute to stress and burnout. Balancing your studies and a job or your family may add to stress and eventually lead to burnout. Remember to take time for yourself and unwind regularly to help prevent this problem.
- Your career may take a back seat. If you already have an established career, it may be detrimental to take a break from it so you can focus on your studies. This can slow down or halt your momentum.
Benefits of Being a Part-Time Student
- Work-study-life balance may be a bit easier with a part-time load. It may be less stressful to juggle every priority when you have fewer credit hours to worry about each term. It may be a good idea to realistically consider what you’ll be able to handle as you study. Of course, this benefit may not apply if you are working full time.
- You may be able to use your learnings and experience in real time. As you go through your program, you’ll pick up knowledge and experience that you can then apply to your real job — and vice versa. This ability can prove to be quite beneficial in the long run.
- You may have lower and fewer costs to worry about with a part-time load. Fewer credit hours mean fewer fees and lower tuition costs all around. Lower tuition fees may make it easier for you to pay for your graduate studies. In some cases, your employer might even pick up the tab!
Challenges of Being a Part-Time Student
- With a part time load, it may take you a longer time to finish your studies. Taking half the usual load means you’ll have to be studying for a longer amount of time. It’s not uncommon to find you need an additional year or two (and sometimes even more!) to finish your degree or program.
- You might have trouble working with and meeting your advisors. If you need help with your thesis or dissertation or just want to meet with your professors in general, you may struggle with setting meetings as a part-time student. This struggle is especially true if you take your classes in the evening, when most advisors, administrators, and professors no longer have meeting hours.
- Part-time studies limit your opportunities to build relationships with your peers and your mentors. With less time spent on campus and a likelihood of missing out on extra-curricular activities, you might struggle to find networking opportunities that can help you build relationships.
Tips for Choosing Full-Time vs Part-Time Study
If looking at the pros and cons listed above wasn’t enough to help you make your decision, here are a few tips to help you choose between being a full-time vs part-time student.
- Take time for yourself before making your choice. Choosing between a full credit load and half or part time is an important decision you shouldn’t rush. It may be a good idea to take some time for yourself before you make your decision — you can take a staycation, a vacation, or just take a couple days off work to relax. Either way, the time you take might help you gain the perspective you need to make the best decision for your situation.
- Talk to your employer about your academic goals. It can be tough to make a decision when you don’t quite know whether your employer will be understanding. Before you decide between part time or full time, it may be a good idea to talk to your boss or employer about any academic goals you have. Doing so might give you an idea of whether your employer will be accommodating of your new hours and changing schedule.
- If you have a family, get them on board. It’s tough to take even more time away from your family to balance studies and work at the same time. Before you make your decision, you may want to talk to your family and get them on board first — or at least make them aware of how things may change until you finish your grad studies.
What is Best for You?
Deciding between part time and full time is something that only you can do.
You’ll need to consider a number of factors like your budget, your current commitments, and if your employer will be understanding about you going to grad school.
Regardless of your choice, you may want to get all your ducks in a row before enrollment — and seek financial aid to lessen the burden!
- How to Prepare for Grad School: Top Tips
- Graduate School Scholarships: A Comprehensive Guide
- How to Pick a Grad School: Choosing the School of Your Dreams