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What Is a Full-Time Student?


Students sitting in classroom
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Question: What Is a Full-Time Student?

Nearly everyone has heard the terms "full-time student" and "part-time student." Let's be honest, though: not everyone is completely clear about what the difference between the two is. Sure, full-time students go to school more than part-time students, but ... how much more? And why does it matter?


In a very general sense, a full-time student is often a student who takes 12 units, credits, or hours per term at an institution where the standard course load is 16 units, credits, or hours.

This, of course, is a very general description. Each institution calculates credits differently, especially if they're on a quarter or semester system. Full-time students often are only classified as such if they are taking more than half of a traditional course load.

If you need to know if you classify as a full-time student, however, you should check with your college or university. The registrar's office will likely have their institution-specific definition posted online. If not, however, a quick phone call, email, or visit might be in order. Additionally, if you are a student who, for example, has some learning differences, what counts as a full-time load for you might be different than what it is for other students.

Some places will have their own definition of what being a full-time student means; others will depend solely on how your college or university defines it. (The IRS, for example, classifies you as a full-time student if "you are enrolled for the number of hours or courses the school considers to be full-time.") Additionally, all kinds of things can be affected by whether or not you can be classified as a full-time or part-time student. Things like health insurance, car insurance, taxes, and even your financial aid are connected to your life as a student, so make sure to be clear on what consequences you might face if you decide to add or drop a class -- and thereby change your full- or part-time student status.

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