With a litany of educational institutes also comes the option of a variety of modes of education – full-time, part-time, distant, online, you name it. And with the variety also comes the dilemma of what to choose.
Each of these modes has its own merit, enough to confuse the ambivalent student on which would be the preferable choice. The most practical response to any such query is “it depends on your situation really”.
Traditionally, most degrees are offered full-time. That is, students are expected to attend certain minimum number of credit hours towards a final degree to be completed in a set number of months or years. Classes are usually held on working days and making it to class is generally the only job students have.
Part-time, as the name suggests relaxes those stipulations, with classes mostly held in the off office hours keeping true to its secondary nature to other commitments such as regular employment.
In this article, we are going to combat the preference of a full-time vs part-time degree in higher education. Which one is the better choice, and when?
Difference between full-time and part-time degrees
Full-time student profile
As mentioned before, the biggest difference lies in the amount of time spent being enrolled within an academic period. Full-time courses require its students to spend a majority of their time dedicated to a specific number of credit hours.
Students work, if at all, within the university campus. A majority of the time commitment is thus reserved for classes.
Such a structure is usually suitable, and in fact preferable, to students who have fewer personal or professional responsibilities. Young individuals, who are fresh out of school, are thus its primary recipients.
Part-time student profile
Part-time degree is targeted at an individual who has other primary occupations – be it job or family. Part-time education is thus a convenient go to for mature adults who plan to return to school later in their career or personal life.
Students enroll in less than the full course load. Thus, it takes longer to complete a degree as compared to full-time students.
However, the flexibility that its timing provides outweighs the duration of the part-time programs. Students can attend classes after office hours, over the weekends or evenings/nights.
Read about this student who made it to UCLA Anderson and Berkeley Haas part-time MBA
If you are looking to shift gears in your career, a part-time degree can offer a convenient structure to do so without terribly altering your current world.
Part-time students can keep their job while getting a formal education in a separate field. Call it the least risky option of checking out a new career or field. It also helps build a professional network of individuals with similar aspirations.
Other modes like distant or online degrees don’t allow much networking opportunities. Though full-time degrees are good networking playgrounds, their schedule demand can be a hurdle to anyone who is looking for a gradual career change without a career break.
For career guidance, read our blogs on career change.
The length of the program is different for the two modes of operation, as mentioned above. The flexibility that the part-time degree affords, also extends its total time.
The length of part-time programs can extend from 50 to a 100% of the total full-time program’s duration.
This may be of significance to anyone who is seeking the degree to either change careers or move up their career ladder. Extending the degree duration can also stall the progress until completion.
On the other hand, part-time degrees can also offer an excellent opportunity to practice what you learn, real time.
This is especially true for individuals looking to learn and grow within an organization by taking on more responsibilities as they follow their simultaneous learning path.
Full-time degrees follow a more traditional approach of first learn then apply.
Cost of education
It may seem that part-time degrees are the cost friendlier version of getting a formal degree but it is only so because of how thin the various courses are spread over its duration.
In reality, full-time courses may actually be more economical. Full-time degrees have a set tuition which usually doesn’t charge by the credit hours. Thus, if you so choose, you can enroll in the maximum course load and still pay regular tuition.
However, the fiscal advantage of a part-time education is the ability to earn a living simultaneously. Most college degree programs, especially for advanced or professional degrees, like the MBA, have steep tuitions.
The enthusiasm of admission in such programs may be curbed by the financing headache they are associated with. Part-timers can manage to soften the blow by working at the same time, paying their own way through college.
Full-time students can never manage the schedule plus a full-time job. The best they can do is some form of graduate assistantship or university campus job.
Read about Graduate School Funding options
Most part-time students cannot avail campus housing or other conveniences applicable to full-time students. This may be a concern for students studying in universities located in less affordable cities.
Campus housing is generally subsidised and takes care of all the over head costs that students may have to bear on their own. Such expenses may pile up on the already high tuition costs.
Internships and placement
The structure of internships and placement, while being enrolled, is a career service offered to full-time students, in most cases. Part-time students are either there through company sponsorships or on their own.
Whatever be the source of funding their education, however, it is pretty clear that the ROI of getting a part-time degree, especially a professional one like MBA, is high.
As has been surveyed by GMAC, a decent part-time MBA can garner a salary growth comparable to a full-time MBA degree.
However, the lack of a straightforward means to connect to recruiters, like through placement drives, can put part-timers at a disadvantage.
Although the accompanying employment is a blessing for financing your education, it is the full-time education that wins in the scholarship category.
Scholarships are mostly offered to full-timers. Part-time students don’t qualify to receive them. Certain categories such as women and minorities may qualify, though, despite their part-time status. HHL Leipzig scholarship for women doing part-time MBA is one such option.
The general advice is to search the individual schools for scholarship/fellowship options suitable for weekender students.
Given the nature of time sharing between school work and employment, or family, responsibilities, part-time students really have to juggle skillfully.
They have to put in over a 100% effort in maintaining efficiency in both their worlds. For full-time students, this becomes a simpler task owing to the lack of other serious responsibilities.
Student status for internationals
Finally, international students have to be extra careful of what they can or cannot choose, for legal purposes. USA, one the most popular international student destinations, requires international students to follow only certain particular types of enrollment.
The US Immigration requires students in F-1 immigration status to maintain a full course load (usually 12 credit hours or more for undergraduate or a combination of credit hours and research for graduate programs) in the entirety of their academic programs.
For the same reasons and stipulations, only full-time F1 students can be offered the opportunity to avail the OPT period in order to seek full-time employment. The lack of this buffer time can place part-timers at a disadvantage,
Both part and full time degrees have their merits towards getting an education. Their advantage over each other is really factor of the student’s circumstances.
Hence, the “it depends”. If you are young and starting out, a fresh full-time approach can give you the true college experience. And if you are filling your knowledge gap or changing careers later in life, part-time is your answer. Weigh your options and choose what is best for your career.
Meanwhile, here are a few related links for further reading.