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Grad School: Full-time vs. Part-time

A woman balances work and school while in a part-time program.
August 14, 2018

By Kathryn Pins

If you are looking at furthering your education after a few years in the workforce, you have a lot of decisions to make. And that’s not a bad thing! Those decisions come with options and opportunities, including whether or not you should go part-time or full-time. We’re going to break down the benefits of each so you can make the decision that’s right for you!

Money

Since this is the Money Mentor blog, we’re going to start with the finances behind choosing to go part-time or full-time. Figuring out how to pay for graduate school can be a big initial hurdle. According to U.S. News & World Report, part-time programs can cost more because it can take longer to get your degree. Also, there may be more scholarship opportunities for students going full-time. Those two factors can lead to some serious overall savings.

However, full-time has a sleeper cost associated with it: lost income. If you make $80,000 a year and plan to get your degree full-time over two years, you’ll miss out on $160,000 plus 401k and investment opportunities. This loss of income is especially hard if you want to limit the amount of debt you take on. Going back to school only part-time would allow you to keep your cash flow and use some of that salary to pay your tuition. It may feel less stressful financially because you would still have money coming in.

Risk

Speaking of stress, some people choose part-time simply because they are concerned about being unemployed at graduation time. However, many schools have programs for their full-time students to help them get set up with a position. It is a big selling point for graduate schools to say that the majority of their students had a job after graduation. Therefore, ask schools for their graduation statistics when you are shopping for a program.

Unemployment is a risk many of us don’t want to take, especially if we have student loans. However, this risk has less of an impact if you are looking to change your career. If you know you want to do a switch, then having to find a job after graduation will already be in your short-term plan.

Time

Part-time programs tend to take longer than full-time programs. I know, it’s a very obvious statement, but it’s something to think about. Do you want to get your degree over and done with? Or, is your degree something you don’t mind taking your time on?

Think of the time you actually spend in school. Going full-time will allow you to focus your efforts on your education. You can dive deep into each class and explore more about a subject simply because you have the hours to do so. Part-time can feel like you have two jobs. You’re truly limited in the number of hours you can spend on a class because you have work obligations. Trust me, as a part-time student, you’ll wish you had more time to focus on your assignments and absorb the information. A benefit, however, is that you can immediately apply your lessons to the workplace.

Networking

Full-time programs can sometimes have smaller class sizes than part-time programs. You could be part of a cohort and really get to know the people you have classes with. As a full-time student, your focus will be on classes and the people in those classes. This means you could build meaningful relationships and networks simply because you have more time. Part-time means that you have a big obligation in addition to school: work. As I said above, you’ll be strapped for time. However, life is what you make of it. If you take the time in both scenarios and make building a network a priority, you could accomplish it. Full-time may be inherently easier, but that does not mean that you can’t find time to build relationships as a part-time student.

Location

Going full-time could give you the option to get up and move because you won’t be tied to a job at your current location. You could really take a look at the nation’s top schools and keep your options open that way. When you’re looking for part-time programs near your current home, you may be limited in terms of options. If going to the top school is your priority, then embrace the chance to immerse yourself in a new location and a new school.

Rank your priorities to help you decide

Are you still unsure what you want to do? The truth is: there’s no wrong decision. When I was making the choice between part-time and full-time programs, I wrote out a list and ranked what was most important to me. I suggest you try to rank the list below. Thinking through what is most important to you can help to clarify your decision.

  • Income during school/how much debt I’m willing to take on/cost
  • Employment after graduation
  • Length of program in months
  • Life balance/time for learning
  • Graduating with a good network/relationships
  • Location

Picking out a grad school can be a tough. Heck, even determining if grad school is really worth it is tough enough. However, if you sit down, rank your priorities and think about what your future will look like, you’ll set yourself on a good track. Once you make a decision, run with it! Good luck and happy studying!


Kathryn Pins is a marketing content specialist at Alliant. She’s passionate about finding and communicating meaningful financial information with Money Mentor readers. Kathryn is a saver who gets more excited about certificates and her Roth IRA than shopping. When she does spend her earnings, it’s on furthering her education, travel, unique experiences, and loved ones.