What Is a Full-Time Student?

A full-time student is a legal tax status that is important for determining dependency exemptions. Full-time status is based on what the individual's school considers full-time. There are different tax filing requirements required for both the full-time student and parents or guardians who are claiming that student as a dependent and/or paying any applicable educational costs.

Key Takeaways

  • A full-time student is a legal tax status that is most applicable to figuring out dependency exemptions at tax time.
  • Typically, the school determines the volume of coursework that is considered full-time.
  • Tax requirements vary for full-time students and parents or guardians who are them as dependents.
  • Federal student aid awards, such as Pell grants, are generally larger for full-time students than part-time students.
  • Often, to be eligible for scholarships and on-campus living, students must be full-time.

Understanding Full-Time Students

A full-time student is an individual enrolled in a post-secondary institution who may be eligible for certain tax breaks. Additionally, the parents or guardians of a full-time student may be eligible for certain tax breaks or have additional tax filing requirements.

Although tax requirements can differ for full-time students, the full-time student status alone does not exempt one from paying federal income taxes. According to the IRS website, full-time students who are U.S. residents or U.S. citizens must consider the following information to determine if they will be required to file a federal income tax return:

  • Amount of earned and unearned income
  • Your dependency status, meaning if you are considered independent or if someone else is claiming you as a dependent on their tax return
  • Filing status
  • Age

There are income requirements per age, filing and dependency status, and other factors. If an individual falls below those income requirements, they are not required to file a federal tax return. However, they may still wish to file an income tax return if they are due a refund or eligible for a refundable credit.

According to the IRS, full-time students are children under the age of 19 or adults under the age of 24 who attend an educational program at least five months per calendar year.

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 6 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.

86%

The percentage of college students receiving financial aid.

Federal student aid includes grants, loans, scholarships, work-study, and other aid. To be eligible for Federal Direct Loan funds (Direct Subsidized, Direct Unsubsidized, Direct Plus, and Direct Consolidation loans), Pell Grants, and work study, the student must be enrolled at least part-time. However, federal student aid for part-time students is less than what is allocated to full-time students.

For example, the maximum Pell Grant awarded to full-time undergraduate students is $6,495 for the 2021-2022 academic year, whereas the maximum grant awarded to students enrolled half-time is $3,248. Student loan awards are often based on the cost of attendance and the maximum amount available for the loan program. Part-time and full-time students are eligible; however, if a student falls below half-time, they must begin repaying the loan.

Although financial aid is granted to part-time students, it is important for these students to understand the impact of their enrollment status on what is awarded. Schools determine whether a student is eligible based on their financial need. Financial need is determined by subtracting the amount the family is expected to contribute towards the cost of education from the cost of attendance. The cost of attendance for part-time enrollment is less than full-time enrollment. Therefore, if a part-time student has a positive expected family contribution (EFC), this could reduce what they are eligible for in financial aid.

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 9 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.

Parents supporting their full-time student children benefit from being able to claim them as dependents longer than what is allowed for part-time students. Full-time students who do not primarily support themselves can be claimed as dependents on their parents' tax returns until the age of 24. This tax benefit can help reduce taxes and lessen the blow from what is spent on tuition, room and board, and food for incredibly hungry college-goers.

Example of a Full-Time Student

The technical definition of what the government views as a full-time student can be broad. For example, the IRS considers a child under the age of 19 or an adult child under the age of 24 who is attending an education program for at least five months per calendar year as a full-time student. Additionally, the adult child under the age of 24 must not be self-supporting in order for their parent or legal guardian to claim them as dependent on their own taxes.

Parents or guardians may also claim the American Opportunity Education Credit, based on college tuition and related fees for full-time students, but this credit does have its own requirements for full-time students between the ages of 18 and 24 enrolled in an academic program.

Full-Time Student FAQs

What Does It Mean to Be a Full-Time Student?

Generally, a full-time student is a student enrolled in at least 12 credit hours at a post-secondary academic institution. However, some schools consider full-time to be at least 9 credit hours.

How Many Hours Is a Full-Time College Student?

What constitutes a full-time status depends on the academic institution. Generally, full-time is considered to be at least 12 credit hours. However, some schools consider 9 credit hours to be full-time.

What Does the IRS Consider a Full-Time Student?

The IRS considers a full-time student as a student enrolled in the minimum number of credit hours the institution considers full-time. The student must be enrolled at least five months out of the year and be a student at a school with faculty, a student body, and course of study or a student in a full-time, on-farm training course.

What Is Considered a Full-Time Student for Financial Aid?

A full-time student for financial aid consideration is usually 12 credit hours. However, some institutions consider 9 credit hours to be full-time, although it is technically three-quarter time.

Can You Be Both a Part-Time and Full-Time Student?

A student cannot be a part-time and full-time student simultaneously. However, a student may pivot back and forth from part-time to full-time and vice versa throughout the academic school year.

The Bottom Line

A full-time student is a legal tax status for determining exemptions. Generally, full-time is considered being enrolled in at least 12 credit hours in a post-secondary institution; however, each institution defines full-time independently.

Parents and guardians supporting full-time students may be able to claim them as dependents on their tax return to receive deductions from taxes and credits. Financial aid may be impacted by enrollment status, with greater amounts being awarded to full-time students than to part-time students. Additional benefits to being a full-time student include finishing the course of study on time or early, receiving scholarships and other financial aid not eligible for part-time students, and enjoying traditional college dorm life.