Should You Go to Grad School Full Time or Part Time? How to Choose What’s Best for Your Master’s Program

There are many factors — including personal finances, work responsibilities and family obligations — that can affect your decision to be a full-time or part-time graduate student.

Attending graduate school can be life-changing, career-defining choice for many people.

But once you decide to pursue your master’s degree, there are a few more decisions that need to be made before starting your higher education journey.

You have to choose which program you want to enroll in, which school to attend, whether you want to go online or in-person, and, of course, whether you should register for classes on a full-time or part-time basis.

The last consideration is particularly tricky because there are clear upsides for both full-time and part-time graduate students — as well as some disadvantages. It is a deeply personal choice, and there are many factors (including personal finances, work responsibilities and family obligations) that can affect your decision.

In order to help determine which option is best for you and your lifestyle, we’ve broken down the benefits of each graduate school track below.

The Pros of Attending Grad School Full Time

You can finish your degree faster. While this might be the most obvious benefit, it’s also the most important one. By choosing to attend school full time, you’ll complete your studies much faster than if you enrolled part time.

Many students are able to earn their degree in just one year when they opt for a full-time track, as opposed to those who spend two or three years in school on a part-time basis. The sooner you finish, the more quickly you can wield the benefits of your new degree to advance your career.

Prices can be overall less expensive. As a result of finishing the program faster, it’ll often be less expensive overall. While it depends on the university, part-time students usually pay per credit, and full-time students will have an annual capped tuition fee. So, there is the possibility you could pay less for more credits as a full-time student.

Prices do vary, but it’s worth looking into and determining whether you’re saving money on your degree in the long run by going full time.

You can immerse yourself entirely in the experience. People who attend graduate school part time are juggling a lot of responsibilities — and usually a full-time job. So, when you enroll in classes full time, you’re able to really focus on the program and give it your complete, undivided attention.

You won’t have to squeeze in coursework during your workday or social time, and you may have more chances to connect with your teachers and peers or to attend school events and networking opportunities, enhancing your sense of community. You can truly maintain graduate school as your number one priority, meaning you may get more out of the experience overall.

Research and internship opportunities are easier to come by. Since you won’t be juggling your full-time work demands with your master’s program, you may have more time to network with your professors and learn about potential research positions or internships.

If you’re looking to switch career paths entirely with your master’s degree, this would be a major opportunity to consider, as the more experience you have in your desired field, the stronger your resume will be.

The Pros of Attending Grad School Part Time

You can earn money throughout your program. As with the full-time track, there is one very clear benefit of attending graduate school part time: You can hold down a job as you complete your studies. Graduate school is an investment, and that means many students will require a steady source of income during their studies. Not all master’s candidates want to take on student loan debt while advancing their education and careers, and working full time can ease that financial burden.

Plus, plenty of working professionals don’t want to abandon their job to start a master’s program. They’re satisfied with their current position and are possibly angling for a salary bump or a major promotion. With the part-time track, you don’t have to leave your dream company, which is a huge advantage for prospective students.

You can immediately apply what you learn at your job. Most companies are thrilled when employees decide to get their master’s degree, as it usually means they’ll be learning even more skills to succeed at their job. At USC, students and alumni have consistently highlighted the real-world knowledge and application as some of the most rewarding aspects of their programs.

By putting your coursework into action, you’ll be able to see the effects of your learnings immediately, which is a strong motivator for anyone looking to move up in their careers and apply new skill sets to their existing roles.

Many companies offer tuition assistance. Attending a master’s program part time also carries a possible financial benefit: Several companies offer tuition assistance as part of their employee benefits package. While not every job will financially support your decision to further your education, it should absolutely be a consideration to research while deciding between the two program tracks.

You aren’t focused entirely on graduate school. While some people like to be fully invested in one thing at a time, others prefer to be engaged in multiple projects or obligations, diverting their attention to different tasks throughout the day. If you’re not just living and breathing graduate school, you might actually find the experience less stressful and more enjoyable.

Essentially, you have to ask yourself: What’s more likely to cause you burnout — constantly being in graduate school mode, or having a variety of responsibilities to focus on?

The Bottom Line

Clearly, there is no one-size-fits-all path when it comes to selecting your master’s program track. Everyone has their own unique requirements when it comes to balancing school and other obligations, so go through the pros and cons to determine what matters most to you and how it will affect your success.

Do you want to hold down a job while you earn your degree, or do you want to finish the program faster so you can land a new role as quickly as possible? Is your primary concern avoiding burnout, or missing out on networking opportunities? Are you trying to ease your financial concerns, and if so, what’s the best way for you to do that?

Just remember, like all things in life, it’s impossible to have a perfect graduate school experience without a few compromises. You’ll have to make some sacrifices, and that’s OK.

Once you decide which track works best for your career ambitions, you’ll be able to get started on your journey.

Learn more about USC’s online graduate programs today.