Part-time university courses: the essential guide

Thinking of studying for a degree part-time? Find out more about how it works and how much it costs to work out whether it’s the best choice for you.

Should I study part-time?

Part-time study has its advantages, and depending on your circumstances it might be a good choice, but it’s not an easy option. You’ll need to weigh up both sides and think about how you’ll balance study time with your other commitments.

  • You can fit study alongside a job or family commitments, but this won’t be easy – you’ll have a lot of hard work to do and you’ll need to be excellent at managing your time.
  • Part-time courses are more flexible – you can often change how much of your time is spent studying during your course – but the less time you spend studying, the longer it will take you to complete the course.
  • You will normally have access to university facilities like libraries and sports centres, but you won’t get the same social experience you would on a full time course

It’s important to remember that whether you study part-time or full-time doesn’t affect the qualification you get at the end, although some universities may offer different courses for full- and part-time students.

How does it work?

As a part-time student, you won’t have the usual timetable that a full-time student would. There are two main ways you can study:

  • Day/evening study: This means that you study at a particular time of day, for less time than a full-time student would. You could work during the day and then study in the evenings. This is closer to the conventional university experience, and you might have lectures or classes alongside full-time students.
  • Distance learning/online study: This means that, rather than attending lectures, you study at home – either online, with printed course materials, or both. You’ll still have contact with academics at the university, and usually the course will run to a particular schedule so you’ll be able to discuss it with other distance learning students. This is a very flexible way to study, as you set your own timetable from day to day.

Find out more about open and distance learning.

Many courses combine the two, using online study to support in-person classes and lectures.

What does it cost?

From 2012 onwards, part-time students do not have to pay tuition fees up-front as long as their course takes no longer than four times as long as the equivalent full time course. Instead, you will qualify for the same tuition fee loan as full-time students. This covers your fees in full, and only has to be paid back once you have graduated (or have been studying for four years) and you are earning more than £21,000 a year.

As a part-time student, you won’t qualify for the basic loans and grants given to help full-time students with their living costs. However, you will be able to work alongside your studies.

Find out more about student finance for part-time students.

Where can I do it?

Many universities offer part-time courses, so you can look around for one that suits you just like you would for a full-time course. However, if you’re not taking a distance learning course, you may find it more difficult to move away to go to university – you won’t have access to halls, for example.

The Open University is a popular choice for distance learning.