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How to Determine the Perfect Course Load

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think-before-dropping-classesCongratulations! You’ve just been accepted into an online university, and you are now ready to start working toward your degree. By now, you probably have a good idea of what program you would like to enter, and you may have even started picking out classes for your first semester. Before you proceed, though, you may want to spend some time deciding how many classes you should take for the upcoming semester. This is a very important decision, as you should strive to efficiently manage your financials and your time. Let us discuss some tips for determining a perfect course load.

Cost of College

The first factor you should consider is how much money you can allocate to college expenses for the semester. Federal student aid is definitely a viable option for helping to pay for college expenses, but you may not be comfortable with taking out large loans each semester. Think about what is more important to you: finishing your degree as quickly as possible and spending larger amounts over a shorter period of time, or finishing your degree at a slower pace while spending smaller amounts over a longer period of time. If you have most of your income allocated to non-educational expenses, you may want to complete your degree at a slower pace. If you feel that getting your education is the most important part of your life at this time, you may want to start out as a full time student. Essentially, the more money you currently have to allocate to educational expenses, the more courses you can take each semester.

Time Management

You have probably heard the phrase, “Time is money.” In today’s world, that statement is true when it comes to your busy life. You may have a full time job. You may be a full time parent. Dropping everything and diving into a full time course load probably would not be a viable option for those students. College is just as much about learning time management as it is about learning algebra or English. To determine how much time you might have to allocate to your classes per week, write down every instance in which you have some leisure time. If you do not have much leisure time, it would not be beneficial for you to take on a large course load. If you find that you do have a lot of extra time on your hands, maybe it would be a good idea to take on a full time course load.

While all students are different, the following chart (note that all numbers are approximated and relate to undergraduate students) may be a good reference point for determining the perfect course load:


Tuition Expense Hours Spent on Classwork Weekly
Less than half time (1-5 credits) $800-$1600 3-6
Half time (6-8 credits) $1600-$1900 6-12
Three quarter time (9-11 credits) $1900-$2400 12-18
Full time (12+ credits) $2400+ 18+


Remember, there is no set standard for the perfect course load. It is completely up to you as the student to determine how much time and money you are most comfortable with allocating toward your studies. Whether you are taking six credits or 21 credits a semester, you have to make sure that your course load fits into your schedule and your financial situation. Assessing your expenses and leisure time is a great way to start in your determination.

By Ryan Laspina
Compliance and Default Prevent Specialist at American Public University System

Edge relies on the valuable input of many different authors and contributors. Sometimes the final article is a result of a collaboration between various individuals. Rather than credit an individual writer, the "Edge Staff" account was created to distribute credit to all the people who contributed to the article's success.

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