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Part-time students: 10 things you need to know

Does the idea of becoming a part-time student appeal? Part-time student numbers have taken a hit recently, but the options available are increasingly flexible. We explain more...

According to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce), undergraduates taking up part-time degree courses in England have fallen by 40% since 2010 but getting a degree doesn't have to equal three, four or more years in full-time student mode.

Part-time, flexible options are increasingly on offer from universities and colleges to enable you to embed your degree studies into the rest of your life. We've got the key questions covered below.

You can now search for part-time courses right here on The Uni Guide we've got all the Ucas-listed undergraduate options.

Part-time course checklist

1. Do all universities offer part-time courses?

No. The number is growing but choice is limited, especially if you have no leeway on location. The exception is Birkbeck, University of London, which has always specifically recruited part-timers.

2. Do you apply through Ucas?

Sometimes, but not always. Ucas does list some part-time courses - you can also search for these by filtering courses by the 'part-time' option on The Uni Guide but many other part-time courses are advertised and recruited by universities themselves. It's a good idea to check direct.

No Ucas doesn’t mean no worries. Don’t leave it too late, ideally applying six to nine months ahead. You will still have to complete an application form and perhaps go to a university interview

3. Will I need A-levels or other qualifications?

Maybe - but there tends to be greater flexibility here, too. Many unis will consider 'non traditional' students for part-time courses, and they will give you brownie points for relevant education, training and experience, rather than traditional entry qualifications. This is especially true of mature students.

But however amenable the uni, it will still want reassurance that you’re likely to complete the course. And for certain subjects they ask for particular A-levels, Highers or Ucas scores.

4. How much longer does a part-time degree take?

It depends on how much time you have to devote to the course and how it's structured. Think typically five years, but possibly as long as 10 years, depending on time, motivation and personal circumstances.

Some courses let you vary the number of modules or credits taken each year or even have a beak from studying. Others have a more rigid schedule, following the same timetable as full-time students.

5. Can I choose my hours to suit myself?

Maybe but it's very much dependent on the course and the university. In many cases you’ll have to attend on pre-set times and days and work your other commitments around this. Distance learning might be a better bet if you are keen to learn, but time poor.

6. Will all my classmates be part-timers too?

Maybe check the course description to see what type of course it is. Some are dedicated part-time courses, with no full-timers allowed. Elsewhere, you might be working with different groups of both part-time and full-time learners.

When you're looking at a course on The Uni Guide, we list out the percentage split of full-time / part-time students taking specific subjects at that university, to give you an idea of the current student mix.

7. Are most part-time students older?

Yes – as a general rule of thumb. If you’re still in your teens, you might find yourself in the minority. But think: you could learn just as much from those who already have some life and work experience as from the course itself. 

When you're course-hunting on The Uni Guide, look for the breakdown of young / mature (over 21) students currently taking that subject.

8. Will you be based at the university?

Plenty of part-time courses are run on main university campuses, but some might be delivered through partner colleges. You can find out more about the differences between studying at a college and a university.

9. Do employers prefer full- time degrees?

No. Actually, they might see the fact that you have studied part-time juggling it with work and other commitments as a value-added factor. Recruiters are just more used to seeing graduates who’ve taken a three or four year full-time degree. It’s your role to explain why you don’t conform to this stereotype and to market the advantages it’s given you.

10. Is part-time study an easy option?

Definitely not! Keywords here are 'time management', 'motivation', 'determination'. You’re going to be juggling high-level study with other commitments – work, possibly volunteering, perhaps raising a family or undertaking other care responsibilities – and even the most flexible course will still have deadlines to hit and grades to meet.

The part-time student view

As I work full-time, a part-time course gave me the flexibility I needed to participate. I have the option of doing more classes in a shorter time or taking fewer modules over a longer period. The time of the lessons and the location suited me perfectly. I've also found the deadlines given have been realistic and manageable - the teachers seem to have a good understanding of the difficulties of people’s other commitments. Part-time Student Lisa | Birkbeck University Of London



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