What Is a Full-Time Student for Tax Purposes?

Full-Time Students for Tax Purposes Explained in Less Than 4 Minutes

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A full-time student is a designation used for tax purposes, often in the context of affecting a parent’s tax filing and tax benefits. A full-time student is one who meets their school’s full-time attendance requirements; schools may differ in terms of how many hours or courses are mandated to qualify as full-time status, according to the IRS. The IRS also says that students need to meet this full-time designation for at least part of the month for five months in a calendar year, but the months do not have to be consecutive.

If you have a student in your family, or if you are a student, status as full-time or part-time can have significant effects on your taxes in a few different ways.

Definition and Examples of a Full-Time Student for Tax Purposes

For tax purposes, a full-time student is someone who attends school, ranging from elementary school to college, among other types of educational institutions. To qualify as full-time based on the IRS definition, that person needs to meet their school’s full-time requirements, which could be a certain number of courses or hours. They also need to attend school under these full-time requirements for at least part of the month for five months within a calendar year, although these do not have to be consecutive months.

The IRS recognizes a student’s full-time status based on that school’s own full-time attendance requirements. For example, an undergraduate student at Georgetown University is considered to be full-time if they are registered for at least 12 credits during the fall or spring term, but they only have to be registered for six credits during the summer term to count as full-time.

More specifically, a full-time student must attend “at a school that has a regular teaching staff, course of study, and a regularly enrolled student body at the school,” per the IRS. Or they could attend on-farm training courses given by a school that meets the aforementioned requirements or given via a state, county, or local government, the IRS adds.

Additional Requirements for Schools

In terms of what counts as a school, the IRS defines that as a wide range of institutions, including secondary schools, colleges, trade schools and more. “However, an on-the-job training course, correspondence school, or school offering courses only through the Internet doesn’t count as a school,” the IRS states.

One other nuance applies to vocational high-school students, where those who work co-op jobs could count as full-time students if that work is part of the school’s “regular course of classroom and practical training,” the IRS states.

How Being a Full-Time Student for Tax Purposes Works

When someone qualifies as a full-time student, that can affect their parent’s or guardian’s taxes. For example, someone who qualifies as a full-time student and is under the age of 24 as of the end of 2021 could potentially include their income on their parent’s tax return rather than having to file on their own.

Being a full-time student for tax purposes can also affect situations like when a parent wants to file under “head of household” status. Even if someone is an adult in the sense that they’re at least 18, they could still count as what’s known as a “qualifying child” for tax purposes if they’re a full-time student under the age of 24. Having a qualifying child could potentially enable the parent to file as the head of household.

Remember, to meet the IRS requirements, the full-time student has to attend school for some part of the month for at least five months within the calendar year for which their status applies.

To qualify as full-time, the student does not necessarily have to enroll in consecutive months, which leaves room for those who are enrolled in spring and fall semesters with a break between, for example.

From there, someone who qualifies as a full-time student for tax purposes can follow different paths depending on their specific situation and that of their family. In some cases, a parent might be eligible for certain tax benefits based on having their child be a full-time student, which could make that student a qualifying child.

Key Takeaways

  • A full-time student for tax purposes is someone who meets the full-time requirements of their school for at least part of the month for five months, which do not have to be consecutive.
  • Full-time students might not have to file their own taxes if their income can be included with a parent’s filing.
  • Parents of full-time students might be eligible for certain tax filing statuses or other benefits based on a child’s designation as a full-time student.

Article Sources

  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 929: Tax Rules for Children and Dependents (2021)." Page 23.

  2. Georgetown University. "2021-2022 Undergraduate Bulletin: Matriculation."

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 17: Tax Guide for Individuals (2021)." Page 29.

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 17: Tax Guide for Individuals (2021)." Page 8.

  5. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 17: Tax Guide for Individuals (2021)." Page 27.