Academic Load and Time Status for all Graduate Students

I. Executive Summary

This policy is meant to add clarity to the definitions of both part-time and full-time enrollment.

II. Policy Statement

UNC Charlotte uses a standard Academic Load to determine time status of graduate students for Loan Deferment, Financial Aid, Visa Status, Payroll Tax Withholding, Graduate Student Support Plan Eligibility, and Veteran’s Benefits. This Academic Load is the only resource used to determine a student’s status for these purposes, and the following definitions apply to all graduate students, U.S. and international, participants and non-participants in the Graduate Student Support Plan.

An appropriate course load is dependent upon two factors: (1) the scholastic ability of the student as reflected by their academic history and (2) the time available for study. A course load of 9 credit hours constitutes a normal full semester program for a graduate student in a Fall or Spring semester, while 6 credit hours constitutes a normal full load in the Summer. This is lower than the normal undergraduate load because of the extensive reading, independent thinking, and individual research required of graduate students. Graduate students should not register for more than 12 credit hours during a Fall or Spring semester or 9 credit hours in a Summer term.

Students who hold an eligible graduate assistantship may hold the assistantship with 6 credit hours, unless they participate in the Graduate Assistant Support Plan (GASP) in which case they must be full-time enrolled as defined below. Students enrolled in 6 credit hours, however, are not considered to be enrolled full-time.

International students on F-1 visa/status are required, by immigration regulations, to pursue a full course load during each academic semester, except during official school breaks (e.g., summer vacation and winter holidays) unless a reduced course load is approved in advance by the Designated School Officer (DSO) at the International Student Scholar Office. Failure to enroll for a full course load without prior approval is considered a violation of the F-1 legal status. International students who hold a graduate assistantship must be full-time enrolled as defined below.

Fall and Spring Semesters

Graduate students enrolled in a doctoral program with a dissertation or in a master’s program and pursuing the thesis option.

  • Full-Time students must:
    • Enroll in at least 9 credit hours per semester, or
    • Have completed coursework and the number of thesis/dissertation hours for credit in their graduate degree program, as well as the requisite milestones, and are approved to take GRAD 9800 or GRAD 7800 for 3 credit hours (may be repeatable with prior approval), or
    • Have completed everything for their graduate degree program with the exception of the final defense, and the defense is scheduled within four weeks of the beginning of a semester, and are approved to take GRAD 9999 or GRAD 7999 (one time only).
  • Three Quarter (3/4) Time: 7-8 credit hours
  • Half (1/2) Time: 5-6 credit hours
  • Less than Half (1/2) Time: 1-4 credit hours
  • Maximum Load: 12 credit hours

Graduate students enrolled in a degree program not requiring a thesis or dissertation.

  • Full-Time: 9 or more credit hours
  • Three Quarter (3/4) Time: 7-8 credit hours
  • Half (1/2) Time: 5-6 credit hours
  • Less than Half (1/2) Time: 1-4 credit hours
  • Maximum Load: 12 credit hours

Summer Terms

Graduate students enrolled in any program.

  • Full-Time: 6 or more credit hours
  • Three Quarter (3/4) Time: 4-5 credit hours
  • Half (1/2) Time: 3 credit hours
  • Less than Half (1/2) Time: 1-2 credit hours
  • Maximum Load: 9 credit hours

III. Definitions

  • Course load – Number of credit hours for which a student is enrolled during a semester.
  • Credit hour – An amount of work represented in intended learning outcomes and verified by evidence of student achievement that is an institutionally established equivalency that reasonably approximates not less than:
    • 750 minutes of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of 1500 minutes of out-of-class student work for one semester hour of credit; or
    • At least an equivalent amount of work as required in paragraph (1) of this definition for other academic activities or instructional modes of delivery as established by the institution including distance education, hybrid, and face-to-face instruction; laboratory work; internships; practica; studio work; and other academic work leading to the award of credit hours.
  • Dissertation – The major research project normally required as part of the work for a doctoral degree. Dissertations are expected to make a new and creative contribution to the field of study, or to demonstrate one’s excellence in the field.
  • Doctoral degree – The most advanced degree, awarded following additional study, often after completion of a master’s degree.
  • Graduate assistantship – Employment whereby a graduate student receives financial support for their contributions to the teaching, research, and service missions of the University.
  • Master’s degree – An advanced degree (e.g., Master of Arts [M.A.], Master of Science [M.S.]) awarded by a university after completion of studies beyond a bachelor’s degree.
  • Thesis – A long essay or dissertation involving personal research, written by a candidate for a graduate degree.

IV. Policy and Procedure Contact(s)

V. History

  • Established: TBD
  • Revised: March 12, 2020 [Updated to include Summer terms]
  • Revised: May 24, 2022 [Removed references to research-based capstone]

VI. Related Policies, Procedures and Resources

VII. Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where is this policy referenced?
    The policy is published on the Academic Policies & Procedures webpage of the Provost website and in the Degree Requirements & Academic Policies section of the Graduate Catalog.
  • Which students are covered under this policy?
    This policy applies to all graduate students at UNC Charlotte.
  • What is the difference between full-time and part-time?
    In the Fall and Spring semesters, graduate students are defined as full-time at 9 credit hours, at half-time at 5-6 credit hours, and less than half-time 1-4 credit hours. In the Summer term, graduate students are defined as full time at 6 credit hours, at half-time at 3 credit hours, and less than half-time 1-2 credit hours.