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IRS.gov Website
Publication 970
taxmap/pubs/p970-005.htm#en_us_publink1000204370

Who Is an Eligible Student?(p16)

rule
To claim the American opportunity credit, the student for whom you pay qualified education expenses must be an eligible student. This is a student who meets all of the following requirements. These requirements are also shown in Figure 2-2.
taxmap/pubs/p970-005.htm#en_us_publink1000204371

Completion of first 4 years.(p17)

rule
A student has completed the first 4 years of postsecondary education if the institution at which the student is enrolled awards the student 4 years of academic credit at that institution for coursework completed by the student before 2016. This student generally wouldn't be an eligible student for purposes of the American opportunity credit.
taxmap/pubs/p970-005.htm#en_us_publink1000204372
Exception.(p17)
Any academic credit awarded solely on the basis of the student's performance on proficiency examinations is disregarded in determining whether the student has completed 4 years of postsecondary education.
taxmap/pubs/p970-005.htm#en_us_publink1000204373

Enrolled at least half-time.(p17)

rule
A student was enrolled at least half-time if the student was taking at least half the normal full-time work load for his or her course of study.
The standard for what is half of the normal full-time work load is determined by each eligible educational institution. However, the standard may not be lower than any of those established by the U.S. Department of Education under the Higher Education Act of 1965.
taxmap/pubs/p970-005.htm#en_us_publink1000204374

taxmap/pubs/p970-005.htm#en_us_publink1000236164
taxmap/pubs/p970-005.htm#en_us_publink1000204376

Example 1.(p18)

Mack graduated from high school in June 2015. In September, he enrolled in an undergraduate degree program at College U, and attended full-time for both the 2015 fall and 2016 spring semesters. For the 2016 fall semester, Mack was enrolled less than half-time. Because Mack was enrolled in an undergraduate degree program on at least a half-time basis for at least one academic period that began during 2015 and at least one academic period that began during 2016, he is an eligible student for tax years 2015 and 2016 (including the 2016 fall semester when he enrolled at College U on less than a half-time basis).
taxmap/pubs/p970-005.htm#en_us_publink1000204377

Example 2.(p18)

After taking classes at College V on a part-time basis for a few years, Shelly became a full-time student for the 2016 spring semester. College V classified Shelly as a second-semester senior (fourth year) for the 2016 spring semester and as a first-semester graduate student (fifth year) for the 2016 fall semester. Because College V didn't classify Shelly as having completed the first 4 years of postsecondary education as of the beginning of 2016, Shelly is an eligible student for tax year 2016. Therefore, the qualified education expenses paid for the 2016 spring semester and the 2016 fall semester are taken into account in figuring the American opportunity credit for 2016.
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Example 3.(p18)

During the 2016 fall semester, Larry was a high school student who took classes on a half-time basis at College X. Larry wasn't enrolled as part of a degree program at College X because College X only admits students to a degree program if they have a high school diploma or equivalent. Because Larry wasn't enrolled in a degree program at College X during 2016, Larry wasn't an eligible student for tax year 2016.
taxmap/pubs/p970-005.htm#en_us_publink1000204379

Example 4.(p18)

The facts are the same as in Example 3. During the 2016 spring semester, Larry again attended College X but not as part of a degree program. Larry graduated from high school in June 2016. For the 2016 fall semester, Larry enrolled as a full-time student in College X as part of a degree program, and College X awarded Larry credit for his prior coursework at College X. Because Larry was enrolled in a degree program at College X for the 2016 fall term on at least a half-time basis, Larry is an eligible student for all of tax year 2016. Therefore, the qualified education expenses paid for classes taken at College X during both the 2016 spring semester (during which Larry wasn't enrolled in a degree program) and the 2016 fall semester are taken into account in figuring any American opportunity credit.
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Example 5.(p18)

Dee graduated from high school in June 2015. In January 2016, Dee enrolled in a 1-year postsecondary certificate program on a full-time basis to obtain a certificate as a travel agent. Dee completed the program in December 2016, and was awarded a certificate. In January 2017, she enrolled in a 1-year postsecondary certificate program on a full-time basis to obtain a certificate as a computer programmer. Dee is an eligible student for both tax years 2016 and 2017 because she meets the degree requirement, the work load requirement, and the year of study requirement for those years.