college credit hours explained in detail

If you are fresh out of high school and all set to get your first degree, then you’ve probably heard the term “credit hours” being thrown around in college.

Trying to figure it all out by yourself can seem overwhelming, so we’re here to help! Here’s what we aim to cover, to make the concept of credit hours seem less daunting:

  • What are credit hours?
  • How are credit hours really calculated?
  • How are they different from credits?
  • How many credit hours do I need to graduate?

Let’s help you figure this out!

What are credit hours?

Simply put, credit hours refer to the total number of hours you spend in your college classroom (whether on-campus or virtual) per week. Think of credit hours as a unit of measurement to measure the amount of time you require to collectively spend both, in class and on additional coursework or study (the latter may often be referred to as “preparation hours”).

You may also come across the term “contact hours” – this just refers to the number of hours you spend in contact with staff associated with your course/degree at your university.

How are credit hours really calculated?

While this may differ based on the university and course you opt for, usually, the rule of thumb is:

1 credit hour = 1 contact hour + 2 preparation hours (per week, for a 14-week course).

Credit hours are calculated for each semester, which usually lasts for 14 – 16 weeks. In the general sense (for a 14-week course), 1 class/subject = approximately 3 credit hours.

This means you’d need to devote 3 contact hours along with 6 prep hours per week throughout each semester to earn the 3 credits.

However, this is only with regard to general classroom credit hours. Credit hours for lab work, volunteering, internships, fieldwork, and some specific programs are calculated differently, based on the college and course.

How are credit hours different from credits?

You’ve probably had this question ever since you heard about credit hours. Truth is, there is no standard answer to this question.

There are a lot of programs that award 1 credit per completed credit hour, but not all colleges follow this pattern. While they may be used synonymously, it is best to learn how your college defines and calculates credits for the program you’ve enrolled in.

How many credit hours do I need to graduate from my course?

The total number of credit hours that you’ll need to graduate will ultimately depend on the university and course that you opt for. Typically, an associate degree needs approximately 60 credits, a bachelor’s degree will require around 120 credits, and a master’s degree could require between 30 to 60 credits.

This means that for a Bachelor’s which usually requires 120 credits across 4 years, you need to complete 30 credits each year, i.e. 15 credits per semester, which generally boils down to around 5 classes/subjects every semester.

In general, the credit requirements for degree programs of a particular university/school are determined by that university’s accreditation entity. Schools sometimes may decide to alter credit requirements for particular programs.

Before you enroll in any course, it is good practice to check the credit hour requirements of that particular course so that you know what to expect. It is best to figure out how your college calculates credit hours right from your freshman year.

Credit hours are also often transferable!

For instance, if you had opted for an Associate degree, and wish to transfer to a 3-4 year Bachelor’s Program, you could potentially transfer the credits earned from your associate’s degree to your bachelor’s degree course.

This can save you a significant amount of resources, time, and money. To find out how many credit hours your Associate, Bachelor’s, or Master’s Degree requires, and to figure out how to transfer your credits, you can talk to the academic counselor of your institution/course.

And well, that’s about all you need to really understand about credit hours.