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Your Guide to Understanding Academic Credit

What is academic credit?

When you enroll in a college or university, you’ll likely be assigned a GPA (grade point average). This is the total number of academic credits you’ve earned across all courses and grades. Academic credit is awarded to students who successfully complete a course. A unit of measurement, it can be used to gauge student progress toward completing their degree program or certificate requirements. Credit hours are calculated by multiplying the number of credits per course times the number of hours spent in class per week.

How does academic credit work?

A credit hour is a unit of measurement used to determine how much time students spend on their coursework. Students can earn credits by taking classes and earning grades, so the number of hours they spend in class and the level of their performance will affect how many hours (and thus, credits) they receive. Students usually take one class at a time, and each class is worth a set number of semester hours or quarter hours (depending on whether it’s offered during fall or spring semesters). A full-time student could take 15-18 credits per semester; an average student might take 12-13 credits per semester; and part-time students typically take 6-7 credits per semester. The exact amount varies by institution—for example, some schools offer only 10-12 or 8-10 contact hours for each credit hour taught by faculty members—but generally speaking:
  • The average undergraduate class meets once per week for 50 minutes (or 60 minutes if you’re going at full speed).

When you should consider academic credit

When you should consider academic credit:
  • You have time to invest in the courses.
  • You need the courses for your program or job.
  • You want to learn something new.
  • You have financial aid covering the cost of the credits, if applicable.

What do credits look like in different situations?

In the academic world, it is common to use credits to measure student progress toward a degree. This can be broken into two kinds of credit: course-based and residency-based. Course-based credits measure progress based on what you have learned in class, whereas residency-based credits are earned by attending classes for a certain amount of time (for example, eight hours per week). You may also notice that some schools or programs use a number of different types or scales of credit; this is because they want to be able to compare their grading system with other educational institutions’ systems. For instance, if your school uses a 15% scale and another school uses an 85% scale for the same type of work (like an essay), then both schools would need to adjust their grades accordingly so that they would fit together in one big scale—say 80%.

When you should avoid academic credit

  • Academic credit is not for everyone. You should avoid taking on academic credit if you are not ready to take on the responsibility of a class, have a heavy workload and credit will be too much, are not confident in your ability to succeed, or cannot commit to the work necessary.
  • Academic credit also comes with an added cost: tuition fees, textbooks and other school expenses that may not be covered by financial aid or scholarships. Paying these expenses back will require more time and effort later on down the road when it comes time for graduation from college–so consider this before signing up!

Academic credit is a great way to move your education forward when it works with your goals and situation.

Academic credit is a great way to move your education forward when it works with your goals and situation. If you need to get a degree as quickly as possible, then credit may be the best option for you. If you have a lot of transfer credits, or if there are other circumstances that make earning academic credit easier, then it’s likely that credits will be a good choice for you. If you have time on your hands—or if money isn’t an issue—then earning academic credit might work well for you. Just make sure that whatever option works out best for you is also something that aligns with what matters most: getting the education and training necessary to advance in your field!


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