What You Need to Know about Academic Credit Systems in the U.S. Where to study

If you’re preparing to become an international student and pursue a degree in America, it’s important you figure out how credits are awarded at American universities as well as how European credits are converted to university standards in the States.

So, here are the basic things you should learn about credits and grading system used in American colleges and universities.

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Why should I care about American academic credits?

  • USA credits are different in comparison to credit systems used in Europe, or other parts of the world;
  • Credits determine if you need to take a preparation programme to meet your Bachelor's or Master's degree;
  • Credits influence your GPA;
  • Especially in the U.S., the number of academic credits a programme has may determine tuition fees for the degree.

6 top answers about academic credits in the U.S.

1. What is a contact hour?

A contact hour includes any lecture or lab time when the professor is teaching the student, and they usually equal 50 minutes in real time.

2. What's the difference between contact hours and credit hours?

In universities and colleges in the United States, students usually receive credit hours based on the number of "contact hours" they spend studying per week in class.

Compare 25,345 Master programmes in the U.S.

3. What is a semester credit hour?

A semester credit hour (SCH) is the amount of credit a student earns for successful completion of one contact hour and two preparation hours per week for a semester. One semester credit hour equals 15-16 contact hours per semester, regardless of the duration of the course.

Basically, for a one semester credit hour course, you should invest one contact hour in class and two additional preparation hours each week that take place out-of-class. These can represent homework, fieldwork or practical courses.

4. How many credits does a course have?

Most colleges and universities award 3 Semester Credit Hours (SCH) (45-48 contact hours) for the successful completion of a study course. The number of credits for lectures, independent project work, laboratory time and internships vary depending on specific institution requirements.

5. What is the relationship between degree courses and credit hours?

A course is measured in the number of credit hours needed to complete it. For an undergraduate degree, basic courses may have 1 credit or 2 credits. In a Master’s degree, including for MBAs, most courses are either 3 or 4 credits.

A standard full-time study load is usually 30 credit hours per year. Typically, in order to graduate with a degree, universities expect students to complete:

  • 120-130 credit hours for a Bachelor’s degree
  • 30-64 credit hours for a Master's degree

Some universities use Semester Credit Hours to set tuition fees and scholarships for prospective students. During a semester, an international student has to take between 9 and 12 credit hours, depending on each college or university.

6. What are Quarter Credits?

Some universities in the United States use Quarter Calendar Credit Hours, where, the academic year is divided into three terms. In this case, a Bachelor’s degree usually requires a minimum of 180 quarter hours to complete instead of 120.

Semester credit hours and GPA

In the U.S., credits are also used to determine a student’s Grade Point Average (GPA) for a semester or academic year. In some cases, GPA scores are required for admission to advanced study programmes in the U.S. (most typically for MBA programmes). GPA scores range from 0.0 to 4.0. A score of 4.0 is the equivalent of an A average, while 0.0 represents an F score. Each American Bachelor’s and Master’s programme specifies their own minimum GPA requirement for graduation.

The semester GPA of a student is calculated based on the final marks received for each course and the credit hours awarded by the programme for that semester. The final overall GPA is the average of all courses completed during the years of study.

Find out why the GPA is so important for your studies abroad.

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How to convert American credits to European credits

ECTS is the most commonly used credit system in Europe. The major difference between the European Credit System ECTS and the U.S. College Credit System is that the first is based on student workload and the second on contact hours.

The student workload represents the number of hours needed to follow and prepare for a class, taking examinations, and preparing for these examinations.

The ECTS is oriented towards the time required for a student to meet the intended study outcomes, while the U.S. system is more oriented towards the time a faculty member needs to teach.

Here’s a comparison between the grading system in the Netherlands and the one used in the U.S.

Example of converting ECTS to Semester Credit Hours

For a college or university in the U.S.:

1.67 ECTS = 1.00 US College Credit Hour

Conversion standards may vary between higher education institutions in the U.S.

Here’s an online calculator that can help you convert ECTS into GPA.

View and compare 25,345 Master programmes in the U.S.

Preparation courses offer an easier path to an American university

In some cases, due to the entry requirements of some universities from the U.S., a credit transfer may not be possible, so you won’t be eligible for admission. You might also be in the situation where you don’t meet the required level of English proficiency or haven’t taken the official TOEFL exam.

Advanced English knowledge is a must if you want to be a good candidate for an American university. So you still have a chance if you apply to a pathway programme or preparation course. Either focused on English language or a certain field of study, pathway programmes will help you acquire the necessary skills and education you need to get admitted to your chosen university in the USA.

Get more details about preparation courses and find the right one for you.

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