What Are Academic Credit Systems? Benefits for International Students Start studying abroad

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Once you officially become a student, you enter a whole new world of learning activities, teaching styles, and assessment methods. Academic credits or university credits are also an important part of international education you will need to know more about, as it will help you better understand how your progress is evaluated during your studies or how you can transfer credits to study at a university abroad.

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What is an academic credit system?

An academic credit system is a standard used by universities to measure and assess students’ work and effort during their Bachelor, Master or PhD programme. It's important to understand how credits work and how credits from one academic system are converted to credits from other credit systems (if possible). Sometimes students need to take preparation courses in order to meet starting credit requirements needed for university admission.

The most relevant academic credits for international students are:

For each course you will take during your degree studies, you will earn a number of credits. How? You will be assessed by your professor in terms of the amount of knowledge and skills you will achieve once you complete that course. Common forms of assessment are a combination of:

  • actual attendance
  • tests taken during the course
  • projects/research work
  • oral/written examination

Mainly, each course is worth a certain number of credit points, determined by different criteria including student’s workload, learning outcome and contact hours. Usually, the more work and effort a student is required to put into a course, the more credits that course is worth. The suggested workload is an estimate for an average student.

Most well-known credit systems worldwide

1. Academic credit systems in Australia

Australian universities don’t have a unified credit system. Each university calculates the credits according to workload and number of study hours per each course.

Credit transfer is available for both undergraduate and postgraduate study programmes and it is established and coordinated by the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF).

Read more about academic credit in Australia.

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2. Academic credit systems in the U.S.

In the U.S., students receive semester credit hours, which are based on the number of contact hours accumulated during one semester. Mainly, you would have to take around 5 courses each semester, where each course is worth 3 semester credit hours, the equivalent of 45-48 contact hours. All these would add up to 30 credits per year, the required number to successfully complete a degree in the U.S.

Read more about academic credit in the U.S.

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3. Academic credit system in Europe

Aligned to the Bologna system, universities in the EU and EEA countries use the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) as the main grading system in universities, as well as a way to keep track of credit transfers for students coming from these countries.

In ECTS, a full study year normally consists of 60 credits, so completing a Bachelor’s degree would require earning 180 credits and a Master’s degree would require 120 credits.

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7 benefits academic credit systems offer to international students

You can earn academic credits for any type of study programme (modules, courses, placements, dissertation work, etc.) and they express the work required for successfully completing the programme. Through academic credits, students get a consistent and transparent way of valuing their learning achievements. The awarded credits are recorded in a credit transcript that can lead to a qualification.

Main benefits of academic credit systems:

  1. Credits support your entry to a higher education programme;
  2. They keep track of student progress and determine when he/she has met study requirements;
  3. They estimate the workload of a programme;
  4. You can transfer to another university programme while keeping part or all previously earned credit points;
  5. Use the credit you earned to study abroad – academic credit is used and recognised internationally;
  6. Academic credits act as proof of previous studies when looking for a job;
  7. Some universities use academic study credits to set degree costs;

How is academic credit distributed between courses?

Take the example of the ECTS system used in EU/EEA countries. The required amount of credits during a year is 60 credits, that means 30 credits per semester. Usually, you would have around four mandatory courses during a semester, with each course worth an average of 7.5 credits. However, there may be cases of classes earning you 9 credits, and others 4 or 5, but the semester total always results in 30 credits.

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What is a student’s workload?

Workload refers to the specific amount of time it takes to an average student to reach the desired learning outcome. The workload includes most academic activities such as lectures, seminars, individual study, exams, etc.

What does learning outcome mean?

Learning outcome refers to the level of knowledge students are expected to gain and be able to apply after completing a process of learning. This may also include skills acquired they can apply in future professions.

What is a contact hour?

A contact hour is usually equal to 50 minutes and refers to a lecture or a lab time, so basically a teaching class. This may, however, vary between different credit systems.

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