Course credit

Course credit

A course credit (often credit hour, or just credit or "unit") is a unit that gives weighting to the value, level or time requirements of an academic course taken at a school or other educational institution.


United States

In the United States, a student in a high school or university earns credits for the successful completion of each course for each academic term. The state or the institution generally sets a minimum number of credits required to graduate. Various systems of credits exist: one per course, one per hour/week in class, one per hour/week devoted to the course (including homework), etc.

In high schools, where all courses are usually the same number of hours, often meeting every day, students often get a half credit per course per semester. This is formally known as a Carnegie Unit. After a typical four-year run, the student needs 21 to 24 credits to graduate (an average of 5 1/4 to 6 courses per quarter). Some U.S. states have only three years, with 16 to 18 credits required.

In college, students typically receive credit based on the number of "lecture hours" per week in class, for one term; formally, Student Hours. Students are generally expected to spend another two to three hours outside class studying and doing homework for every hour spent in class. Credit for laboratory courses is usually less than for lecture - typically one credit for every two to three hours spent in lab. This is usually based on the amount of instruction necessary prior to lab.

Because different academic terms have a different number of weeks, this makes transfer credits more difficult. This is also a problem at schools which the board of regents has forced from quarters to semesters, such as the University System of Georgia and others. If a year of physics (for example) is required at two schools, and a student with one semester of it transfers to a quarter-based school, he will repeat the last five weeks of the Physics I semester during the first five weeks of the Physics II quarter. In both secondary and post-secondary schools, an "hour" is usually considered to be 50 minutes rather than 60, with the other 10 minutes being considered a break. (However, grade-school students often have less than 10 minutes between most classes, and more than 10 once in the morning and once in the afternoon.) Colleges may "compress" this time out of the schedule, such that a single three-hour class would run for 2½ hours.

To figure a grade-point average (GPA), the grade received in each course is subject to weighting, by multiplying it by the number of credit hours. Thus, a "B" (three grade points) in a four-credit class yields 12 "quality points". It is these which are added together, then divided by the total number of credits a student has taken, to get the GPA. Transfer credits may not be counted in the GPA.

Some courses may require a grade higher than that which is considered passing. In this case, a grade of "D" will still add to the total number of credits earned (unlike an "F"), but the course will not be counted toward graduation requirements until it is retaken and completed with at least a "C".

Credit by examination is a way of receiving course credit without taking the course. This grade often shows as a "K" on a transcript, however it carries no credit hours, and therefore has no effect on the GPA. This also means that a student often must take other classes instead, to meet minimum hour requirements. (This still benefits the student, because he or she can learn something new and useful, instead of repeating what is already known.)

Various types of student aid require students to take and complete a minimum number of course credits each term. Schools often require a minimum number or percentage of credits be taken at the school to qualify for a diploma from that school—this is known as a residency requirement.

Many schools set a flat rate for full-time students, such that a student taking over 12 credit hours will pay the same amount as a student taking exactly 12. A part-time student is usually one taking less than 12 hours, and he or she pays per credit hour, on top of matriculation and student fees which are fixed.


In Europe a common credit system has been introduced. The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is in some European countries used as the principal credit and grading system in universities, while other countries use the ECTS as a secondary credit system for exchange students. In ECTS, a full study-year normally consists of 60 credits. ECTS grades are given in the A-E range, where F is failing. Schools are also allowed to use a pass/fail evaluation in the ECTS system.

Similar systems are widely used elsewhere. Often the word "unit" is used for the same concept.

Latin America

In Uruguay's University of the Republic, a credit stands for 15 hours of work, including classes, personaly studiying and task activities. Since semesters last 15 weeks, a credit corresponds to one hour of work a week.

See also

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