USA Academic Credit System - All You Need to Know

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Aarushi Jain
Updated on Jul 19, 2022 03:54 PM IST

Credit-based education is popular in the United States, Europe, and several other nations. But what exactly is a credit, and how does the academic credit system in the US work? To learn everything about it, keep reading till the end.

USA Academic Credit System - All You Need to Know

Credit System in the US: Do you want to study in the US? When you first arrive in the country, it can be a bit daunting to understand how the university classes you are taking contribute to your degree. Or, what procedure is in place to determine how many classes you need to complete your degree?

This is what credit hours do, and it is how university students maintain their degree course while studying at a university. If you are a new international student or simply new to the academic credit system in the US, it can be difficult to understand the academic credit system and what is going on in terms of how your coursework relates to your degree.

Here, we have got everything covered for a beginner to understand the academic credit system in the US.

What is an Academic Credit System?

Before digging deep into the academic credit system in the US, let us first try to understand what this academic credit system actually means. A standard used by universities to measure and grade students' work and effort during their Bachelor's, Master's, or PhD programme is known as an academic credit system.

It is critical to understand how credits function and how credit points from one academic system are translated to credits from another (if possible). Students may need to take preparatory courses in order to achieve the starting credit requirements for university admission. The following are the most important academic credits for international students:

  • European credits or the ECTS

  • Semester credit hours (SCH) and quarter credits - American credits

You will receive credits for each course you take during your degree studies. Your professor will evaluate you based on the quantity of knowledge and skills you will get after completing that course. A common type of assessment is a mix of:

  • Attendance in actuality

  • Tests taken throughout the course

  • Projects and research

  • Examination (oral/written)

Generally, each course is worth a particular amount of credit points, which are decided by many variables such as student workload, learning outcomes, and contact hours. The more work and effort a student is expected to put into a course, the more credits that course is worth. The proposed workload is based on an average student's workload.

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Benefits of Academic Credit System to International Students

Academic credits can be earned for any form of the study programme (modules, courses, placements, dissertation work, etc.), and they represent the effort required to successfully complete the programme.

Academic credits provide students with a uniform and clear method of valuing their learning achievements. The credits awarded are recorded in a credit transcript, which can lead to qualifying.

The following are some of the main advantages of the academic credit system for international students:

  • Credits help you get into a higher education programme.

  • They monitor students' progress and assess when they have completed their studies.

  • They estimate a programme's workload.

  • You can transfer to another university programme while retaining some or all of your existing credit points.

  • You can use the credit you have earned to study abroad - academic credit is accepted and recognized worldwide.

  • When applying for a job, academic credits serve as verification of prior study.

  • Academic study credits are used by some colleges to determine degree prices.

Academic Credit System in the US

Now that you have a good idea of what is academic credit system and its benefits for international students, let us now unveil the academic credit system in the US. The credit system in the US differs from those in Europe or other parts of the world. To complete your programme, you will need a particular amount of academic credits.

Credits determine if you need to attend a preparatory programme to meet the entry requirements for your Bachelor's or Master's degree. Your GPA is something which will be affected by the academic credits in the US universities. The amount of academic credits a programme has, particularly in the US, can also affect tuition expenses for the degree.

Students in the US obtain semester credit hours depending on the number of contact hours accumulated during a semester. Generally, you would be required to take 5 courses per semester, each for 3 semester credit hours, or 45-48 contact hours. All of this would add up to 30 credits every year, the number required to properly complete a degree in the United States.

Credit Hours for a US Bachelors or Masters Degree

The number of credit hours required to complete a course is measured. Basic courses may be for 1 or 2 credits toward an undergraduate degree. Most courses in a Master's degree, including MBAs, are 3 or 4 credits. A typical full-time study load is 30 credit hours per year. Universities typically following the academic credit system in the US demand students to complete the following in order to graduate with a degree:

Semester Credit Hours are used by some colleges to determine tuition rates and subsidies for prospective students. A foreign student must take between 9 and 12 credit hours per semester, depending on the college or university following the academic credit system in the US.

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How Do Academic Credit Hours Influence GPA?

Credits are also used in the US to calculate a student's Grade Point Average (GPA) for a semester or academic year. GPAs are sometimes necessary for entrance to advanced study programmes (most typically for MBA programmes) in the United States.

GPA ranges from 0.0 to 4.0. A score of 4.0 reflects an A average, while a score of 0.0 denotes an F. Each Bachelor's and Master's programme in the United States has its own minimum GPA requirement for graduation.

A student's semester GPA is determined using the final grades for each course and the credit hours provided by the programme for that semester. The cumulative GPA is the average of all courses taken during the years of study.

Your GPA is determined by your exam scores and credit hours. A typical conversion chart looks like this:

Number Grade Conversion

Numeric Score

Standard Grade as per the Academic Credit System in the US

Grade Point Average as per the Academic Credit System in the US

90100

A

4.0

8089

B

3.0

7079

C

2.0

6069

D

1.0

Less than 60

F

0.0

Let us understand this conversion with the help of an example. As you can see in the table given above, each grade is assigned a numerical value. So, for an 'A,' you may get four points. You may gain 3 points for a 'B' grade, and so on. Let us assume you take a three-credit English class and receive an 'A.' So, you now have 3 credit units and 4 points, for a total of 12 (3*4) grade points for that paper. You now gain additional 12-grade points if you take another 3-credit class and achieve an 'A.' As a result, you have 24-grade points and 6 credit units. Simply divide your total grade points by your credit units to calculate your GPA.

How to Convert US Credits to European Credits?

ECTS is Europe's most widely utilised credit system. The primary distinction between the European Credit System, ECTS and the Academic Credit System in the US is that the former is based on student workload and the latter on contact hours.

The student workload is the number of hours required to follow and prepare for a class, take exams, and prepare for these exams. The ECTS system is directed toward the time required for a student to meet the planned study outcomes, whereas, the US system is focused on the time required for a faculty member to teach. Here's a comparison between the Dutch grading system and the one used in the United States.

For a university or institution in the United States:

1.00 US College Credit Hour = 1.67 ECTS

Note: Conversion criteria may differ among higher education universities in the United States.

Students at several colleges can earn credits by completing independent study assignments that do not need class attendance. In many circumstances, students can also earn credits by performing well on standardized advanced placement exams. Some institutions may give older students a restricted number of credits based on their life experience.

The American college credit system has a tendency to compartmentalize the process. American students take their classes one at a time and rarely have to worry about the types of standardized qualifying examinations that students in many other countries take to acquire their degrees.

Credits across colleges may or may not be transferable, depending on the criteria of the universities concerned.

Want any further information about studying in the US? Get in touch with our highly expert counsellors at abroad@collegedekho.com and kickstart your study abroad journey with their guidance.

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FAQs

What is credit as per the academic credit system in the US?

When you apply to a university in the US, you select your course and some required general education papers. Credit hours are earned for each paper based on the number of classroom hours spent on that subject or paper. The number of credits as per the academic credit system in the US granted to each course is determined by the professor or the university based on the workload of the course. Some request 110, while others request 140. The number varies by university.

What is a credit hour in the US?

A credit hour in the US is a unit of measurement that represents how much work you are doing towards your Bachelor's or Master’s degree throughout a semester. Students are given credit for coursework based on the Carnegie unit. A semester unit of credit is defined as a minimum of three hours of labour each week for a semester.

What is the relationship between the amount of time spent in class and the credit hour in the US?

The relationship between the amount of time spent in class and the credit hour in the US is based on the idea that every class you complete in a semester corresponds to the number of credit hours that will be applied to your degree. A course is often measured in terms of credit hours based on the amount of time and effort required in that class. Courses range from one credit hour to three, four, or even five credit hours. Again, this is depended on the school you are attending and how credit hours are assigned.

How does the credit system in the US determines part-time and full-time student status?

The credit system in the US determines part-time and full-time student status based on the number of credit hours you must finish based on the trajectory for your "anticipated" degree completion date. For example, a 120-credit-hour degree would define full-time students to be those who take more than 9-12 credits every semester.

How many credits do I need as per the academic credit system in the US to graduate college or graduate school?

The number of credits required as per the academic credit system in the US to graduate college or graduate school is determined by the overall duration of the programme. Each semester gives a particular number of credits, therefore, multiply the number of semesters you need to study by the credits each semester to get the total number of credits required. 

How do I get the academic credits in order to graduate from a US university?

To get the academic credits in order to graduate from a US university, all you have to do is the study and pass your classes. Each class is worth a certain number of credits. If you pass all of your classes throughout the semester, you will receive all of your credits. If you take optional classes in addition to normal classes during a semester, make sure that the electives you choose to total the number of credits you need in addition to the necessary subjects.

What is a contact hour in the US?

A contact hour is not the same as a credit hour. A contact hour is any lecture or lab time during which the professor instructs the student. Usually, 1 contact hour equals 50 minutes in real-time. Depending on the type of course (seminar or lecture), every hour of contact time would lead to two hours of unscheduled or outside-of-class preparation work.

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

Students in the United States typically obtain credit hours based on the number of "contact hours" they spend studying in class per week. A credit hour is the most common unit of measurement for the workload at a college or university. Credit hours, in other words, are made up of contact hours.

How many credit hours does a course/class have?

For successfully completing a study class in the US, most colleges and universities grant 3 Semester Credit Hours (SCH) (45-48 contact hours) for each class or course. The number of credits awarded for lectures, independent project work, laboratory time, and internships varies based on the institution.

What are Quarter Credits in the US?

Quarter Calendar Credit Hours are used by some universities in the United States, where the academic year is divided into three terms. In this scenario, a Bachelor's degree typically requires 180 quarter hours to complete rather than 120. Also, quarter credit hours usually represent less work compared to semester hours because of the shorter terms.

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