What are Credit Hours in College?

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When students attend college or university, they receive credit hours for the courses they complete successfully. Students who are unfamiliar with credit hours can learn more about these units below, including information about different credit hour systems as well as how credit hours relate to obtaining a degree.

What is a Credit Hour?

A credit hour is a way of measuring how much credit a student receives for attending a course which corresponds to the hours per week spent in that course. Unlike many traditional high school courses that require students to attend class every day, college courses may only meet two or three times per week. Every hour that a student spends in the class typically corresponds to a credit hour. For example, if a student enrolls in a class that meets for one hour on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, that course would be worth three credit hours, which is common of many college courses.

Differences Between the Semester, Trimester, and Quarter Systems

Many colleges and universities use the semester system, while others may use the trimester or quarter systems. This determines what type of credits students will receive and how much they are worth, as different types of hours must be converted in order to be comparable to one another. Schools that operate using a semester system generally have a fall and spring semester, both of which are around 15 to 16 weeks in length. For each semester, students who wish to attend 'full time' are often required to enroll in a certain number of credit hours, such as 12 or 15, which corresponds to four or five courses. By the end of the school year, a student would have earned around 30 total credit hours.

In a school that uses the quarter system, the school year is split into three quarters - fall, winter, and spring - that are shorter in length than the full semester, around 10 weeks. Students may attend courses every day for one hour, earning five credits per course and enrolling in three courses at a time. If a student enrolls in 15 hours per quarter, they would earn 45 credits by the end of the school year, though they would have spent approximately the same amount of time in the classroom as a student enrolled in a school using the semester system. In order to make the credits comparable, which may be necessary if a student transfers from a school using the quarter system to one that uses the semester system, quarter hours can generally be divided by 1.5 in order to obtain the semester-hour equivalent.

While not as common, students may also find that some schools use the trimester system, in which case the school year is split into three semesters of around 12 or 13 weeks. Students who earn credit in the trimester system will need to research how these credits are comparable to quarter credit hours or semester credit hours, as schools may have differing policies regarding how these credits transfer.

Importance of Credit Hours for Degree Conferral

Beyond acting as a way to assign value to the time a student spends in class, credit hours also serve a very important purpose in relation to how a student can track their progress towards earning a degree. In order to earn a bachelor's degree from a college or university, students typically need to earn a minimum number of credit hours. For example, while every school may have slightly different requirements, schools that use the semester system generally require that students earn at least 120 credits while schools that use the quarter system will require the completion of 180 credit hours.

Earning College Credit with Study.com

Students have opportunities to earn credit hours even if they aren't enrolled in a college or university through the hundreds of courses offered online by Study.com. These courses are structured like three-hour courses in a semester system, meaning that students can earn three credit hours after completing the course. After earning credits through Study.com, students can transfer them to many different colleges or universities. Some courses that offer the option of earning credits include:

How Do College Board AP Credits Work?

Students have the opportunity to earn college credit or placement opportunities in college by taking Advanced Placement, or AP tests, administered each year by the College Board.

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