What are Credit Hours & Courses in US Universities ? Full time vs Part time ?

If you are an international student, you may have hard time in the beginning trying to understand what credit hour stands for and what are courses. Everyone around  you would be talking the credit hour lingo and courses….it can be frustrating..I was recently asked by one of our readers about credit hours as well, let me share some of my thoughts on credit hours.

What are credit hours ?

In simplistic terms, credit hour is the basic unit of measurement that count towards award of degree either bachelors or Masters.  Every degree would have its own set of requirements for credit hours…i.e. for instance, to obtain a bachelors degree usually schools may require anywhere from 110 to 140 credits depending on school…similarly for Masters, it may be anywhere from 30 to 39 or more depending on program.

What is the relation between course and credit hour ?

A course is measured in terms of credit hours. Based on the amount of work load and instruction hours, a course is assigned certain number of credits.  Basic courses may be like 1 credit or 2 credits in Undergrad. As you take higher level ones in Undergrad, they may be range 3 to 4 credits. In masters most of the courses are either 3 or 4 credits.

Credit hour work load, instruction time in class ?

This totally depends on school….but in general, each credit hour corresponds to one hour of lecture time in class per week. For instance, if you take a 3 credit class, you would have 3 hours of instruction in class.  Depending on school, a credit hour can have 2 to 4 hours of off class work like labs, home work, project work etc. What it means is, if you take 3 credit class, you may be required to study 6 to 12 hours outside of class to be able to do well in class.

Full time vs. Part time based on credit hours ?

In Masters level, typically, if you take 6 credits or less your status is considered part time. if you take 9 or more credit hours, then it is considered full time. It does not matter how many courses you take, what counts is the number of credits.For instance, you may take one 3 credit course and two 1.5 credit courses,  though you are taking 3 courses, still you are part time because you are taking less credits. In undergrad level, typically taking 12 credits is considered full time. Also, there may be limit on the number of credits you can take in a semester based on the school…

Credit hours are used in GPA calculation as well, check this article How to calculate GPA in US schools . You have to be very careful in choosing your course load at least in the first semester..Read this article  Why NOT to take more than 3 courses in MS first semester

Do you any other thoughts to share on courses and credit hours ?

Image Credit : http://www.flickr.com/photos/earlhamcollege/4388225096/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Reference : College Credit hour info

5 comments… add one

  • vijay Mar 30, 2015 Reply

    what is the meaning of 12 course work … in years ( 1 or 2 years)

  • Ananamo Oct 4, 2013 Reply

    Who wrote this shit? VERY VERY rarely do you ever see a 2 credit course; let alone a 1 credit course! The standard is 3 credits per course at the undergrad level; and sometimes you see 4. Level of difficulty has nothing to do with it! It’s how the college and the course is designed.

    It depends on the individual school to determine what is considered part-time and what is considered full-time. Generally, it is safe to say that if a school operates on semesters (and not quarter system), part-time is 6 to 9 credits, and full-time is 9 to 12 credits (or even as much as 18 credits per semester.

    It is worth mentioning that there are good schools (with proper accreditation) who consider 1 class part-time. Furthermore, some Master’s programs consider 6 credits (2 classes) full time. It is really difficult to work full time job and take 2 classes at the Master’s level (if you want to do well in your studies). In fact, I have seen Master’s level programs require only 1 class to be considered a part-time student.

    Some schools work on a quarter system. There credits will be higher, for example a 4.5 quarter credit course is equivalent to 3 credits on a semester system.

    If we talk about difficulty, we are talking about levels of classes 1000 & 2000 level classes are considered “intro classes”; 3000 level classes are considered upper-division courses. You need a mix of both at the Bachelor’s level. Sometimes 4000 level classes can be taken at the undergrad level as well. Sometimes 4000 level classes can be Master’s level courses too. Typically Master’s level course is considered 5000 or higher.

  • Vicvek Oct 19, 2012 Reply

    Do u mean to say 9 credit hours per week to consider as full time student ???

  • Swetha Jan 9, 2012 Reply

    Does a student on H4 visa should also register for 9 credits inorder to consider as a fulltime student at grad level?

    • Saurabh Jan 11, 2012 Reply

      A person on H-4 can either be enrolled full-time or part-time. For full-time requirements, you should check w/ the school.

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