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

If you are a new international student in US enrolled in undergrad or graduate degree like MS or MBA, you may have hard time in the beginning trying to understand what credit hour stands for and how do they relate to courses in the US schools. Everyone around  you would be talking the credit hour lingo and courses….it can be frustrating, if you are new to this and have not heard about it back in your home country. We will cover all the basics of credit hours, courses, full time vs part time different and F1 students requirements.

First, let’s start with Credit Hours, which are the fundamental blocks that are counted towards your degree requirements.

What are Credit Hours in US Universities?

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 US Universities ( aka US Schools) may require anywhere from 110 to 140 credits depending on University…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 typically measured in terms of number of credit hours. Based on the amount of work load and instruction hours, a course is assigned certain number of credit hours. Usually course lab work or seminars are for 1 credit. Basic courses may be like 2 credit or 3 credits in Undergraduate level.  Also,  as you take higher level ones in Undergrad, some of them may 4 credits. In masters most of the courses are either 3 or 4 credits. In Graduate school for MS or MBA, a normal course could typically be about 3 to 4 credit hours, depending on the course weight and load.

What is Credit Hour work load, instruction time in class ?

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

Student Status either Full time or 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. This varies slightly by school, but in general, that’s the rule. It does not matter how many courses you take, what counts is the number of credit hours. 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…  

F1 Students Requirements for Full time Study

As an international student on F1 Visa, you are typically expected to be enrolled full time to maintain student status during normal terms like Fall or Spring.   So, technically an international student has to take about 9 to 12 credit hours, depending on the school, to be in F1 student status, unless you are in graduating or summer semester.

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

What are your thoughts on Credit hours  ? Were you full time or part time ?

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


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  1. You are waaaay too hostile. One-hour credit courses are usually labs — ie. Science, Math, or even Music labs — that are extensions of the three-hour courses.

  2. So, say I opt for a Post Degree Diploma in Business Administration. I need 42 credits for completion and if I take 3 courses of 3 credits each and one course of 1 credit, it amounts to 10 credit hours. So in 3 semesters/terms I have to study 10 credit hours and in one I have to study 12 credit hours to finish my course.
    And can I choose the courses/subjects every semester or are they fixed?

  3. Apart from the annual tuition fee that the university is charging. Do I have to pay for the credit hours as well ? Or just the tuition fee ?

  4. Hello, I am undergrad in the university of Upper Nile. Am doing Medicine. I really don’t know how credit hours work. Using example, for instance if I got 78% in Biology, by how much will credit hours affect ?

    • James,
      I am not sure what is the context of your question…Credit hours only matter when you are enrolled to decide workload and the fees, for other purposes it does not matter.

  5. I’m looking for any help possible and your article was helpful but would you by chance know or know where I could find out how many college hours a week I would need to work to be a psychiatrist?

  6. Hello,

    If I am a master’s student on H4 visa, do I still need to take a minimum of 9 credits per semester to maintain full-term student status?

    • Mounica,
      You are not on F1 to maintain full time student status. You are on dependent visa and there is no such restriction to maintain your status. You should check with DSO on any of status or credits related questions for confirmation.

  7. My son is planning to join Graduation engineering in Canada, want to understand how many credits you need per semester or per year. also need to know what could be the fee structure per semester

    • Ajit,
      I cannot speak for Canada, but most of the schools follow the credit system in US. It totally varies by school and they will have it defined in the respective school’s website the total credits required for graduation and minimum you need to take as student per semester. . Also, some schools may just go by courses, instead of credits. So, check the school you want to send your son to for details

  8. Hello, I want to study B.arch in UT at Austin. My per semester budget is 9,680 $ / 6,50,000 inr Approx. I have checked from the university website, it states that i can get 3-4 credit hours per semester within this much tuition fees!! I don’t understand this. Can you explain me what does this means? Will it be enough for me to continue my bachelors degree there as an international student? I am from UP, India. Also, I will continue my masters from that particular university(UT at Austin). Please help. For extra amount to be spent there, i am ready to work part time.

    • Tripureshee,
      The idea for fee is that, it is counted per credit. The logic is, if you take 3 courses and each of them have 3 credits, it means 9 credits. You will have to pay for 9 credit hours. What you need to check is, what is the minimum number of credits you need to take for full time at that school and then do that calculation, if it fits your budget. Part time jobs are not guaranteed firstly and they may not be able to cover your fee because, it will be very small. You can always look at the years fee and take a guess as well on how much you would require.

  9. I have doubt regarding the CPT of CSU Northridge university.In university it is mentioned that 2 semesters are minimum to get CPT but i don’t know 1 semester is equal to how many months ?

    Please let me know urgently..

  10. I want to pursue MS in aerospace engineering but I have done my bachelors in Electronics and Comm Engg. I dont have any relevant work experience in Aerospace. So its diffucult for me to get admit from aerospace course. What I am thinking now is take Electrical Engg as the major and during electives I will take courses from aerospace programme as an elective course… Is it possible.. should I do like that??
    P.S. My main focus is on aerospace engineering.

  11. I must register for 9 credit hours for my Graduate studies to be considered for TAship.
    I don’t understand the notion. Is 9 the number of courses I should take or what it is

    • 9 is definitely not the number of course you should take. You should take anywhere from 3-4 courses, but only if each one is at least 3credit hour which most likely it will be.

  12. For a graduate degree i need to complete 30 semester hours..What does that mean and what is the relationship between semester hour and credit hour?

    • In order get a graduate degree ie masters. you should atleast complete 30 credits. And generally each course has 3 credits and per semester as full time a student should register for 3 courses that is equal to 9 credits or credit hours both are the same.

      I hope you got the answer.

  13. 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.


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