How Many Credits is Too Much for a College Semester

After deciding which institutions to add to your college list and choosing which school to pick after getting a handful of acceptance letters, it’s time to figure out which classes to take and how many. And an integral part of this critical moment is figuring out how many credits you should take.

Most colleges and universities with a semester system recommend 15 credits per semester, which amounts to 30 credits per year. Full-time students are enrolled in at least 12 credits and a maximum of 18 credits per semester. The right number of credits to take per semester is on a case-to-case basis.

In order to get your hands on a bachelor’s degree, you must complete a total of 120 credits.

Deciding the number of credits to take per semester is a matter that’s not just about whether or not you will be able to graduate from college on time. It’s about many other things too, such as those that have something to do with scholarships or grants or whether you will be balancing college and work or looking after your kids.

college schedule

How Many Hours is One Credit Equivalent To?

Simply put, one credit is equivalent to one hour spent inside a classroom per week. So, in other words, a three-credit course (most undergraduate courses are three credits each) is equivalent to three hours spent inside a classroom per week. One credit also entails two hours of homework per week.

The number of credits you enroll in per semester will determine the number of hours you will have to spend inside a classroom — the more credits you take, the more classes you have to attend.

When doing the math, it’s not just the hours of classroom work per credit you should take into account.

It’s also a must that you factor in the number of hours of homework per credit required — learning academic courses does not begin and end inside a classroom. As a matter of fact, per credit, you will have to devote more time to doing homework than listening to your professor per week.

Considering both classes and homework, one credit is equivalent to three hours of studying. That’s one hour of classroom work and two hours of studying at home or in your dorm.

Here are the formulas for calculating the number of hours you will have to spend per week and per semester:

  • (Number of credits x 3 hours) = total study hours per week
  • (Number of credits x 3 hours) x (15 weeks per semester) = total study hours per semester

Based on the formulas given above, students who enroll in 15 credits per semester spend around 45 hours on studying and around 675 hours on studying per semester — that’s around 27% of the entire week or semester!

While one credit will always be equivalent to one hour of classroom work per week, unfortunately, one credit doesn’t necessarily mean two hours of homework per year. This matter is subjective in that it will depend on the type of learner you are and the difficulty of the course.

For instance, the general education course Math and the Engineering major pre-requisite course Calculus 1 are both three-credit courses. However, you will surely have to spend more time on the latter!

It goes without saying that deciding the number of credits to take per semester is not as easy as many students would like to think it is. Other than the fact that different courses have different difficulty levels despite having the exact same number of credits, there are also a handful of other things to take into account when deciding on a particular number.

And this takes us to this pressing question…

Factors to Consider When Deciding the Number of Credits

There are many factors to take into account when deciding how many credits to enroll in per semester. Leading the list is the number that students can realistically take, as determined by their lives outside the campus. There are also considerations such as school requirements and aid stipulations.

Knowing the right number of credits to take is important not only for first-time, first-year students but also for students from other year levels when enrolling every semester.

Here are some of the things to keep in mind before you settle on a particular number of credits:

College timetable

Do you want to become a bachelor’s degree holder in four years? Then opt for 15 credits per semester, which is equivalent to 30 credits per academic year. More than 60% of students at public and private institutions graduate in six years, and a common reason for it is taking the minimum or below the minimum number of credits per semester.

Needless to say, the more credits you complete per semester, the faster you will graduate from college.

Thinking about going for an accelerated program in order to graduate from college at a much faster rate? Then it’s a must that you complete the required number of credits per semester, which can be 18 credits or more.

Full-time vs. part-time

Most colleges and universities define full-time students as students enrolled in at least 12 credits per semester. It goes without saying that they define part-time students as those enrolled in less than 12 credits per semester.

Refrain from assuming that part-time students, since they take fewer credits per semester, do not graduate on time. Some of them, for instance, may be part-time students as a result of transfer credits. Still, the majority of part-time students usually graduate in six years — or sometimes longer.

Financial aid

First things first: both full-time and part-time college students are eligible for federal financial aid.

So, if you are planning on becoming a part-time student, fret not as you may still get monetary help from the government — the US Department of Education stipulates that you only have to be enrolled half-time in order to qualify, which is equivalent to at least six credits per semester.

However, there are scholarships and grants that students may lose if they go from being full-time students to part-time students. This is when the importance of carefully reading terms and conditions comes in.

college schedule

Traditional vs. non-traditional

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), you are considered a non-traditional student if you are a part-time college student. So, in other words, if you enroll in less than 12 credits per semester, you will automatically become a non-traditional student — well, at least in the eyes of NCES.

Whether you are a traditional or non-traditional student can impact your decision credit-wise.

But just because students are regarded as non-traditional ones doesn’t mean right away that they are taking fewer credits per semester than anyone else.

For instance, online college students, which are non-traditional students, may enroll in 15 credits per semester or more, thus allowing them to earn a bachelor’s degree in four years or less.

Related Article: Is an Online College Degree Worth It?

Just Before You Enroll in a Certain Number of Credits

Students can choose anywhere from 12 credits to 18 credits per semester. They can take fewer than 12 credits or more than 18 credits per semester, although, in most instances, they will have to get permission beforehand.

But getting your hands on a permit to do so is not enough.

When figuring out how many credits to enroll in per semester, consider important deciding factors such as your school or program’s requirements, financial aid’s stipulations and personal life’s demands.

Related Questions

Are credits and credit hours the same?

Credits and credit hours are one and the same. Some colleges and universities may prefer “credit”, while others may prefer “credit hours”. Both credits and credit hours refer to the number of hours a student will spend in a course. For instance, a three-credit course is equivalent to three hours spent in the classroom.

Do credits have an expiration date?

Credits earned in college are good for life. So, in other words, they do not expire. However, it’s possible for some credits to not transfer into a program after several years. That’s because it’s not uncommon for academic programs to undergo some changes, causing some credits from certain courses to become valueless.

Read Also: 40 Ways to Save Money in College

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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