What is a Credit Hour?

When you sign up for college classes, you’ll find that you must complete a certain number of credit hours but you might not understand what that term means. This is essentially a measurement of time that applies to the amount of time that you spend in the classroom each week. It does not apply to the amount of time that you spend working on assignments for class. Even lower level classes that are worth fewer¬†credits may require that you spend a lot of time on projects and papers.

Measurement of Time

A credit is a measurement of time. While you might think that it gives you an idea of how much work you must do, this isn’t always true. Most classes at the undergrad level are worth three credits each. This means that you will need to attend three classes a week and spend one hour listening to a lecture. Though online courses may lack a lecture component, a three credit online course will still require that you spend at least three hours reading text lectures and using the class discussion board to talk about topics with other students in the same way that you would in a classroom.

Undergrad vs. Graduate Classes

The number of credits that a class is worth often depends on whether you take the class as an undergrad or in graduate school. Most undergrad courses are worth up to three credits, though you may earn more for internships or independent study projects that you do. Graduate courses require more work on the part of students and are worth four credits. Some grad schools award students five credits for advanced classes and additional credits for work they do outside of the school, including an internship that you take or the work you do on your thesis.

Number of Credits Needed

A traditional college program will often require that you complete 120 credits of work before graduating. This equates to 30 credits each year and 15 credits each semester. A full-time student must take a minimum of 12 credits each semester. Taking 15 credits ensures that you graduate within four years. You also have the option of taking more classes each semester and classes in the summer session to graduate faster. Graduate programs require that students take around 30 credits of classes. As graduate classes are worth more credits, you may need to take as few as 10 classes to earn your graduate degree.

Do All Classes Count for Credits?

Though you might think that all classes count towards your required credits, this isn’t necessarily true. Many online programs require that new students take an introductory course that shows them how to use the online system but does not give them any credits. Your program may ask that you take a course on careers within your field that do not award your credits too. Some colleges also offer courses on select topics that only give students 0.5 to two credit hours because students do little work in those classes.

Many of the classes you take in college award you credits for the work that you do, and those credits count toward the minimum number needed for graduation. Credit hours often relate to the amount of time you spend in the classroom and give you up to four credits for each class.

See also: 50 Great Schools Where High School Students Can Get College Credit