When you went to college the first time, you may not have paid much attention to the whole “college credit” system. But now that you’re going back to school to complete your degree, you need to understand exactly what a college credit is and how many you need to graduate — before you can even think about transferring them. Learn here exactly what it means to have college credits, how to earn more and what they mean for graduation.
Click here to see a list of online colleges and universities that accept lots of credits in transfer
What is a College Credit?
Unfortunately, there is still no national definition of a “credit hour” for colleges and universities. However, one college credit hour generally means that a student has had one hour of class instruction per week over the course of 15 weeks (a semester), as well as about 2 hours of out-of-classroom work, which could be homework, labs, practicum, etc. Therefore, most core classes for your major are worth 3 credits, because they usually meet 3 times a week for an hour, or twice a week for 90 minutes and have corresponding out-of-class assignments. 2- and 1-hour classes are smaller classes that meet for less time and require less work, like electives, but still count towards your bottom line.
For online colleges, credits are counted a bit differently. Since you’re not sitting in a traditional classroom, credits are counted by how many times you log in to participate, and how much time you spend contributing comments, questions and overall discussions to your class. Again, since there are no federal regulations yet, this is more subjective, and requirements vary between professors, classes and schools. But it’s important to understand that even though you’re taking classes online, you still have to participate to earn a good grade and the credit hours that correspond with that class.
How Many Credits Do You Need To Graduate College?
On average, you’ll need 120 credits to complete a 4-year bachelor’s program. Some degrees require more; for instance, I had to earn over 150 credit hours for my undergraduate degree in English Education, mainly because that type of program is like combining two majors—English and education into one degree. Your advisor, as well as the school’s course catalog will show you exactly how many college credit hours you need to graduate from your chosen major. Be aware, however, that there is no set number of credits all schools universally require to graduate. The number varies depending on the major and the particular school.
How Many Credits For Associate’s Degree?
Associate’s degree programs generally last two years and require about 64 credits for completion. Associates degrees vary tremendously, depending on whether they are based on all classroom teaching or involve a hands-on learning element, as with nursing ADN degrees. You should make sure to find out if your associates degree school has an “articulation” agreement with colleges or universities in your area. if they do, you may be able to automatically transfer all your associates credits toward a bachelor degree at those schools.
How Do College Credits Work, and How Should I Earn Them?
If you’re starting to panic about how you’ll earn all of your credits, don’t. Most programs for each major break down exactly what courses you need to graduate, and show you how to earn all of your credit hours to complete your degree. Each major will have what’s called “core classes,” which you must pass and earn credit for to graduate within that major. Beyond that, you’ll have some choices in the “electives” category. For instance, an English major may get to choose between a poetry class, creative writing class or French literature class to fulfill an elective spot. This is where you can tailor your program to meet your needs and interests. As long as you meet with your advisor and plan out your classes according to your school’s course catalog, you should have all the credits you need (sometimes more!) to graduate.
What Are BS, BA and BFA Degrees?
You may notice that bachelor degrees may be called BA, BS or BFA. These degrees involve slightly different approaches to core versus elective courses. The names are based on a traditional division of degree approaches that doesn’t always exist in schools today. But historically:
- BA stands for a “bachelor of arts” degree. BA degree programs have long tended to focus on humanities type subjects like History, English, Philosophy or the like. They’re what might be called “soft” subjects, as they tend not to be sharply focused on career training. That lack of any career focus means the BA students usually have fewer “concentration” courses they must take for their degree, and get a great deal of freedom to take a very wide range of courses that might interest them. BA degrees may not be entirely job focused, but they can be very valuable in terms of developing your writing, communication and other types of skills that can pay off later in life. BA degrees are also good stepping stones to a master’s degree program. If you want to make a change of direction after getting your BA, your best choice will be to go to grad school, not to go back and get another bachelor degree. Many attorneys, for example, have traditionally taken undergrad degrees in English before going on to law school.
- BS stands for “bachelor of science.” These degrees are usually in science, business or other categories. Popular BS degrees online include nursing, business, information technology, finance, accounting and psychology. Because BS programs are more career-focused, they tend to give you less freedom to take lots of elective courses, and instead require more “core” courses in order to give you all the training you need to talk out of school ready to work in your chosen field.
But there can be confusion about these degrees. Many schools offer BA degrees in business, and if you look at a subject like early childhood education (for teacher training) you’ll find that it’s hard to tell from the BA and BS degrees in the subject. At the end of the day, the important thing is to take a good look at a school’s program to see if the courses look interesting and will teach you what you really want to learn. Whether it’s a BS or BA degree may not matter that much in the job market.
- BFA is a “bachelor of fine arts.” This is a degree meant for those who want to be professional artists, photographers, actors, dancers or other type of creative professional. Like a BS, the BFA will tend to require a large proportion of core courses, because it is essentially a career-preparation degree. There are many visual arts programs given by online schools, but most performing arts degrees come from campus-based colleges.
Example of Core and Major Courses For Degree
For an example of how the elective and core courses break out on a typical bachelor degree in business, let’s look at the basic online B.S. in Business Administration degree offered by Purdue University Global. Purdue, which is regionally accredited, requires 180 credits to finish the degree at a cost of $371. per credit.
Like most bachelor programs, this one requires a mix of “core” courses designed to provide a broad-based education that expands the student’s horizon and teaches critical thinking, along with “major” courses that focus more on business career training:
2 Composition courses
1 Course in Professionalism
2 Mathematics courses
1 Humanities course in Ethics, Arts and Humanities or Culture
1 Science course in Basic Sciences, Microbiology, or Biology
1 Social Science course in History, Politics or the Technical Revolution
Total: 33 Credits
Human Resource or Small Business Management
Business Law or Legal Ethics
Managerial Economics or Corporate Finance
Internship or Capstone in Management
Total: 88 Credits
Finally, students are required to take 59 credits of “Open Electives” courses. These are designed primarily to give you a business degree with a specialty on Finance, Investment, Marketing or another area. If you don’t wish to have a specialization, you can pick your 59 credits from many different areas. If you choose a specialty, most of your open electives will focus on that area, but you’ll also need to do some other elective courses. As an example:
Open Electives for New Media/Internet Marketing specialty in BS Business Degree:
Social Media Marketing
Total: 24 Credits
You would then need to add 35 credits from your pick of courses in Finance, Human Resources, Procurement, Product Management or another specialty area.
Total of all courses for BS in Business Administration: 180 Credits
Counting Credits When Transferring Universities
Where counting credit hours really becomes important is when you transfer credits. It’s always a good idea to spend the extra time to get as many of your previous college credits transferred as possible (to learn why, click here). And the more you transfer, the less you have to complete to finish your degree. Once you’ve completed the transfer process, you can then figure out how many credits you have left to earn, as well as what core classes and electives you still have to take (learn how to transfer college credits here).
What is The Maximum Credits You Can Transfer?
There’s a good deal of variation in the maximum number of transfer credits a college will accept. This can depend somewhat on what kind of credit system is used at your old and new schools. Private and state colleges typically accept up to a maximum of 60 credits in transfer, or half the total for a bachelor degree if they are on a credit system that requires more or less than 120 total credits for a BA or BS (as an example, Union College, an old and respected school in New York State, has a unique definition of credits. If works on an unusual three-semester school year and requires 36 total credits for undergrads to complete a degree). Online schools tend to be a bit more liberal about credit transfer, because they serve many adult students who are re-starting a college education after a break for work or life commitments. Some of the best-known online schools accept up to 75% of credits for a degree in transfer.
Articulation Agreements To Cut Your Credit Requirement in Half
If you have an associate’s degree from a community college or other school, it’s worth doing some research to find schools that have an “articulation” agreement with the school you’ve studied at. Subject to certain requirements, you may be able to transfer your entire associates degree to cover half the credits toward a bachelor’s degree at a new school. It’s a great way to save money. Be aware, however, that schools generally have these type of agreements only with other colleges or universities in the same region.
Can I Transfer Credits After 10 Years?
It can be tough at many schools to transfer very old credits. In science subjects, particularly, the tools and facts grow and change over time. If your credits are 5 or 10 years old, you probably have a better change of transferring them if they are basic requirements like English or writing. More advanced courses may not transfer as easily. But each school is different — it pays to do as much research as possible.
From Credit Transfer To Graduation
Overall, understanding exactly what college credits are and how they work will help you go through the planning process for your degree much more smoothly. Once you understand what your graduation requirements are, you can map out a timeline to help you earn your credits in a balanced way, at your own pace. Also, understanding college credits will help you better negotiate credit transfers by making you more knowledgeable about how the credit system works. Then, you can earn your degree with confidence, knowing you’re taking every step you need to get to graduation.
Financial Aid To Make Your Degree Cheaper
Of course, on top of transferring credits, you want to look into financial aid to keep the cost of your degree down. This is an area where you need to be careful. You’ve probably heard lots about the “student debt crisis” on the news and it is absolutely real. If you’re careful about not borrowing too much to pay for a degree however, you can come out of college with a good result.
It’s worth doing everything you can to control the cost of your degree program. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, average total costs of attending a state university for a year (for 2016-17, the most recent year measured) was over $17,000. Private colleges averaged a whopping $44,551 per year, while for-profit schools cost an average of $25,431. each year (the lower number for for-profit schools is likely because they do so much of their teaching online, and don’t charge any of the room and board fees that are included in state and private school numbers).
The first thing you want to do to get financial aid for your bachelor degree are to ask your school if they offer any scholarships. Many, many online colleges provide some kind of scholarship that can cut anywhere from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars of the price of a degree. Some of these scholarship programs are based on you demonstrating financial need, but others are based on different factors. Some, quite honestly, are based on factors that are a bit vague. It’s always worth asking about school scholarships because many schools use them to attract students, and you never know what you’ll turn up.
Step two is to fill out a FAFSA form to get a Pell Grant, which you can do here. This is a pure grant and not a loan, and it is distributed by the federal government directly through your college or university for tuition. For the 2020–21 school year, the maximum Pell Grant is $6,345., a considerable amount of money that makes it worth filling out the fairly complicated FAFSA form
How Many Credits Should You Take Every Semester
You should try to draw a realistic plan for how many credits you can handle each semester given the difficulty of the courses you’ll be taking, your own work ethic can any external factors you may be facing like a job or family responsibilities. Once you figure that out, you’ll have a solid date in mind for completing your degree and graduating.
most standard 120 credit bachelor degree programs, colleges recommend students take about 15 credits every semester to finish in four years. If you want to use this as a guide, just be aware that you will need to arrange your courses carefully, because some classes will count for more credits than others Also try to time your toughest courses for times of the year when you won’t have many other commitments, and can handle late-nighters and out of class writing assignments. It can be a good idea to mix your toughest core classes with some electives that won’t be as challenging. It can be a good idea to give yourself some lighter semesters along the way. But before you do, find out if your school has a minimum requirement for credits per semester that you have to satisfy in order to remain a full-time student. Losing full-time student status can have an effect on your tuition and other factors as well.
As you go along, be aware that many colleges have online “degree audits” you can fill out to calculate exactly how far you have to go in terms of finishing your program. It’s really not that uncommon for students to discover a week before graduation that they are a class short of what they need for a diploma, or that they actually took more credits than they need. An audit can help you avoid either of these scenarios.
Is an Online Bachelor Degree Worth It?
The concept of a bachelor degree, where a student gains not only knowledge of a particular career subject but also gets a more general education, has been debated in recent years. Some students have preferred to go to pure training programs like coding academies that teach pure work skills or other types of hybrid academic/job training programs. It’s worth keeping in mind that many careers require, over the long term, lots of “soft” skills like communication and general knowledge, which bachelor’s degree tend to provide.
From a pure earnings perspective, there are so many studies that point to bachelor degree holders making more money that we can’t name them all. One widely quoted study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce estimated the medial lifetime earnings of an American bachelor degree holder at $2,268,000. compared with just $1,547,000. lifetime for someone with no college degree. The Social Security Administration estimates that men who earn a bachelor’s degree make about $900,000. more in their lifetimes than high school grads, while women holding BA degrees earn about $630,000. more.
It’s worth keeping in mind that there are some careers where having a particular degree virtually dictates exactly what salary you will earn. Teaching in a public school system is one. Other careers in healthcare or science also tie salaries directly to the degree an employee holds.
Last but certainly not least, a bachelor degree is virtually always required if you want to go on to get an MBA or other type of master’s degree, which can be an important ticket to higher earnings. According to The Social Security Administration, master’s degree holders can be expected to earn between $1.1 million and $1.5 million than high school graduates over the course of their careers.