How Many Credits Will You Need for a Bachelor’s Degree?

in Research   Posted on May 6, 2021  Author: Imed Bouchrika,

College students often dive into university life without an ounce of an idea of how the college system really works (Endsley, 2017). This lack of knowledge often leads them to traps and failures as they make their way through college life. Furthermore, the college system constantly changes, gradually becoming more complicated.

A student entering college only has one goal, and that is to get a bachelor’s degree in the discipline he has chosen. Obtaining one spells the end of the college journey, victoriously. Additionally, it gives him or her the right to access more opportunities in the real world, such as the chance to land a high-paying job (University of Pittsburgh, 2016). But only by getting the right amount of credits can this be realized.

This article discusses the role of getting credits in obtaining a bachelor’s degree. In addition, it also gives an idea of how credits are distributed in a university’s syllabus, the number of credits a certain subject needs, and the factors that affect the time required to get a degree.

How Many Credits Will You Need For a Bachelor’s Degree: Table of Contents

  1. What is a ‘credit’?
  2. Why take credits seriously?
  3. How many credits do I need for a Bachelor’s degree?
  4. Getting the Required Number of Credits: Why is it Important?

What is a ‘credit’?

Oftentimes, students would ask “how many credits do I need for a bachelor’s degree?” These credits are essential because they are the university’s basis for deciding whether a student deserves the degree or not (Endsley, 2017). In other words, it’s a measure of the student’s overall performance in a course (Pop, 2021).

Getting credit is relatively, and ideally easy. All one has to do is study, attend classes, and pass the subject. It all, however, still depends on the professor handling the class. Nonetheless, getting a passing mark in a course at the end of a semester is equivalent to a credit or two. University professors use a combination of assessment materials in order to know whether a student deserves the credit or not (Pop, 2021). These are:

  • Class or individual projects
  • Attendance
  • Written and/or oral examinations
  • Recitations
  • Activities
  • Researches/project studies

The assessment materials stated above must be done by a student in order to get credits. But to fully get one, the student shall perform these activities in one semester, which is roughly 15 weeks (Kots, 2020). College credit is equivalent to an hour of classroom lecture and two hours of assignments, all in a week. (Endsley, 2017). Therefore, in one semester, a student may be required to get 15 credits, or an average of five courses (Frank, n.d.).

1 college credit equivalent

Why take credits seriously?

Having a good understanding of how the college system works gives the student an advantage in pursuing his bachelor’s degree (Kots, 2020). This involves how credit works and how it is recognized in an institution. There are various reasons why. As a student he or she can:

  • Gauge or estimate the time he or she needs to complete college
  • Weigh how heavy some courses are through the amount of credit they have
  • Balance the time he or she needs between studying and working, if he or she plans to take on part-time jobs

One very important thing a student should know is that for every credit one gets, the closer he or she is to obtaining that bachelor’s degree. This is relevant, especially during these times, when employers from around the world generally prefer people with a bachelor’s degree rather than an associate’s (Georgetown University, 2016). So a student should do everything to get that degree by getting the required amount of credits.

Employment Rate of College Graduates (2019)

Ages 25 to 34 years old

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Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 2019

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How many credits do I need for a Bachelor’s degree?

The number of credits required typically ranges from 90 to 140, roughly equivalent to 40 courses (Endsley, 2017) (Wallis, 2019). A course is normally equivalent to either two or three credits. This is entirely based on the discipline taken by a college student and the university one decides to go to. Ideally, those numbers can be taken in a span of three to four years. Several factors, however, should be considered whether these credits can be taken within the aforementioned time or not.

Factors That Affect The Time Period Taken for a Course

Getting a bachelor’s degree is easier said than done. The same can be said for even just trying to pass a course. Fortunately, various university programs offer opportunities to finish the embedded courses in less than the time it usually takes. But also, outside factors will always affect a student’s overall performance in the university, including the way he or she gets a credit.

As mentioned, there are methods that university programs offer to students to enable them to obtain their bachelor’s degree faster. This means that a student can get the same required number of credits for a shorter period.

1. Summer Courses

Some universities offer summer courses that allow students to take subjects related to their respective programs. These classes, however, are limited and are relatively longer than regular ones. Still, they allow the student to take an average of six to 12 credits in advance, depending on his program and university (Frank, n.d.). It certainly can reduce the time the student needs to obtain his degree.

2. Taking More Courses in a Regular Semester

Most universities follow a syllabus, which contains the subjects a student needs to enroll/complete in one semester. Along with them are the number of credits, which is often the maximum number allowed by the institution for a student to take. In rare cases, however, students find themselves having the opportunity to take more courses than what is allotted.

Normally, a semester is composed of 15 credits. But a student can take more than that for a semester, up to 18 credits (Frank, n.d.). This ultimately results in reducing a four-year course into three, provided that the situation is following an ideal path, such as passing every subject. But note that students will have overload work during the semester.

3. Courses Outside University

Universities have their own method of implementing or distributing the program’s courses to students. Some of which may take time to complete. Fortunately, various tertiary institutions recognize credits taken outside of their premises, which aid the students in completing the required number of credits faster (Malvik, 2018). These can be done through many ways, such as:

  • Online or blended classes
  • Accredited training or work experiences
  • College-related courses in high school

These methods aid in speeding up a student’s college journey drastically provided that these are credited by the university he or she is currently enrolled in (Malvik, 2018). If recognized, the institution will deduct the credit equivalent of these from the total credit needed for the degree.

shorter college time ways

Situations That Hinder The Student in Getting a Bachelor’s Degree Faster

As various universities do offer opportunities to graduate faster, outside factors can, and will always hinder a student in obtaining a bachelor’s degree. In other words, getting the required amount of credits may become a slow and harsh process. These factors include:

  • Failing a course
  • Failure to enroll in a specific/required course
  • Uncredited subjects taken outside the university premises
  • Student’s lifestyle or situation

The first three factors mentioned are pretty obvious reasons why a student may be slow in getting a bachelor’s degree. These factors ultimately result in failure to get the credit that a specific subject bears. The fourth factor, however, is the biggest reason why these situations happen. It also contributes largely to the reason why drop-outs are increasing yearly.

A study found that at least one in five students who are taking part-time jobs will graduate within eight years (Carapezza and Field, 2019). Delays in a student’s college journey are often due to failure to take the right number of credits per semester. The student’s life situation hugely affects one’s overall performance, which leads to either failing or being unable to enroll in a specific course.

Credit Requirements for Various Courses

The program chosen by a student ultimately influences the number of credits he’s required to get to obtain his bachelor’s degree. With this, it should be noted that different courses have different required numbers of credits to complete. It depends mostly on the type, but generally, four-year programs require about 120 credits to complete (Droll, et.al., 2012).

In a survey conducted in 2011, all disciplines in the US were classified according to the number of credits required to complete them (Droll, et.al., 2012). It involved classifying 189 programs in the country’s 310 institutions. The classifications are low, moderate, and high credit-hour requirements.

Disciplines Under Low Credit-Hour Requirements (Less than 120 credits)

The programs under these disciplines generally require at least 120 credits to complete, which means that a bachelor’s degree under these disciplines can be acquired at a maximum of four years, provided that everything goes smoothly for the student tracking one of these programs (Droll, et.al., 2012).

  • Social Sciences
  • Foreign Languages
  • Philosophy
  • Religion
  • Ethnic and Area Studies
  • Psychology
  • Mathematics
  • Letters
  • Protective Services
  • Liberal Arts/Studies
  • Multidisciplinary Studies

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 2019

Disciplines Under Moderate-Hour Requirements (120 to 132 credits)

These disciplines typically require more than 120 credit units to complete, but no more than 132 credits. Some of these require a minimum of four years to complete (Droll, et.al., 2012). These programs are:

  • Physical Sciences
  • Life Sciences
  • Mass Communication
  • Visual Arts
  • Performing Arts
  • Computer Sciences
  • Public Services
  • Management and Business

top degree conferred in the U.S. 2019

Disciplines Under High-Hour Requirements (More than 132 credits)

The programs under these disciplines require the highest number of credits, regardless of university. The student needs to complete at least 132 credit units to complete the program. It takes more than four years, or five for other courses, to get a bachelor’s degree in these programs (Droll, et.al., 2012). These are as follows:

  • Agricultural Sciences
  • Health Sciences/Professions
  • Education
  • Engineering

Do note that not all universities follow the standard number of credits for a particular course. For instance, there are institutions out there that offer engineering-related courses that can be completed with just 120 credits (Droll, et.al., 2012). It will still depend on the university and the course chosen by the student.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 2019

Understanding How a Bachelor’s Degree is Structured

Students typically forget how getting a bachelor’s degree is structured. It is not like a student can enroll in a course and finish it by only studying the core subjects. It is nowhere near like that, and it is important to know that the course is divided into three sub-courses. All students, as a general rule, are required to take credit from these fields.

General Education

This field of study can be taken during the early years of college life. It is primarily concerned with strengthening the student’s foundation on the basic subjects (Pearson Accelerated Pathways, 2015). It also has a fair share of credits that can be obtained upon passing, usually ranging from 42 to 60 credits. Listed below are the subjects that fall under this particular field.

  1. English (3 credits)
  2. Mathematics (3 to 6 credits)
  3. Natural Sciences (3 to 8 credits)
  4. Social Sciences (3 to 6 credits)
  5. Humanities (3 to 6 credits)
  6. Diversity (3 to 6 credits)
  7. General Education Electives (up to 12 credits)

Area of Study

This field is the very core of the course. It focuses on the essential subjects that need to be tackled in order to obtain a bachelor’s degree related to the course taken. These are normally studied at the student’s latter college years, as these are more specific, more intense, and more serious (Endsley, 2017). Listed below are some subjects that will be taken by a student in this field if he or she chooses to study chemical engineering (Droll, et.al., 2012).

  1. Chemical Engineering Principles (4 credits)
  2. Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics (4 credits)
  3. Junior Laboratory (1 credit)
  4. Transport Phenomena (4 credits)
  5. Introduction to Reactor Design (4 credits)
  6. Separation Processes (4 credits)
  7. Process Design (I) (4 credits)
  8. Process Control (3 credits)
  9. Process Design (II) (4 credits)

Total Credits: 31

Electives

Universities have some subjects that seem to make the course enjoyable, which are in the form of electives. These electives are chosen by students depending on the availability and their relation to the course taken. In addition, these are taken to complement, enhance and/or reinforce information to a specific course that aids in the completion of the program (University of Pittsburgh, n.d.).

Electives typically go up to 30 credits and can be taken depending on the availability of the subject in a university (Endsley, 2017). Nonetheless, it significantly contributes to the completion of the credit requirement to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Furthermore, the students sometimes have the freedom to choose their elective, which makes studying the course a little bit better.

Getting the Required Number of Credits: Why Is It Important?

Students often go to college without any idea of how the college system works. However, having sufficient knowledge of how credits are obtained, and their relation to the bachelor’s degree gives a student an advantage. Hence, one can answer the question “how many credits do I need for a bachelor’s degree?” The student can then plan ahead, and will not have any trouble choosing the right program.

 

References:

  1. Carrapezza, K., & Field, K. (2021, April 8). Colleges are starting to help part-time students finish their degrees faster. The Hechinger Report. https://hechingerreport.org/colleges-and-states-turn-their-attention-to-slow-moving-part-time-students/
  2. Droll, M., LeMon, R. E., Johnson, N., & Reidy, L. (2012). Program Requirements for Associate’s and Bachelor’s Degrees: A National Survey [E-book]. Complete College America. https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/files/Program%20Requirements%20-%20A%20National%20Survey(1).pdf
  3. Endsley, A. (2017, July 22). How Many Credits are in a Bachelor’s Degree? Pearson Accelerated Pathways. https://pearsonaccelerated.com/blog/how-many-credits-do-i-need-for-a-bachelors-degree
  4. Georgetown University. (2020, April 6). Three Educational Pathways to Good Jobs: High School, Middle Skills, and Bachelor’s Degree. CEW Georgetown. https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/3pathways/
  5. How many credits are needed for a bachelor’s degree? | Frank Financial Aid. Retrieved 5 May 2021, from https://withfrank.org/how-to-pay-for-college/how-does-college-work/how-many-credits-are-needed-for-a-bachelors-degree/
  6. Kots, K. (2020, September 3). What Does Credits Mean In College? North Central College. https://www.northcentralcollege.edu/news/2020/09/03/what-does-credits-mean-college#:%7E:text=To%20further%20break%20college%20credits,hours%20of%20work%20per%20week.%E2%80%9D
  7. Malvik, C. (2018, June 13). How to Finish College Faster: 6 Ways to Get on with “Real Life” Sooner. Rasmussen University. https://www.rasmussen.edu/student-experience/college-life/how-to-finish-college-faster/
  8. Pearson Accelerated Pathways. (2015, November 23). What Are General Education Credits? Pearson Accelerated Pathways. https://pearsonaccelerated.com/blog/what-exactly-is-general-education
  9. Pop, A. (2021, February 24). What Are Academic Credit Systems? Benefits for International Students. MastersPortal.Com. https://www.mastersportal.com/articles/948/what-are-academic-credit-systems-benefits-for-international-students.html
  10. Pop, A. (2021). What You Need to Know about Academic Credit Systems in the U.S. – MastersPortal.com. Retrieved 5 May 2021, from https://www.mastersportal.com/articles/1110/what-you-need-to-know-about-academic-credit-systems-in-the-us.html
  11. University of Pittsburgh. (n.d.). General Education Requirements | College of General Studies | University of Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh College of General Studies. https://www.cgs.pitt.edu/general-education-requirements
  12. Wallis, A. (2018, September 5). How Many Credits Do You Need to Graduate College? Southern New Hampshire University. https://www.snhu.edu/about-us/newsroom/2018/09/how-many-credits-to-graduate-college#:%7E:text=A%20bachelor’s%20degree%20takes%20120,or%20longer%20length%20of%20time.