What Are Credit Hours In College?

At the most basic level, credit hours refer to the number of hours you spend in your college classroom per week.

In order to better understand how credit hours work, you also need to know:

  • How are they calculated?
  • How many do you need to complete in an academic year?
  • Are credit hours transferable?

This article covers everything you need to know about credit hours so college starts to feel a little less intimidating.

College students in a classroom listening to a teacher lecture

What are Credit Hours in College?

To reiterate, credit hours refer are the number of hours you spend in a classroom every week. That’s the short, simple explanation of what credit hours are but it’s not as straightforward as it seems. Understanding how they are calculated and how they affect your degree is a bit more complicated.

To understand credit hours, you need to first understand contact hours. The number of contact hours you complete will determine the number of credit hours you earn for your program.

Year in CollegeCredit Hour Requirements
Freshman 0 - 30
Sophomore31 - 60
Junior61 - 90
Senior91 - 120

Contact Hours

Contact hours refer to the number of hours spent in the classroom when a professor is teaching. This is usually about 50 minutes of contact hours in real-time. You need to have a certain number of contact hours (hours spent in a classroom), to earn your credit hours.

One credit hour is equal to 15 to 16 hours of instruction. Your credit hours are calculated over the full semester, which is generally 16 weeks. Most lecture and seminar courses are worth 3 credit hours. You must complete at least 45 – 48 hours of class time in one semester. This averages about 3 hours of classroom time per week for the full 16-week semester.

Generally speaking, one class is about 3 credit hours.

This applies only to credit hours for classroom lectures. Laboratory, fieldwork, and internship credit hours are calculated differently.

How Many Credit Hours Do You Need To Graduate?

Degree AchievementCredit Hours Required Number Classes Required (Approx.)
Associate's Degree60 hours20 Classes
Bachelor's Degree120 hours40 Classes
Master's Degree30 - 60 hours10 - 20 Classes (Depending on Program)

You need to earn a certain number of credit hours for different degree levels.

  • To get an Associate’s degree, you need to complete 60 – 65 credit hours or 20 classes.
  • To earn a Bachelor’s degree, you need to complete 120 – 130 credit hours or 40 classes.
  • The requirements for a Master’s degree can range from 30 to 60 credit hours, depending on the program and the university.

Luckily, there’s good news if you decided to go earn an associate’s degree at community college and then transfer to a 4-year program. You can transfer the credits earned for your associate’s degree to your bachelor’s program so you don’t have to start from zero.

Speak to the academic advisor at your current school and prospective school to find out the correct procedure. Transferring all 60 credits to your bachelor’s program can save you both time and money.

Understanding how credit hours are calculated, how many you’ve earned and how many more you need to qualify for your degree is important. If you need any clarification on any aspect of credit hours, speak to your academic advisor.

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