Types of College Credits

If you’re going to college, you’re going to have to pay special attention to “credits.” These are required in order to graduate! But what are they, how do they impact your education, and what types do you need to graduate on time?

What are College Credits?

Every time you pass a class in college, you will earn “college credits.” These are necessary in order to graduate as your degree will require a certain number of credits to earn. Each class is worth a different number of credits – these are known as “credit hours.”

What are Credit Hours?

Credit hours refer to the amount of credits you will receive when the class is completed. They tend to range between 1-4. This number is determined by how many hours you spend in the class every week. Most classes will be 3 credit hours each. Labs, since they are usually only once a week, could be worth only a single college credit.

How Many College Credits Do You Need to Graduate?

The number of college credits you need to graduate depends on the degree. It’s worth noting that some schools do have different methods for tracking credits, hours, and degree requirements, but this table is the general rule that a majority of colleges and universities follow. If you have any questions about the credits your degree needs, talk to your academic advisor.

Degree Credits Required Number of Approx Classes
Associate’s 60 20
Bachelor’s 120 40
Master’s 30 – 60 (depends on program) 10 – 20 (depends on program)


How Many Credits Will You Earn a Semester?

How many credits you take each semester depends on you, your goals, and the degree you’re pursuing! If you are attending college full time, you generally have to take 12 or more credits in a semester. To graduate with a bachelor’s in four years, it’s recommended that you take 15 credits on average every semester. If you want to complete your education faster, you can absolutely take more, but some schools do put caps on how many classes and credits you can take.

So, if you’re attending college full time and taking the recommended average each month, you should have 30 credit hours completed by the end of your first year of college.

What Types of College Credits Are There?

There are usually three types of college credits available to undergraduate students: general education requirements, electives, and major requirements

General Education Requirements

General education credits and classes, also known as GEs, are usually completed in your first two years of college. They give you a breadth of knowledge across a number of subjects, ranging from math to history. These classes are usually introductory courses, but can sometimes be prerequisites for more advanced classes.

There is usually some wiggle room in class selection when it comes to general education requirements. For example, a science with a lab may be required, but they will be presented with a number of courses that fit that requirement to select from. There could be classes on the weather, biology, chemistry, and other related fields available for GEs.

There will be a few classes that you are required to take, however. Most require students to complete English 101 and 102 during your first year. Others could require you to complete a class on expository writing or diversity. Students generally have to complete 60 general education credits for a bachelor’s degree.

General education requirements and class availability will depend on the school, but GEs can cover:

  • Mathematics
  • Social Sciences
  • Arts and Humanities
  • English Composition
  • Foreign Language
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Natural Sciences
  • First Year Orientation
  • Critical Thinking
  • Scientific Method

Major Requirements

After your general education requirements or prerequisites are out of the way, you can start on your major’s requirements! These refer to the classes that are specifically related to your desired area of study. Advisers will usually work with you to go over the courses you need to take and the order you have to take them to graduate on time. Most colleges also have major requirements right on their website, but a few actually allow students to create their own study program and major.

Majors are usually about 30 credit hours but this will vary from program to program.


Even if you take all the general education and major classes, you will likely not hit the required credit amount (120) for a bachelor’s degree. This requires you to take elective classes. You usually have free reign to a number of classes under this umbrella, though there may be some restrictions. Certain courses require you to be in the major, for example, and others could require prerequisites.

You can also use your elective space as a way to develop a minor, too. This could be completely different from your major, it can be related, or it could be something that helps support your career goals. About 30 credit hours of electives is generally needed to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Understanding the different types of credits will help you better understand your course requirements while you’re in college. If you ever have any concerns about your required course work or your graduation timetable, be sure to talk to your adviser.

If you’re on the search for your major and want to better understand the program you’ll be enrolled in, College Raptor’s College Major search tool can help you find the information you need! Discover what you’ll study, the best schools for the subject matter, and more.

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