How Many Credit Hours Should I Take?

When I was an orientation leader for the University of Iowa, I worked with our campus academic advisors to help new students build their class schedules. This is one of the questions I was asked the most by students. Many new students come in with an outline of a schedule that they (or their parents) put together.

At a typical college or university in America, it takes 120 credits to receive a bachelor’s degree. Obviously, depending on the institution, the major, and the type of degree you will be receiving can change the exact amount. However, 120 credits are the average. Depending on each individual student, the number of credit hours taken can vary from semester to semester. There’s no perfect answer to this question, but we do have some good insight for you to consider.

A chalk drawing of a clock, with text next to the right that says "how many credit hours should you take?"

Your Graduation Plan

How long do you want to be in college? Depending on your circumstances, your odds of graduating may be in about four years. If you are taking 15 credits each semester, you can get to 120 credits in 8 semesters and likely graduate. While it might seem strange, for many students it’s better to take about 15 credits in their first semester. This is recommended because 12 credits are usually the minimum to be considered a full-time student at the college. It can even affect tuition in some cases. If for some reason you need to drop a class, 15 credits are sort of a safe zone for this so your tuition does not change.

Tuition Consideration

Consider tuition! Take a look at your school’s tuition information, the scholarships vs. grants you plan to apply for, and think about whether or not you plan on working while in school. Depending on the number of credits you are taking, your tuition amount can change.

Balance Your Schedule and Credit Hours

Besides taking a certain amount of credits, you will want to be careful and try to build a balanced schedule. Many colleges and universities require students to complete general education requirements. It helps them become well-rounded individuals with knowledge in multiple areas. These are great classes to help balance your college schedule. A math major may want to use a general education course that is focused on reading. It balances the load of a specific semester if they know a certain math class will require a lot of problem-solving.

If for some reason you are unable to be a full-time student one semester or can’t take any classes at all, most schools and community colleges offer summer classes to students. These can be as short as four weeks long and likely up to twelve weeks long at most. Summer classes are a great option to get caught up in your schoolwork to graduate in the time frame that works best for you. Often, there are also internships offered through schools that give students college credit. With some of these internships, requirements may include general check-ins with a course instructor or supervisor about how the experience is going and potentially include reflective essays about the position.

When it comes down to it, try to build a balanced schedule. Pick a variety of classes that you are excited about. Don’t hesitate to ask your academic advisor for help. Use our college match tool to see what schools around the country are a good fit for you!

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