How Many Credits Do I Need for a Bachelor’s Degree?

The typical minimum total of credits needed for a bachelor’s degree is 120. This is the equivalent of 15 credits per semester or 30 credits per year to graduate in 4 years.

To gain 120 credits in 4 years, most students take a total of approximately 40 classes at an average of 3 credits per class. This works out to 10 classes per year or 5 classes per semester.

Earning a minimum number of three types of credits is required: General education (Gen Ed) credits, major credits and elective credits. Specific credit requirements vary by school.

Students can decrease the number of college credits needed to graduate by earning college credits through AP, CLEP, and IB exams and through dual enrollment programs that grant college credit while still in high school.

The minimum number of college credits needed for a degree typically increases for students in specialized majors such as engineering, architecture, nursing and education. Earning a second major or a minor can also increase the number of credits needed.

In addition to meeting credit requirements, students must remain in good academic standing to graduate. Many schools also require a senior project or similar project for graduation, and foreign students may have to pass an English language proficiency exam.

What Can Decrease the Credits Needed to Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree?

The primary way that you can earn a bachelor’s degree with fewer credits is by earning college credits through examinations.

The most common ways to decrease the number of credits needed to earn a bachelor’s degree are:

  • Earning Advanced Placement (AP) exam credits before enrolling in college.
  • Earning College Level Examination Program (CLEP) credits.
  • Earning International Baccalaureate (IB) exam credits before enrolling in college. Most schools require receiving a 5 on IB exams to transfer the credit.
  • Earning dual enrollment credits while in high school – these are credits granted by many universities for taking college courses that earn the student both high school and college credit.
  • Earning credits for life experience, though not all colleges and universities award this type of credit.
  • Having transfer credits from another accredited university.

What Can Increase the Credits Needed to Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree?

Here are causes that increase the number of credit hours needed for a bachelor’s.

  • The major you choose may require more credit hours than the 120 credit hours considered the minimum. While some programs still require 120 credits, education, computer science, engineering, business, nursing, and architecture typically require up to 130 credits, according to a recent study on credit requirements by Complete College America. The number of credits required can vary by the specific major too. For example, according to the University of Connecticut College of Engineering, electrical engineering and robotics engineering require 126 credits while chemical engineering requires 128 credits and engineering physics requires 132 credits.  
  • Taking a double major or double degree also called dual major or dual degree often requires more credits like 150 to 180 credit hours. Earning a major and a minor will often require up to 140 credit hours. The total credit hours needed for a double major and a major and minor depends on the school and the programs chosen.
  • Failing to take prerequisite courses and required courses can increase the credits needed to earn a bachelor’s degree. Changing schools, changing majors and taking unnecessary classes are other factors that will increase the number of credits needed to graduate.

It is important that students work with an advisor to optimize their coursework in order to take the minimum number of credits required.

What Are Different Types of Credits Required for a Bachelor’s Degree?

There are three types of credits required for a bachelor’s degree at most colleges and universities. 

  • General Education Credits
  • Major Course Credits
  • Elective Credits
3 Types of Credits Required for a bachelor's degree

General Education Credits

General education credits are credits accrued from a wide range of disciplines and required to earn a bachelor’s degree. Also called gen ed, this core curriculum includes subjects the school considers essential for a well-rounded educational experience.

Most schools require from 40-60 general education credit hours, or 1/3 to 1/2 the total number of credit hours required for a bachelor’s degree.

There are 7 types of general education credits commonly found at colleges and universities. Each school sets its own standards for general education and the inclusion of various types of gen ed credits.

  • English Language and Literature: These gen ed classes include English composition and writing courses designed to improve the student’s ability to read, write and communicate in English. 
  • Arts and Humanities: This area of study introduces students to issues in human culture and its  expression. Class subjects include history, philosophy, religion, and courses on the arts.
  • Mathematics: Math courses introduce students to the science of numbers, patterns,  and quantities through courses including algebra, calculus and statistics. Students in STEM majors take more math classes to complete their general education requirements. 
  • Natural Science: Natural sciences general education classes such as physics, chemistry and biology focus on the study of the physical world.
  • Social Sciences: Classes in the social sciences address human nature and society and include gen ed classes like psychology, political science and economics.
  • Foreign Language: General education courses in foreign language study modern languages including Spanish, German, French and Chinese.
  • Diversity: General education classes in diversity explore human differences through courses in ethnicity, gender and LGBTQ+ issues.

Major Courses Credits

Major courses credits toward a bachelor’s degree are earned in classes that make up the core education received within the major. These courses are designed to give the student the comprehensive knowledge needed to enter a career in that major.

Each school determines the number of credits required for each major. A common number of major credits required for a bachelor’s degree is 30-36, which is 10-12 classes. Some STEM majors require 40-45 major credits, or 13-15 classes. Social science and humanities sometimes require as little as 24, or an average or 8 classes.

A bachelor’s arts degree, or BA, typically requires the fewest major classes since the focus is broader, so more electives and general education courses are allowed. Bachelor’s of science, or BS degrees, and bachelor’s of fine arts, or BSF degrees, commonly require more major courses than BA degrees, though it varies by school.

Major courses are taken in sequence beginning with lower-level or prerequisite courses in the major and progressing to upper-level, more advanced courses. For example, according to Yale University, Math majors at Yale can progress from linear algebra to advanced linear algebra to abstract algebra to algebraic geometry.  

Elective Courses Credits

Electives are free-choice classes that allow students to explore interests outside of their major. The number of elective course credits available to students earning a bachelor’s degree depends on the number of credits required in their major – more major credits required means fewer elective class credits can be taken if the student plans to take the minimum number of credits to graduate.

Depending on the school and the student’s major, most students take 12 to 30 elective credits in a bachelor’s degree program.

What Other Requirements Are There Besides Credit Requirements to Earn a Bachelor’s Degree?

Besides meeting the requirements for total credit hours, which is typically at least 120 credits, students need to meet additional academic requirements to graduate.

Students must complete the required number of each type of credit including major credits, general education credits and elective credits. Within the student’s major, the required prerequisite courses must also be completed.

At most schools, students must remain in good academic standing by earning a minimum GPA to graduate. This can be a total GPA for all courses and a GPA within the student’s major. Additionally, some schools do not count credits earned with a poor grade toward the major. For example, classes in which a D grade was earned might have to be retaken, and a better grade earned in order for the credits to count.

If English is not a student’s first language, then passing an English language proficiency exam might be required. Schools including UCLA have English language requirements for foreign students of a minimum score on either the IELTS or TOEFL test.

Many colleges and universities require some sort of capstone experience. These include a senior project such as a research project, an internship, exam, recital, performance or other activity that demonstrates broad competency and knowledge of the material studied through their academic career.

Before being eligible for graduation, students must also settle all financial obligations to the school.

How Long Does It Take to Earn All the Required Credits for a Bachelor’s Degree? 

Most students take between 4 and 6 years to complete all the credits necessary for a bachelor’s degree. Part-time students take longer to earn a degree.

Students in accelerated degree programs, those that take classes all year and those that complete more than 15 credits per semester earn a bachelor’s degree in no more than 3 years. Students that enter college with a significant number of AP, CLEP or IB credits can also graduate in less than 4 years.

Students that do not have full-time status and those earning double majors or double degrees often take longer to earn a bachelor’s degree.

It should be noted that students receiving financial aid through the FAFSA have 12 semesters or approximately 6 years to complete a degree, which is often motivation to earn enough credits for a bachelor’s degree within that time.

Do Accelerated Bachelor’s Programs Require Fewer Credits to Graduate?

No. Most accelerated degree programs require the same number of undergraduate credits to graduate. The differences are that the degree can be earned in a shorter period of time and, 10 weeks instead of 15 weeks for example, at many schools, an accelerated program also includes taking classes to earn graduate credits.

How Many Credits Per Semester Are Required for Full-time Bachelor’s Students?

All schools classify full-time enrollment as students taking at least 12 credit hours per semester.

At most schools, this is the equivalent of taking 4 classes at 3 credits each. However, since credits vary from 1 to 4 per class, the number of classes required to meet full-time enrollment varies.

The NCES states that 86.2% of first time students in 4-year programs enroll as full-time students. The percentage is 57.6% for transfer students.  

How Many Credits Does Financial Aid Cover Per Semester?

The number of credits covered by financial aid depends on the type of financial aid, the student’s enrollment status and the school’s financial policies. Financial aid awarded from filling out the FAFSA depends on whether the school charges tuition per credit hour or has a flat tuition plan.

Financial aid covers 12 credits per semester at schools that charge tuition per credit hour. At schools with flat fee tuition, financial aid covers 18 credits per semester, which is known as the 150% rule.

What Are the Statistics About Credit Completion for Undergraduate Students?

Here are key findings in a recent study conducted by National Student Clearinghouse on Credit Accumulation and Completion Rates Among First-Year College Students.

  • Students earned approximately 75% of the credit hours they attempted. For example, the average student attempting to earn 12 credits will earn 9; the student taking 16 credits will earn 12. This ratio is known as the credit completion ratio (CCR).
  • Just over half, or 51%, of students with full-time status earned 24 or more credit hours in their first year.
  • Just 28% earned 30 or more hours of credit in their first year.
  • Most full-time students do not attempt to earn enough credits needed to complete a bachelor’s degree in 4 years. Specifically, the average number of credits attempted by full-time students was 27. The average number of credits earned was 22.
  • Credits attempted and credits earned were similar when comparing transfer and non-transfer students.

These statistics are averages for all students. The study showed differences based on gender, ethnicity and age.

How Many Credits Do I Need for an Associate’s Degree?

Most associate’s degrees require 60 credits minimum. The range for credits needed can be 60-70 credits depending on the specific degree earned.

Changing schools, programs or concentration, or taking additional elective courses, will increase the number of credits required for an associate’s degree. Being required to take developmental or remedial courses also increases the number of credits required for an associate’s degree.

Can You Transfer Credits from a Bachelor’s Degree to an Associate’s Degree?

While not a common practice at most schools, in some cases credits from a bachelor’s degree can be transferred in order to complete an associate’s degree. According to the University of Michigan, the practice is known as reverse transfer. And whether it is allowable depends on the specific requirements of the associate’s degree, the schools transfer policies, residency requirements related to how many credits must be earned at the school granting the degree and whether the student is in good academic standing.

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