College Credits Made Easy [2024 Ultimate Guide]

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Whether you’re a first-time freshman or returning to school after a long absence, understanding college credits can be more than a little bit overwhelming.

what are college credits

In a hurry? In our next article, we walk you through getting 15 college credits fast.

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When trying to decide your major or even just to plan your schedule for your first semester, you might be asking yourself a lot of questions:

  • How many credits should I take?
  • Why is this class worth 3 credits and that one worth 4?
  • How many credits do I need to graduate?
  • What exactly is a credit?

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to get straightforward answers to these questions.

2024 Guide to College Credits

To help clear up some of the confusion and hopefully take away some of the stress, here’s a step by step breakdown of college credits.

  1. What is college credit?
  2. What is a credit hour?
  3. Do college credits expire?
  4. How long are college credits good for
  5. How many credits do you need to graduate college?
  6. How many credits to be a full-time college student?
  7. How many credit hours is part-time in college?
  8. How many credits to graduate community college?
  9. How many college credits to be a sophomore?
  10. How many college credits to be a junior?
  11. How many college credits to be a senior?
  12. How many college credits do I have?
  13. Will my college credits transfer?
  14. How to transfer college credits
  15. How long does it take to get 15 college credits?
  16. How long is 3 credit hours in college?
  17. How long is a college credit hour?
  18. What are college credits?
  19. How many college credits is full time?
  20. How many college credits do you need?
  21. How do I find out how many college credits I have?

Don’t see your question? Just leave a comment with your question at the bottom of this article. We want this guide to cover any questions you might have about college credits.

What is college credit?

What is college credit

College credits are the building blocks of a college degree. For every class you complete, you earn credits. By the time you’ve successfully made it through the entire program, you will have accumulated enough credits to graduate.

  • Associate’s Degree – About 60 credits
  • Bachelor’s Degree – Usually 120 credits
  • Master’s Degree – 36 credits is the norm, but some programs go up to 54 credits

These credits can be obtained in various ways. The most common way is by attending lectures and doing typical classroom work, like taking exams or writing papers.

For majors like nursing or physical therapy, you may have to complete clinical hours at a hospital or nursing home to begin to apply the things you’ve learned to real life. These experiences also contribute to your accumulated college credits.

What is a credit hour in college?

Each and every class you take in college is measured in credit hours, usually 1 to 4 credit hours per class. The number of credit hours a class is worth is determined by the number of hours you spend in the classroom each week during a semester.

Let’s look at an example. A class that meets for 1 hour every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday is worth 3 credit hours. This is because the class meets for a total of 3 hours each week.

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This can vary a little. Some science courses are worth 3 credits for the classroom time but also have a weekly lab session that you’re required to complete, too. So, you get 1 credit for the lab and 3 credits for the class, a total of 4 credits.

You can get credit hours for other things, too, like any clinical or practical experiences you have to do as part of your degree plan. For an education major, this could be student teaching. For a nursing student, clinicals are a good example.

Do college credits expire?

If you’ve already completed some college credits, but a lot of time has passed, you’re probably wondering if your credits still count.

The short answer is: it depends.

The real answer will take a moment to explain.

The most important factor in credit expiration is relevancy.

Are the classes you took all those years ago still relevant?

Any courses you took to fulfill general education requirements will likely still be valid. These courses include English Composition, Social Sciences, History, Humanities, Art, Science, and basic Math. Generally, these introductory courses do not change much over time and the expected course outcomes are generally the same from college to college.

Some of your science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses may no longer pass the relevancy test though. In general, if your STEM credits are older than 10 years, they may not count towards your degree requirements, but some colleges may count them as elective credits.

If you think your college credits will be expiring soon, you can complete your college degree faster using these methods.

The types of courses you’ve completed, when you took your courses, and the school to which you are applying will ultimately determine how your credits will transfer.

How long are college credits good for?

Again, this depends on the course you took and the university you are currently attending. If the information you learned is still relevant, meaning not much has changed in that field of study, your credits may still count toward your degree.

Some universities, however, have a rule in which college credits lapse after a certain amount of time, typically 7-10 years. The logic is that you have probably forgotten the skills taught in those courses and need to brush up on your knowledge. Ask the university you’re applying to about whether your credits will transfer in.

How many credits do you need to graduate college?

How many credits do you need to graduate college

How many credits to graduate college depends on the degree you are pursuing.

  • For a 2-year associate’s degree, you’ll need about 60 credits.
  • For a 4-year bachelor’s degree, you’ll need about 120 credits.

Keep in mind that associate’s and bachelor’s degrees are two separate programs.

For example, you can’t start a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and decide after 60 credits that you changed your mind and walk away with an Associate’s in Business. Each of these degrees is structured differently and serves a different purpose.

How many credits to be a full-time college student?

You have to take a minimum of 12 credits per semester to be considered full-time, but many programs allow students to take as many as 18.

How many credit hours is part-time in college?

Part-time students take anything less than 12 credits. You’re considered part-time if you take 1 class or if you’re carrying, say, 9 credits of class time and a 1 credit lab.

How many credits to graduate community college?

It depends on what you’re studying, but community colleges generally offer 3 types of associate’s degrees:

  • Associate of Arts – 60 credits
  • Associate of Sciences – 60 credits
  • Associate of Applied Sciences – 60 credits

Some community colleges might add a couple of extra credits for physical education or orientation, but 60 credit hours is the norm to graduate.

How many college credits to be a sophomore?

How many college credits to be a sophomore

You need 30 – 59 credits to be considered a sophomore.

If you do the math, you’ll see that if you are a full-time student taking 12 credits a semester, you’re technically a sophomore after 3 semesters.

How many college credits to be a junior?

60 – 89 credits will make you a junior.

How many college credits to be a senior?

Once you have earned 90 credits or more, you will be a senior. It’s time to celebrate!

How many college credits do I have?

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to that question. The only way to get a reliable count of your credit hours is to contact the schools you attended and request an official transcript.

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If you’re returning to school, you’ll need this information during the application process anyway. You can contact the school through their website or by filling out a form to request transcripts. There is usually a small fee involved.

High Schoolers

If you’re in high school and have passed an AP exam or are taking classes at a local college or university, you should be able to find out how many credits you have through your guidance counselor or by requesting transcripts from directly from the college or university.

Will my college credits transfer?

Most likely, yes, if you earned your college credits from a regionally accredited university or college.

Most general education classes will transfer, provided you earned them at an accredited university. These are the classes you take when you’re a freshman before you start getting into specific courses required for your major. Courses like English, history, math, writing, public speaking, and other general education courses usually transfer pretty easily.

Higher level classes that are more specific may not transfer as easily, especially if a lot of time has passed and the field has advanced quite a bit. This is pretty common in fields like nursing, engineering, or sciences where theories and advancements happen quickly and older information is no longer accurate.

Changing majors

If you are changing majors, some of your college credits may not fit into your new degree plan. When this happens, you can sometimes use your credits to fill up any elective credits you may have.

How to transfer college credits

How to transfer college credits

Make sure you check with your advisor or the registrar’s office so you know exactly what you need to do: the forms you need to fill out, what supporting paperwork you need to submit when all the deadlines are that you have to meet.

If you’ve previously been in college, you will have to provide a copy of your transcripts so your new school can determine what will transfer and what won’t.

It’s also a good idea to have a copy of a schedule or syllabus from any class you’re hoping will transfer. Your transcripts will usually only show the name of the class, the grade you received, and the credit hours it was worth. If you have a syllabus, you can show exactly what you learned, which might make a difference.

It’s not always easy to tell what a class covered simply by looking at its title. A syllabus acts as proof of what you learned.

How long does it take to get 15 college credits?

If you are a full-time student, you can get 15 credits in 1 semester by taking five 3 credit classes. If you’re a part-time student, you can easily do it in as little as 2 semesters if you take 3 classes one semester and 2 the next.

If you want to get 15 college credits fast, you may be able to use CLEP exams or credit for life experience to get 15 college credits in a matter of hours (not including exam prep time).

How long is 3 credit hours in college?

If you’re attending class on campus, 3 credit hours is a class that meets for one hour 3 times a week.

You may also find night classes that will meet 1 night a week for 3 hours. Because you’re in class for 3 hours every week in each of these cases, they both give you 3 credit hours.

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Online classes aren’t as straightforward since you’re not actually attending a lecture, but the idea is that you’ll spend as much time doing the online work as you would if you were in the classroom to achieve the goals of the class.

How long is a college credit hour in college?

Basically, a college credit hour is 1 hour spent in class on a weekly basis.

A good example that might make more sense is to compare, say, a microbiology class with the lab that you have to take along with it.

If the class meets 3 times a week for 1 hour each time, that class is worth 3 credit hours. The lab meets for 1 hour 1 day a week and is worth 1 credit hour. Together, the microbiology course with a lab is worth 4 credit hours.

What are college credits?

What are college credits

College credits are a representation of the hours you’ve spent in class. Typically, one hour in class per week equals one credit. So, if a class meets for an hour three days per week, that class will give you three credits. Those credits then add up to the number of credits you need to graduate.

How many college credits is full time?

To be considered full-time, you need to take 12 credit hours per semester. Many programs, however, allow students to take up to 18 credit hours to finish faster.

How many college credits do you need?

For an associate’s degree, you’ll need about 60. A bachelor’s degree usually requires 120. But note that not every credit you take will count toward your degree. You need to take the classes specified in that program.

How do I find out how many college credits I have?

The only way to find out how many college credits you have is to contact the university you attended. They will have a record of your completed classes and can send you a transcript to show to other colleges.


college students in a university classroom

College credits can seem like a real puzzle, but when you break down all the different parts of them, it starts to come together. Remember, college credits are the building blocks of your degree. You build them up slowly, class by class. Before you know it, your studies can help you build a strong foundation and reach new heights.

Still, have a question about college credits? Just leave a comment with your question!

Ready to start your journey?
Joy is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Policy & Foreign Policy at Liberty University and holds a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management from Amberton University, as well as a Bachelor's in Business Administration from Columbia College. With over 20 years of experience navigating online degrees and courses, Joy's focus is helping non-traditional students find accelerated degree options and credit for prior learning opportunities.