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Online Degrees

Part of Western Governors University

November 16, 2022

Student Success

How Many Credits Do You Need to Graduate College?

College offers wonderful opportunities to learn more about the world and discover what you’re passionate about. But before you begin, it’s best to understand how your progress is measured: college credits.

College credits are generally required in order to earn a degree from a college or university. Depending on the type of degree you’re pursuing, you’ll need to complete a certain number of credits with passing grades in order to graduate. Most employers seek applicants who have at least some college experience, preferably having earned their bachelor’s degree. So, accumulating college credits will always help you stand out when applying for jobs. 

What Are College Credits?

To put it simply, college credits, sometimes called “competency units”, are the units of measurement used to gauge the amount of coursework a student has completed. One credit typically corresponds to one hour of classroom time per week over the course of a semester. For example, a three-credit course will usually meet for three hours per week over the course of a semester. Coursework for online and distance learning courses may be measured in a different way, but typically one credit still corresponds to one hour of student work per week. 

Understanding College Credits

It’s also important to distinguish between earned credits and attempted credits. “Attempted credits” refers to all the courses you take during your time in college, regardless of whether or not you pass the class. “Earned credits,” on the other hand, refers only to the courses for which you receive a passing grade. 

For example, let’s say you take five classes that are each worth three credits and you fail two of them. You will have attempted to earn 15 credits but only earned 9 credits. It’s important to keep track of both your earned and attempted credits because some financial aid programs require students to maintain a certain number of earned credits each semester in order to continue receiving aid. 

How Many Credits for General Education Requirements?

In addition to taking courses related to your major, you will also be required to complete what are known as “general education” or “core” classes. These are designed to provide you with a well-rounded education and typically include classes in English, math, history, science, and foreign language. The number of general education credits you are required to take depends on your school and your state, but it is typically between 40 and 60 credits. 

The cornerstone of your degree will come from taking courses specific to your major field of study. The number of required major courses varies by school and program, with most students completing between 10 and 20 courses in their major field. For example, the computer science major at WGU requires 23 courses, not including any general education or elective courses.

How Many Credits for an Associate Degree?

An associate degree typically requires around 60 credits or 20 courses, give or take a few depending on the school and program. On average, it takes two years to earn an associate degree. If you attend school full-time and take on the traditional credit load, then you should be able to graduate in two years with an associate degree. However, many students don't attend school full-time, or they end up taking more or fewer credits each semester for a variety of reasons (working while in school, transferring from one school to another, taking time off from school, etc.), which can lengthen or shorten their time to graduation.  

How Many Credits for a Bachelor's Degree?

A bachelor's degree typically requires around 120 credits. This means that if you're taking a full course load of four to five classes per semester, you'll need to be in school for about four years in order to earn your degree. Some students transfer college credit from AP or IB courses in high school or take summer classes to graduate sooner. Of course, you can always speed up the process with WGU’s competency-based education (CBE) model. This model allows you to move quickly through your courses, using your past experience or understanding to help you show mastery of the material and accelerate courses. This means that many WGU students are able to complete their bachelor’s degree programs of 120 credits much faster than the traditional 4 years.

Most undergraduate courses are worth three credits each, though this can vary depending on the school and the type of course. For example, labs and other specialized courses tend to be worth more credits than traditional lecture courses. In general, you'll need to complete around 40 courses in order to earn your bachelor's degree.

How Many Credits for a Master's Degree?

A master's degree is an advanced academic degree earned after completing a bachelor's degree. In order to earn a master's degree, students must complete between 30 and 60 credits. These credits include both core-required courses and electives. In addition to coursework, most master's programs also require students to complete either a thesis or a capstone project in order to graduate. The number of credits required for each student may vary depending on their departmental requirements. Some schools, programs, and master’s degree types allow students to complete their degrees in as little as one year, while others may take up to four years. WGU students pursuing a master’s degree benefit greatly from completing courses at their own pace with 24/7 online access to learning materials and assessments. As a result, a master’s degree is obtainable in less time than at a traditional university.  

How Many Credits Can You Transfer?

The number of credits that you can transfer will depend on a variety of factors, including the type of institution you’re transferring to and the type of degree you’re pursuing. Typically, students can transfer up to 60 credits from a two-year college and 90 credits from a four-year college. So, if you have 30 credits completed, chances are good that you’ll be able to transfer them to your new school.

However, it’s important to note that even though some colleges have flexible credit transfer policies, there are still some with strict policies in place. For example, some colleges only accept credits from schools that are accredited by a certain accrediting body. If you’re planning on transferring credits, your best bet is to check with the admissions office beforehand to find out what their policy is. 

Learn More

Considering a degree from WGU? Contact our Admissions Department for more information on transferring credits and our generous transfer credit policy. Each potential transfer receives an individual transfer evaluation to review completed courses and determine how they transfer over to WGU. Then, a transfer expert will help outline a custom academic plan just for you.

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