How Many Credits Do You Need to Graduate College? [2023 Guide]

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How many credits do you need to graduate college? Learn about credit types and the time it takes to earn associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees.

How many credits do you need to graduate college?

credits you need to graduate college

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While the honest answer is “it depends,” you can get a general idea by looking at different colleges, degree programs, and credit types to understand how it all breaks down.

Understanding College Credits

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In simple terms, a college credit is a measurement of the time spent and completion of a course. Most college courses are worth 3 – 4 credits, and you’ll need anywhere from 60 – 160 credits to earn a degree.

Many colleges will classify you as part-time or full-time. What is a full time vs. part time student?

  • You’re a part-time student if you take less than six credits per semester. This equals two courses.
  • You’re a full-time student if you take 12 or more credits per semester. This equals four courses.

As for how long that it will take to earn a degree, it depends on how many credits that you sign up for each semester. For example, earning a bachelor’s degree in four years typically takes around 15 credits per semester.

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Another thing to consider is the length of your college’s terms. While most colleges operate on a semester schedule with three terms (spring, summer, and fall) per year, others have a quarterly schedule with four terms (spring, summer, fall, and winter) per year.

This means that the classes take fewer weeks to complete and are usually worth fewer credits. There are three types of credits that are usually required for a college degree.

Major Area of Study Credits

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Major area credits are required for your particular major. They’re the meat of your degree since they teach you the skills and subjects of your chosen field.

If you’re a psychology major, for example, your area-of-study credits might include Addiction, Childhood Development, Human Behavior, and Ethics in Social Sciences. If you’re an accounting major, you might need Statistics, Microeconomics, Auditing, and Financial Management.

These credits are usually upper-level ones that you take after you have completed the basic courses. Many college students get their general education credits done first before they move on to intensive area-of-study credits in their chosen subjects.

General Education credits

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General education credits are the basic, entry-level ones that are usually tackled by freshmen and sophomores. They can teach valuable things, but as their name suggests, they’re generalized credits that everyone takes rather than specialized credits for unique majors.

A  few examples of general education credits include:

  • English Composition
  • College Algebra
  • Chemistry
  • Communication
  • Ethics

Many colleges divide their general education classes into broad categories like “natural sciences” and “humanities.” They’ll allow students to take any 3 – 6 credits within that particular category to satisfy their degree requirements.

For example, to get your natural science credits, you might be able to take Introduction to Chemistry or Biology 101 or Basic Astronomy.

You might have noticed that some general education credits can also double as area-of-study credits. This is completely normal.

The whole point of gen ed classes is to give students a diverse, well-rounded education in multiple disciplines, so consider it like a sampling of other majors as you work on your own.

Elective Credits

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Electives are the fun credits. They’re the classes that you can take just because they sound interesting or have cool professors. They don’t need to be related to your major, and they don’t need to tick off any specific categories or areas of interest.

Some students use electives as a chance to try new and crazy things. Others take electives that are related to their major so that they can further their skills and knowledge in their area of interest.

To keep students from filling up their schedules with nothing but electives, most degree programs limit the number of electives that will count towards a degree.

You can take as many as you want, but after a certain number, they won’t help you with your degree completion.

How Many Credits Do You Need to Graduate College with an Associates Degree?

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An associate degree is a two year degree that’s primarily offered by technical schools, vocational schools, and community colleges. Some four-year universities have them, but it’s less common.

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It usually takes 60 credits to earn an associate degree. Though it’s considered a two-year degree, your timetable can vary depending on how many credits you take per semester:

  • 60 credits / 15 credits per semester x 2 semesters per year = 2 years
  • 60 credits / 9 credits per semester x 2 semesters per year = 3.3 years
  • 60 credits / 6 credits per semester x 2 semesters per year = 5 years

One nice thing about associate degrees is that many colleges will accept them as the equivalent of two years of college, so if you take your AA/AS and apply to a four-year university in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree, you can probably start as a junior instead of a freshman. Your 60 credits will most likely transfer with you.

How Many Credits Do You Need to Graduate College with a Bachelor Degree?

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A bachelor’s degree is considered a four-year degree, but it can take anywhere from 3 – 7 years depending on your school, major, degree program, and acceleration options.

You usually need 120 credits to earn a bachelor’s degree. However, some majors will require more. Engineering can require upwards of 130 credits; architecture can take as many as 150 credits.

If you want to graduate in four years with a bachelor’s degree requiring 120 credits, you’ll need to take 15 credits per semester. The calculation looks like this:

  • 15 credits per semester x 2 semesters per year x 4 years = 120 credits

If you only earn 12 credits per semester, it will take you five years to earn a bachelor’s degree:

  • 12 credits per semester x 2 semesters per year x 5 years = 120 credits

You can also enroll in special fast bachelor’s degree programs to speed up your graduation. For example, you can take summer classes as part of an accelerated, three-year bachelor’s degree program, or you can find a dual degree program that can help you obtain your bachelor’s and master’s in a combined five years.

How Many Credits Do You Need to Graduate College with a Masters Degree?

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A master’s degree can take anywhere from 1 – 3 years of study. Again, it depends on your course load and the number of credits that you’re earning per semester. Some majors will also take longer than others.

Generally speaking, you’ll need between 30 – 40 credits to earn a master’s degree. This is in addition to the credits that you already earned as an undergraduate, so your total tally could be anywhere from 150 – 160 credits.

Some subjects can require as many as 60 credits, but they tend to be highly specialized in niche subjects.

Another thing to know about master’s degrees is that they don’t always follow the “three credits per class” rule of thumb.

Since they’re teaching advanced, time-consuming subjects, they might be worth more credits per class.

How Many Credits To Graduate College?

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Speaking very generally, here are the credit hours that you’ll need to earn a college degree:

  • Associate degree = 60 credits
  • Bachelor’s degree = 120 credits
  • Master’s degree = 30 – 60 credits

Every school is different, however, and there are many degree programs that break away from this format. Some might require a higher or lower number of credits; some might operate on a quarterly schedule that counts credits differently.

You should always talk to the school that you’re interested in to see how they do things.

How Many Credits Do You Need to Graduate a 2 Year College?

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It usually takes around 60 credits to earn an associate degree. If you want to continue your schooling, many four-year colleges will allow you to transfer these credits and fold them into a bachelor’s degree program.

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Instead of starting over as a freshman, you may begin as a sophomore or junior.

Can I Transfer Semester Credit Hours?

Many colleges will allow you to transfer credits from another institution. Just know that there’s usually a maximum amount that you can apply towards a degree.

For example, a college might only accept 60 – 70 credits for transfer or they might have rules about students having to earn at least 60 – 70 credits at their school as opposed to anyone else’s.

How Many Credit Hours is a Class Worth?

A college class is usually worth three credits. Less intensive classes might only be worth 1 – 2 while more advanced or specialized classes might be worth 4 – 5.

High school students might have half-credits that they can apply towards their degree.

How Many Credits Can You Transfer?

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Most colleges have a limit on the number of credits that you can transfer. A common cap is 60 credits from a two-year school and between 60 – 90 credits from a four-year school.

Some credits might not transfer. Schools have different standards when it comes to “course equivalences” or “transfer equivalences,” so you might lose some credits during your move, especially if you’re going out of state.

Another number to watch out for is the minimum number of credits that can be transferred. If you have less than 20 – 30 credits from another institution, the college might make you enroll as a freshman rather than a transfer student.

If you earned any credits from CLEP or other credit equivalency programs, the school might or might not recognize them.

How Many General Education Credits Do I Need to Graduate?

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It usually takes around two years to get through your general education credits. This could translate into anywhere from 40 – 60 credits.

Generally speaking, your general education credits shouldn’t take up more than 1/3 – 1/2 of your degree.

Your total number of gen ed credits will depend on your chosen school. It might have minimums and maximums, or it could have special programs that combine or supplement its entry-level coursework. Talk to an academic adviser to learn more.

What is a College Credit?

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A college credit is a recognition of the hours that you’ve put into a course. It’s usually calculated as one credit for every hour of class time in a single week.

For example, a two-credit course will require you to meet for two hours per week; a three-credit course will meet for three.

Before you start crunching numbers, however, it’s important to note that this is just an approximation and not a hard-and-fast rule. There are plenty of classes that don’t conform to these calculations.

Getting the Credits You Need to Graduate College

Getting the Credits You Need to Graduate College

Credits can be a complicated thing when you’re looking at colleges. However, it’s worth the time and effort to understand them.

Credits You Need to Graduate College

Once you know how the system works, you’ll be able to look at credits, programs, and major requirements with a trained eye, and you’ll be earning college credits fast and one step closer to getting your degree.

Ready to start your journey?
Joy is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Policy & Foreign Policy and holds a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management, as well as a Bachelor's in Business Administration. Joy's focus is helping non-traditional students find accelerated degree options and credit for prior learning opportunities.