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The Credit System in USA's Higher Education

U.S. Higher education is based on credits. What are they and how do they work? Find out below.
BY Mehal Yadav |   21-06-2016

A credit based education system is popular in the US, EU and several other countries. But what is a credit and how does it work?

1.     What is credit?

When you apply to a university in the US, you choose your course, and some mandatory general education papers. For each paper, you earn credit hours, which are the number of classrooms hours put into that particular subject or paper.

The number of credits that are to be assigned to each course are decided by the professor or the university depending on the workload the course entails. While some ask for 110, some ask for 140. The number varies across universities.

For instance, let’s say you take up a 3-credit hour class. This means that you have to complete 3 hours of classroom training compulsorily. Besides that, depending on the university, each credit hour will also include 2-4 extra hours of homework, projects, lab work etc. So, to be able to do well in that class and earn the credits, you will have to have to study the extra amount of time for each credit hour.

Every degree has a mandatory number of credit hours that need to be completed. The number of credit hours accumulated in undergraduation courses is one of the requirements of Graduate Schools.

2.     How is grading done?

While there are a number of grading systems used in the US, the most common is the numerical GPA or the Grade Point Average system which uses a 4.0 scale, with 4.0 representing the highest achievement and 0.0 representing failure. In the US, the undergraduate GPA score is also one of the primary requirements for graduate entry. 

The GPA is calculated using your test scores and credit hours.

A standard conversion chart is as follows:

Number Grade Conversion
Numeric Grade Standard Grade Grade Point Average
90–100 A 4.0
80–89 B 3.0
70–79 C 2.0
60–69 D 1.0
Less than 60 F 0.0

Each grade has a numerical value attached to it. So, for an ‘A’ grade, you could earn, say, 4 points. For a ‘B’ grade, you could earn 3 points and so on. Now let us say you take a 3-credit class in English and you end up getting an ‘A’ grade. So, now you will have 3 credit units and 4 points which brings it to a total of 12 (3*4) grade points for that paper. Now, if you take another 3-credit class and get an ’A’, you get another 12 grade points. So, you have garnered 24 grade points and 6 credit units. Now, to calculate your GPA, you simply divide your total grade points by your credit units.  Here, you will get 4.0(24/6) or an ‘A’ grade.

However, this is not a definitive way of measuring grades for international students because different systems award grades very differently. So, if you’re an international student moving to USA for your bachelors, you needn’t worry. Most college staff is trained to understand credential systems of other countries and will not judge your score on the basis of the US equivalent.

Also, credits are transferable. The credits you earn while completing an associate degree are generally recognized by universities as part of their bachelor’s degree requirement.

Since the associate degree only lasts two years, it usually focuses on completing the general education requirements for the bachelor’s degree and emphasises broad subjects like the arts. After the completion of an associate degree, you can simply transfer your credits to a different university and continue your education there, with a greater specialization.

There are many advantages to a credit based education system – students can choose specialisations, they can manage workloads better, and take control of how to pace their degree. There are some disadvantages too – if you do not have a foundation credit, you will not be allowed to take related subjects.

What do you think of the credit based education system? Would it work for you? Let us know in the comments below.



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