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College Credits and What They Mean: Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors, Seniors

You’re about to head off to college, and you want to make the most of your time there. So you might be wondering what college credits are, and how they affect your ability to graduate on time. Let’s explore college credits for freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and what they mean at universities.

What Are College Credits?

College credits are the units of measurement that measure a student’s academic progress. You earn credits every time you complete a class. In general, an Associate’s degree requires 60 credits while a Bachelor’s degree requires 120 credits. Keen on earning a Master’s degree? Tack on another 36-54 credits depending on your major.

Keep in mind that every institution has unique requirements for earning credits. Check with your school to find out exactly what you need to graduate with your desired degree.

Part-time vs. Full-time College Credit Requirements

As you might guess, part-time students earn fewer college credits because they take fewer classes. Full-time students must take at least 12 credits per semester at most universities. Some programs may allow people to finish sooner by taking up to 18 credits.

Part-time status refers to anything below 12 credits. If you drop below part-time status, you may not qualify for many scholarships, grants, federal student loans, and tax credits and deductions. A full-time commitment is best if you want to finish your degree on time and qualify for financial aid.

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A Breakdown of College Credits: Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior

Like high school, college is divided into four years: freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior. 

  • How many credits to be a freshman in college: 30
  • How many credits to be a sophomore in college: 30 to 60
  • How many credits to be a junior in college: 60 to 89
  • How many credits to be a senior in college: 90+

Most students take up to 120 credits to graduate. This accounts for switching majors, taking elective classes for leisure, and internships that may translate to 10 to 15 credits.

If you’ve already completed two years at a junior college, most universities will consider that your sophomore year. This means you would enter the third year in a four-year school if you transferred there.

How Many Credits Do I Need to Graduate?

The exact number of credits may vary depending on which type of school you attend and the major you choose. Generally, you’ll need about 120 credits to graduate from college. Of these credits, some will be for certain classes in each subject area (i.e., humanities, math, science, fine arts). These are general education courses that everyone must take regardless of their major. Finally, college students take classes that fulfill their degree requirements.

Taking classes isn’t the only way to earn college credits. You may also pursue internships or extracurricular activities that can translate to credits toward your degree.

How Long Are College Credits Valid?

Most college credits do not have an “expiration date.” But some universities have a rule where you may have to retake some classes if too much time has elapsed. Colleges aim to ensure that students are up-to-date on the latest and greatest in their field of study. But if the coursework hasn’t changed much, your credits may still be valid.

Have you taken a break from university? The best way to find out whether your college credits are still active is by asking your institution. A school counselor can tell you exactly which class credits will count toward your degree, and which ones you may have to retake.

How to Transfer College Credits

If you’ve already earned a degree from another institution, there’s a good chance that some of your classes will count toward the requirements for your new school. Get in touch with the registrar’s office at both schools to confirm which credits transfer. Your advisor at the new school can tell you how many more you need to graduate. For example, if you earned an Associate’s degree at a community college, you may not need to retake all the general education courses at a four-year university.

To transfer college credits, you need a copy of your transcript from your previous school. Your new school will review this to determine which credits transfer and which won’t. Having a syllabus on hand may also be helpful to show exactly what you learned.

On track to finish early? Your advisor can help you figure out how many credits you need to earn your degree and what classes you must take to meet the requirements.

Am I On Track to Graduate?

Check your school’s requirements if you’re not sure how many credits you need to graduate. The number of credits can differ for each student.

Let’s say you finished your Associate’s degree at a community college (60 credits for general education courses). You go into a four-year school to pursue a Biology degree and start taking a bunch of science classes. After a year in, you decide that this major isn’t for you and choose to switch majors and study Communications. In this case, you would have to take completely different classes to meet the course requirements for the Communications degree. In the end, you may end up with more than 120 credits.

Another way students rack up more than 120 credits is by taking on a minor. For example, many Communications students also graduate with a Business minor. Depending on your school’s Business program, you may need an extra 18-28 credits to graduate with the minor.

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Every College Student’s Journey is Unique

Remember that while credits are a good measure of your academic progress, they aren’t everything. Each student has a unique journey in college. To receive a degree in a particular field, you must complete your school’s required coursework.

The concept of college credits may seem confusing at first. But when you break it down year by year, it becomes easier to follow. You accumulate credits with every class you take, and your studies build a robust foundation for your future career.

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