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How Many U.S. Credits Will I Get For My Degree?

When clients receive their reports, especially those with undergraduate credit, one of the more common questions we receive has to do with a perceived discrepancy between the total credits earned on a university transcript and those shown on the evaluation report. For many, this can be alarming, as it may seem like all of the credits that were earned in your home country are not being reported, but nothing can be further from the truth.

What Is a Credit Hour?

A credit hour in the United States, also referred to as a semester hour or simply a credit, is generally understood to be the amount of time a student spends studying in a particular course during the semester. For example, most courses offered at the undergraduate level in the U.S. are 3 credit hours long, meaning that a student spends approximately 3 hours a week studying in that course. The average undergraduate student enrolls in roughly 15 – 18 credit hours a semester, meaning that the average bachelor’s degree – expected to last 8 semesters or 4 years – depending on the subject, can be expected to range from 120 to 144 credit hours in duration. The humanities, social sciences and business studies tend to fall towards the lower end of that spectrum, while STEM and healthcare fields lean towards the higher end.

It is also important to note that a credit in China or the United Kingdom isn’t necessarily the same as a credit in the United States. The way in which different countries – and different universities in different countries – attempt to measure and quantify a student’s education can vary widely, and to navigate these differences, evaluators at International Education Evaluations (IEE) must make use of credit conversions in order to frame credit earned internationally in a way that is more readily understood by potential educators and employers in the United States.

How Are Credits Converted To Their US Equivalents?

The typical bachelor’s degree in the U.S. is 4 years and is at least 120 credits in length, depending on the field of study. We can compare this to the typical 4-year degree from China, where the number of credits can range from 160 to 180 credits. Does this mean that the average Chinese student studies more to earn a bachelor’s degree? Not necessarily. One widely accepted principle in the world of credential evaluation is that one semester of study at a university in one country is equivalent to one semester of study at a university in another country. This means that the perceived differences in workload are just variations in the way that degrees are weighed and measured. It then stands to reason that when degree holders from other countries come to the U.S. and seek to have their qualifications evaluated by IEE, those credits must be converted properly to ensure that they are more readily understood in a U.S. context.

This process is relatively straightforward and involves a simple mathematical formula:

Target US Credit Hours / Actual Credit Hours from Overseas Institution = Credit Conversion Factor

IEE utilizes a course-by-course approach in evaluating credentials, meaning that each individual course on a transcript must be individually converted to a U.S. equivalent. Once the conversion factor has been found, it is then multiplied by the individual credit value of each course to find their US equivalent:

Actual Credit Hours from Overseas Institution X Conversion Factor = Total Equivalent US Credit Hours

In many cases, the resulting U.S. credit hours are less that what is shown on the transcript, but due to the ratios involved in the conversion, the new U.S. credit equivalents are still directly proportional to the original credit values, meaning that the overall GPA of the credential is not affected.

What About Countries That Do Not Use Credit Hours To Measure Study?

It is also worth mentioning that there are several countries that do not credits at all. Good examples of these include Brazil, which measures education in terms of class hours, or Kenya, where some universities simply don’t weigh courses relative to one another. In Brazil, degrees are measured in class hours, and an undergraduate degree can reach into the thousands. At Kenyan Universities that choose not to use credits, courses are treated as being equal to one another.

While examples such as these may seem to call for another approach, in reality we apply the same principles for conversion. For Brazil, it is simply a matter of substituting the native credit hours for class hours – paying no mind to the large numbers involved – and applying the formula accordingly. In situations involving schools in Kenya that do not use credits or class hours, IEE applies a formula of one credit value for each course, and then proceeds to use that total when performing its calculations.

In both cases the results are the same, reliable, straightforward credit conversions that allow IEE to gauge the weight of individual courses for use in U.S. higher education and employment settings.

How Does Benchmarking Affect Credit Conversion?

Benchmarking is a method used by IEE to equate certain three-year bachelor’s degree programs to 4-year bachelor’s degree programs in the U.S. For more information regarding benchmarking at IEE, please see their white paper, Rethinking US Equivalency for 3-Year Degrees: A Paradigm Shift in Credential Evaluation.

The effect benchmarking has on credit conversion is fairly straightforward, it requires that the target U.S. credit hours be modified to account for more credit hours. Remember, average student takes around 15 to 18 credits a semester, or 90 to 108 credits over the course of 3 years. This does not reach the minimum of 120 credits that we would expect to see in a bachelor’s degree from the US, so a direct conversion of three years of international credit to three years of US credit is not appropriate. Instead, IEE uses credit conversions to show that a 3-year degree’s credit is equal to a 4-year degree’s credit in the U.S. This is done because when a degree is benchmarked, IEE is recommending that it be considered equivalent to a full, 4-year degree in the U.S. Additionally, 3-year degrees that are deemed eligible for benchmarking provide access to graduate, master’s degree level study, the same as 4-year degrees in the U.S., and this must be reflected in the credit conversion.

The Logic of Mapping International Education Credentials

We hope that this article has helped clarify what a credit hour is, and the logic used to convert them from one country to another. Different countries may measure educational achievement in various ways, and it is IEE’s responsibility to navigate these differences and produce evaluation reports that are accurate, verifiable, and easy to understand.

It’s important to always remember that IEE prepares your evaluation so that it is easily understood and accepted by the college or university that you are applying to.  Having reliable conversions that accurately depict your education in a U.S. context is an important part of helping you take your next step towards making your dreams come true.

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About author

Dave Williamson is a credential evaluator at International Education Evaluations (IEE) with almost 7 years of experience in International Higher Education and Credential Assessment. Dave’s degrees are in International Studies and Modern Languages. Prior to IEE, Dave worked in university international admission programs across three different states.
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