Credit and Credit Load

Definition of a Credit

Penn State credits are awarded on a semester-hour basis. For the average student, 1 credit represents a total of at least forty hours of work in class activities and outside preparation. The distribution of time between class activities and outside preparation varies depending on the type of course. Typically, courses which involve lecture, discussion, or recitation require 12.5 classroom hours per credit. Therefore, the distribution of time is usually about one-third formal in-class instruction and two-thirds out-of-class preparation. For laboratory courses, the distribution of time is very different. For each credit, approximately 25 to 37.5 hours are spent in laboratory instruction; in addition, out-of-class preparation is required.

Enrollment Status (Semester Credit Load)

A student's credit load is one factor that determines his/her tuition. The Student Tuition Calculator can be used to determine tuition based on a student's credit load (as well as other factors: residency, semester/session, campus, college, major, and credits achieved).

Definition of Full-Time Credit Load

The University considers a student full-time if he/she schedules a total of 12 or more credits, excluding course audits, from any combination of credit courses through resident instruction, Continuing Education, or World Campus. However, different programs and agencies may have different definitions of full-time status. The student should check with the appropriate office(s) for information on their policies.

Definition and Implications of a Part-Time Credit Load

A student is considered part-time if he/she schedules less than 12 credits per semester. When considering part-time enrollment, the student should be aware that a full-time credit load may be required by certain programs and agencies. Before scheduling less than 12 credits, the student should check with the appropriate office(s), examples listed below, for information on their policies.

Maintaining a Certain Credit Load (Courses with Alternative Time Frames)

Part-Semester Courses: Scheduling a part-semester course that begins after the start of the semester may allow a student to maintain full-time status.

Individualized Experiences for Credit: A student may arrange an experience such as an independent study, internship, or research project. To discuss this alternative, the student should contact a faculty member with whom he/she would like to work.

Examples of Programs and Agencies with Special Credit Requirements

Financial aid: Contact the Office of Student Aid, 314 Shields Building, 814-865-6301, or the student aid representative at the student's Penn State campus.

Intercollegiate athletics: Contact the Morgan Academic Support Center for Student-Athletes. Reducing a student's credit load can affect participation and eligibility. To determine whether a student is classified as a student-athlete, advisers and students can use Academic Summary on eLion.

International students: Contact the University Office of Global Programs, 410 Boucke Building, 814-865-7681. Having less than full-time academic status can affect students' visa status.

The Schreyer Honors College: Contact the Schreyer Honors College, C-4 Atherton Hall, University Park. To determine whether a student is a Schreyer Scholar, advisers and students can use Academic Summary on eLion.

Credit Overload, more than 19 Credits

To schedule more than 19 credits, a student must add the overload credits during the drop/add period. No additional tuition is charged. When determining an overload, the Registrar's office counts audit credits as part of a semester credit load.

Summer Session Credit Load

See Summer Sessions.

Determining the Number of Credits to Schedule

The typical credit load for a full-time student is 12 to 19 credits per semester. But optimum credit load varies with the individual student's abilities, study habits, combination of courses scheduled, extracurricular activities, employment situation, participation in programs with special credit requirements, etc. (see Considerations when Planning a Student Schedule). The student should determine the academic pace that best fits his/her situation and schedule accordingly. The student in academic difficulty should aim for quality rather than quantity.

To determine the number of credits to be scheduled in a semester or session, it may be helpful to estimate the academic work load required. This can be accomplished by multiplying the number of credits the student wants to schedule by the forty hours of work which may be required (see Definition of a Credit, above). This total is then divided by the number of weeks in the semester or session of enrollment.

e.g.: 15 credits x 40 hours of work per credit = 600 hours of work
600 hours / 15 weeks = 40 hours of work per week during the semester

As a rule of thumb, if a forty-hour work week is planned, the number of credits scheduled should equal the number of weeks in the semester or session.


Reviewed: May 2013
Last Update: June 2007

Reference(s): Senate Policies 42-23, 34-52, 34-53

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