Credit and Credit Load

Definition of a Credit

For the typical student, a total of forty-five (45) hours of work is required to earn one credit. Course credits are earned in a variety of educational experiences. The Federal definition of a credit hour (used for awarding Federal student aid) provides minimum requirements that should be consistent for all credit earned by instruction regardless of delivery method. More than the minimum may be required for mastery of course objectives.

The distribution of time between class activities and outside preparation varies from course to course regardless of the type of instruction (in person, electronic, pre-recorded content delivered through resident, online, or hybrid). Examples of this division of time for some types of instruction (e.g., lecture, lab, projects) are detailed in Senate Policy 42-23.

Enrollment Status (Semester Credit Load)

A student's credit load is one factor that determines his/her tuition. The Tuition and College Cost Estimator 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 Center  (814-865-0407). 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 LionPATH, the Academic Background section, which includes an Athletic Participation field that shows the student's status.

International students: Contact the University Office of Global Programs, 410 Boucke Building, 814-865-7681. Having less than full-time enrollment can affect students' visa status. U.S. regulations do allow reduced course loads in restricted situations. These exceptions include academic difficulty, last semester of enrollment, and medical and psychological reasons.

The Schreyer Honors College: Contact the Schreyer Honors College, C-4 Atherton Hall, University Park.

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 Schedule Planning). 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 45 hours of work per credit = 675 hours of work
675 hours ÷ 15 weeks = 45 hours of work per week during the semester

As a rule of thumb, the number of credits scheduled should be about equal to the number of weeks in the semester or session.


Last Update: November 2016

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

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