What Is A Full-Time College Semester Load?

Two open laptops sitting on a deck with two students writing with a pencil on a white paper. Two students who are taking a college semester are working on them.

There’s a saying in college, Through In Two, Finish In Four. This means that if you are at a community college earning your associate degree it should take two years—four semesters. If you start a university as a freshman, it should take you four years—eight semesters, to earn your bachelor’s degree. If you are a transfer student like I was, you’re Through In Two at both your community college and your university. Unfortunately, it is impossible to graduate in those time frames if you take what colleges consider a full semester load. I delve deeper into semesters in the article, How Long Is A College Semester (A Complete Guide: Time And Length).

Everything You Need To Know About College Credits

When you become a college student, credits will rule your every move. You will calculate them, recalculate them, plan them, add them, drop them, withdraw from them, try to find areas they will fit in, curse them and ultimately love them when they earn you your degree. They will determine your GPA, class ranking (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior), how much you pay per semester, and they will make a distinction if you are a full-time or part-time student.

Just because you have a lot of credits does not mean you will have a degree, or you are even on a path to a degree. Credits are finicky, they need to serve a purpose, and they need to be in specific areas and sometimes at specific times (prerequisites classes). Some credits will be applied toward general education requirements, others will be applied to major requirements, core classes, and electives. They are the building blocks of your degree and the pathway to your graduation. It is important to understand them.

What Is A College Credit

What exactly is a college credit? Every class you take will be measured in credit hours. The number of credits measures the number of hours that you will spend in class each week during a semester. One college credit represents one hour spent in the classroom per week. College courses range between 1 and 5 credits, though most are 3. A class that is 3 credits means you will attend class 3 hours every week. Class schedules can vary, some classes may be held Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, or even on a single day.

Earning An Associate Degree

To be considered a full-time enrolled student, a semester load is 12 credits. Anything under 12 credits is considered part-time. Let’s do a little basic math. To earn an associate degree, it is minimum of 60 credits. I say minimum because depending on what your major is it can vary in credits. However, most Associate Degrees take 60 credits so that’s what we will work with for our example.

Using 12 credits, which is considered a full load, 12 x 4 semesters = 48 credits. You are 12 credits shy of your 60. There is no way you are, Through In Two, taking the minimum 12 credits a semester. You would need to take, 15 units a semester. 15 x 4 = 60 credits. It is vital that you build your class schedule to take at least 15 credits a semester to graduate in a timely manner. If 15 credits are too much you can take a few courses during summer school or winter intersession to lighten your load.

Earning An Bachelor’s Degree

To earn a bachelor’s degree is a minimum of 120 credits. Again, this is approximate because depending on your major it will vary. However, since most bachelor’s degrees require a minimum of 120 credits, I will use that for simplicity. 12 x 8 semesters = 96 credits. You are 24 credits shy of your 120. Again, you would need to take 15 credits a semester to graduate in four years. 15 x 8 = 120.

The minimum number of credits you should take per semester is 15. I say minimum because there may be times you will take 16, 17, or even 18 depending on the class and your placement testing. You may have to take a few prerequisite classes like in Math and English which may not count toward your degree. Knowing your prerequisites are extremely important.

To be a successful student and graduate in a timely manner you must know exactly how many credits you need to earn your specific degree. While you are in college, every semester you will be recalculating, ensuring that you are still on track to graduate. If you somehow get off your academic plan, don’t panic, find a way to squeeze in the necessary courses via summer school, winter intersession, a night class, or a class online. If your college doesn’t offer it, check around at other colleges and see if you can take the class there and transfer it.

Shocking Graduation Rates

Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against you. Less than half of students graduate on time—within 4 years. 6 years is becoming the new normal. Some studies even go as far as to say 8 years will be the average to earn a bachelor’s degree. I find these numbers staggering and completely avoidable. I’ve written an article on How to Graduate College With A Bachelor’s Degree In 4 Years Or Less.

In America, we work very hard for people to have the opportunity to attend college. With heavy attention on enrollment, graduation rates struggle in their shadow. Here at Your College Sensei, we want you to know you don’t have to be a part of these statistics. With efficiency, developed through good planning and determination, these additional years will be unnecessary.

A old and worn general electric volts meter with a white arrow spiking to full volts. This represent taking 15 credits each college semester

There is good news, there are some statistics that are in your favor. While the goal is to get in and out of college quickly to save time and money, taking a full semester load will also increase your chances of graduating. Statistics show that part-time enrollment reduces graduation rates while students who enroll full-time are 5 times more likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Think about that. 5 times is substantial. Taking a full load not only saves you time and money it increases your chance of graduating.