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How many credit hours are needed to earn a bachelor’s degree?

    For those starting or amid their college journey striving for a bachelor's degree, you’ll need to understand what’s required of you to earn the degree. One thing to keep top of mind during your college career is the number of credit hours you need to complete to earn a bachelor’s degree.

    Of note, at U.S. colleges and universities, the terms “credit” and “credit hours” are often used interchangeably when describing requirements (although at some schools, this could vary). For the most part, think of a college credit as the unit a course is worth, and a credit hour as the amount of in-class time you’ll need to complete a course.

    Continue reading to learn more about how many credit hours you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree and other things to keep in mind when it comes to college credit and degree requirements.

    What’s the typical number of credit hours needed for a bachelor's degree?

    Throughout your undergraduate studies, you’ll likely need to complete a minimum of 120 credits to earn a bachelor’s degree, although degree requirements may vary by institution.

    Completing 120 credits typically requires completing 40 courses. One credit hour usually equals about 15 to 16 hours of classroom instruction. This tends to get calculated over a semester. Bachelor’s degrees generally take four years to complete, though they can sometimes be completed in less time and sometimes take longer to complete.

    Depending on your major, some programs may require more than 120 credits. Those pursuing two majors may need to complete more credits, too. When declaring your major, look into how many credit hours you’ll need and talk to your college advisor to ensure you know the requirements. 

    On top of overarching credit hour requirements, your college or university may require you to complete credit hour requirements in set buckets like general education courses, classes for your major, and electives.

    Some schools may also require you to complete a certain number of credit hours in classes within the school (rather than credit hours taken at another institution or credits obtained via Advanced Placement courses taken in high school).

    What courses do you need to complete to obtain a bachelor's degree?

    You generally need to complete around 40 courses to complete a bachelor’s degree. Depending on your school, you may have an open curriculum or be required to take core classes in addition to your major requirements.

    If your school has an open curriculum, you’ll have more liberty in choosing what classes you want to take. However, if your school requires you to take a certain number of core classes, you’ll generally have to take courses in specific categories that could include:

    • Math
    • Social sciences
    • Humanities
    • Science
    • Language

    Contact individual colleges or universities for more information on their course requirements.

    Common FAQs about college credits

    What are college credits?

    A college credit is a unit that measures learning at accredited colleges and universities in the U.S. Most college courses are worth three credits. Classes with a lab component might be worth four or five credits.

    What are credit hours?

    A credit hour is the unit of measurement used to indicate the amount of instructional and learning time required to receive credit for a course.

    Credit hours help clarify what kind of education you’re earning, sometimes making it easier to transfer credits from one school to another. They also help to set a minimum standard for financial aid.

    Do you automatically receive a degree if you complete enough credit hours?

    The answer to this is no. To receive a degree, including a bachelor’s degree, you likely need to complete not only the required amount of credit hours set by your school but also the specific credit hours required for your major. Students might also be required to complete a certain number of credit hours at the institution from which they’re seeking a degree. Another thing that could prevent you from receiving a degree if you’ve completed enough credit hours is not completing other requirements that your college has set. For instance, passing a swim test is required at some schools.

    Final thoughts

    Since each school and program has different requirements, meeting with your college advisor when making your class schedule each semester is considered a best practice to ensure you understand the credit hours you need to complete to graduate and in what.

    As you work towards graduation, make sure to keep in mind the number of credit hours your specific major requires to ensure you can graduate on time.