Understanding Credit System in a University/College/Course

In many ways the transition from high school to university is huge. It’s a whole new environment, from the changes in the class time and the spike in workload to a new independence. You will come to learn and appreciate some of these things by yourself, but it is best to get the formalities out of the way so that you can get a head start on the road to success.

Without further ado, here is a guide to help you understand credits system in university and how it works at the college level.


What is a credit (system) in university/course?

To receive a degree/diploma/certificate, credits are simply ‘points’ that you must gain. Credits refer to the calculation of the amount of learning necessary for a qualification, quantified as the number of hours of notional study needed to obtain the results stated for the qualification.

For example, a Higher Certificate has 120 credits consisting of a 10 x 12 credit module. A module consisting of 12 credits equates to 120 notional hours. It, therefore, requires at least 8 hours of study per week in a 15-week semester.

Different degrees require different credit numbers, and in different areas, each major requires certain credits.

A Bachelor of Arts can require, say, 180 credits to earn the degree. In Economics, a BCom (Economics) will then need a large proportion of those credits, maybe 80 and 25 each in Accounting, Mathematics, Statistics, and Finance. Whereas it would require a BCom (Accounting), maybe 90 in Accounting and 30 each in Economics, Finance, and Statistics.

You must complete courses in each of the fields needed to obtain these credits. Each course carries a certain amount of credits, which are awarded until the course is completed. These courses are designed to start with an ‘introductory’ level course that needs to be passed to progress to a more intensive class worth more credits. For example, to advance towards Accounts 2a, worth 15 credits, Accounts 1a, worth 5 credits must be completed. After you have completed the entire degree, you may have completed three or four courses in each area, each with sequentially awarded credits with the difficulty level. All the credits combined would give the degree/diploma/certificate required, and the degree is awarded by the university, etc.

Many universities and several other institutions of higher education are working on this method, making it reasonably easy to update one’s registry position. Therefore, after a course has been completed to some degree, the credits associated with that course are forever yours. If you plan to modify research institutions, or maybe take a break from studying and return later, your degree/diploma/certificate will be credited with those credits, so you won’t have to redo the course.

However, there are still exceptions, and some other institutions may not accept the credits received at another institution. Some may accept only the credits of such courses, some merely a proportion of those previously granted, and still others may not at all consider anything. This is largely based on the college you have enrolled in.

In all university systems, the unifying factor is that they are all dynamic, subjective, and situation-specific, and no exception is the credit system. But take note that if you intend to do a bachelor’s degree at a local university and a master’s degree somewhere else, or anything like that, you will not be credited with all your credits, even if you might be able to negotiate or bend the rules to get what you want. Notice also that credits awarded at Harvard or Yale are more likely to be identified elsewhere, just as lesser institutions will accept the top African university courses.

Commonly, they will guarantee that you get the right number of credits before the last semester before graduation when you apply for a degree at a university. That way, if needed, you can take an extra module.

What is the credit accumulation?

“Credit accumulation” means the totalling of relevant credits required to complete a qualification or a part-qualification.

What are credit accumulation and transfer (CAT)?

According to SAQA, “credit accumulation and transfer (CAT) system” means an arrangement whereby the diverse features of both credit accumulation and credit transfer are combined to facilitate lifelong learning and access to the workplace. The system is used by many universities in South Africa to monitor, record, and reward passage through a modular degree course and to facilitate movement between courses and institutions.

One US credit hour is equal to four CATS points. US universities would often consider a standard 10 credit module to be worth 3 (rather than 2.5) US credit hours instead of granting fractional credits, similarly rounding out 15 South African credit modules to 4 US credit hours and 20 South African credit modules to 5 US credit hours.

How does the credit system work in university?

Qualifications require some credits which are broken down into smaller units. Undergraduate modules are typically 12 credits at most universities. Each module is anchored to a particular level of the NQF. For example, a bachelor’s degree of 360 credits consists of 30 modules, each with 12 credits. A bachelor’s degree may consist of:

  • between 8 and 10 modules of 12 credits each at NQF level 5
  • between 10 and 12 modules of 12 credits each at NQF level 6
  • 10 modules of 12 credits each at NQF level 7

These stages proceed one on from the other. You first have to have passed the module at a lower level when choosing a module. You must have completed the minimum number of credits before you can be granted a qualification. At the appropriate NQF level, the modules must be completed.

What does subject credit mean?

Subject credits are a credit toward a requirement, such as a general education or a course requirement for a major or minor. This is distinct from unit or degree credit, which refers to units earned toward a degree.

Why are credits awarded per subject?

Credit is the acknowledgment of having taken a university course, used as an indicator if appropriate hours for graduation have been taken. In South Africa, credit is granted per subject as the standardised measurement of a student’s academic competence. Essentially it reflects how much work you, the student, have put into a single semester course. Quite frequently, this initiative is reflected by hours of work.

Final thoughts

Because of the many complex words that are used, understanding credits system in university can be frustrating. It is important to consider, though, when attending a university, how it all works together. It will provide you a great deal of help throughout your college years.

Leave a Reply