College credit hours are awarded to students for completing certain activities, classes or special tests in addition to the normal curriculum. These hours can help meet completion requirements for courses, allowing a student to get closer to graduating. Students are often awarded college credit hours for honors classes or for life or work experience equivalent to course training.
If a typical semester of school is approximately 16 weeks, and a student takes a class that is two hours per week, he or she would need a total of 32 college credit hours in the same subject to cancel out the requirement for that class. The amount of college credit awarded depends entirely on the school, so prospective students should check the school policy extremely carefully before applying. In addition, it is recommended that you meet with an admissions counselor to determine exactly what credit you will earn.
Receiving college credit hours is done in a variety of ways, but one of the most common is by taking academically advanced classes. These classes, often called “honors” courses, may meet the requirements of general education classes taken in the first two years of college. In many countries, a global program called the International Baccalaureate, or IB, allows students to take extra classes or do additional projects and tests to receive possible college credit. At certain universities, it is possible for a freshman-level student to enter as a sophomore or junior if they have successfully completed enough qualifying courses as a high school student.
Some colleges will also allow college credit for work experience. While the student may not technically receive credit hours, they may be allowed to skip pre-requisite courses and enter advanced classes if they can show proficiency at the basics of the subject. Some schools also allow students to “test out” of a prerequisite or entry-level class, permitting them to complete their course work in less time and go straight to advanced classes.
College credit hours can not only shorten the time between entrance and graduation, they can also lessen the financial burden of a student by a considerable amount. If a high school student is able to complete a university program in two years rather than four, they will save two years of tuition, housing, and expenses. This allows students to enter post-college life at a younger age and, for students who rely heavily on student loan programs, with half the debt of a typical four year education.
Parents and students should beware, however, of overburdening a student with college credit classes. These classes are typically taught at college-level difficulty, and may include arduous projects, essays and tests. Some students may struggle with the difficult coursework, or be unable to pass the tests typically given at the end of the class. Failure to pass tests often results in no credit given, no matter how hard a student has worked to do well all year. Students may wish to start with one or two classes to make sure they can keep up with the workload, before taking on any more.
Before signing up for dozens of IB or honors classes, a student should carefully consider the colleges they would like to attend and check their policy on accepting course credit hours. Be aware, as well, that some schools may change their policy while a student is still in high school, rendering some of his hard work useless. Contact colleges early to speak to admissions counselors about the stability of their program and their recommendations for a course of study.