How do credit systems work?

Understanding what academic credits mean can be confusing because of the many different systems that are used. In some countries the same system is used, whereas in other countries there may even be different systems for each university / institution. Even though credits should be comparable to workload expressed in hours, it can sometimes be hard to do because these are rough estimates and depend on individuals.

United States

In the United States most programs use the Semester Credit Hours (SCH) system, which is based in the assumptions that a full-time study load is 30 US credits per year. A US Credit generally consist of a weekly workload of one hour in class and two hours outside of class for the duration of one semester. This means the total workload for one US Credit is in general between 45 and 50 hours, of which a minimum of 15 contact hours.

Europe (excluding the UK)

Introduced in 1989, the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) is now widely used throughout European countries. In this system, 60 EC or ECTS are the equivalent of a full-time study year, or between 1500 and 1800 hours. This means the workload for one EC or ECTS is between 25 and 30 hours.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, most universities use the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS). A full workload for one semester is credited with 60 CATS points, also known as Units, per year 120 CATS.

Other countries

In many places not one system is used. Universities have their own crediting system which are displaying on our website as ‘local credits’. Given that these systems differ between universities, comparing them to other credit systems has to be done on a single basis. Most universities that have their own system will have a comparison method to recognize credits obtained abroad.

Recognition of credits from another university / institution

If you want to use credits that were awarded to you from another university at your home university, make sure to inform beforehand at your home university. In the end, your home university has to decide whether or not the awarded credits can be used and how much credits they are valued at. Your international office or your student counselor can inform you about the policy of your institution.

Comparison / Equivalence

If you look at the number of credits for a full-time standard student per year, this is how US credits, ECTS and CATS compare:

SCH ECTS CATS
Full-time year 30 US Credits 60 ECTS 120 CATS

Given the data above, you would assume 1 US credit = 2 ECTS = 4 CATS, which is what many universities accept as a rule of thumb. There are also universities that use 3 US credit = 5 ECTS = 10 CATS. In the end every university can determine their own conversion rate.