You may believe that you’ll need four years of college to get a degree, but a diploma is really based upon semester hours. How many semester hours are needed to graduate from college? The standard number is 120, although certain majors may have additional credit requirements. Earning a college degree will help you gain opportunities to pursue a variety of professional jobs or even go on to graduate school.

Tip

You can expect to take 120 semester hours to complete a college degree.

Standard Credits for a College Degree

You’ll need 120 standard credits or 180 quarter credits to graduate from most degree programs. You won’t be able to just enroll in 120 semester hours and earn a degree. Careful planning and strategy is required to ensure that you take the required courses in the right sequence. Before you register for classes, it’s important to talk to an academic adviser to choose the academic plan that’s right for you.

Start With General Education Classes

All college degrees require a combination of general education courses, electives and classes that are in a concentrated area or a major. General education classes provide a broad foundation for the rest of your college degree. You’ll have to choose classes that satisfy goal areas like English, mathematics, science, arts and humanities and health and wellness.

Expect to spend 40 to 60 hours in general education classes. You can use these classes to learn more about potential areas of interest.

How Many Semester Hours for a Major?

Each academic major is unique and requires a variable number of total credits. You’ll take most of these classes during your last two years of college. How many credit hours are required for a major? Expect to spend about 40 hours in classes that will satisfy requirements for your major.

Choose Interesting Electives

Electives are courses that fulfill credit requirements but aren’t related to any particular content area. You can use electives to try out a new subject, to learn about something that interests you or to learn a new skill. Expect to choose 10 different classes or use 30 credits of your degree on electives. You can also use elective courses to build a minor or a special concentration area.

Private School Differences

Some private schools operate on a quarter system. The general division of required courses between general education, electives and major courses is the same but credit hour requirements may differ. You may find that 180 instead of 120 semester hours are required for a degree.

There are a few colleges that focus solely on the liberal arts and don’t offer a major at all. The credit hour requirement is the same, but the curriculum wouldn’t include a major.

How Many Semester Hours Is 120 Credits?

If you fulfill all of the requirements and take 15 credits per semester, you’ll be able to graduate in four years. You may run into a challenging course or a life situation that requires you to drop a class. It’s possible that the classes that you need won’t always be offered on your time schedule. Complete College America reports that 19 percent of college students complete their degree in four years of time.

Other Variables to Consider

It’s common to enter college undecided on a major or to change your major during your college career. It’s important to find a major that is an ideal fit with your passions and talents. At the same time, when you encounter unforeseen circumstances, expect that it will take longer than four years to graduate. You’ll also find that you may graduate with more than 120 semester hours.

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About the Author

Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years.