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A course credit (often credit hour, or just credit or "unit") is a unit that gives weight to the value, level or time requirements of an academic course taken at a school or other educational institution.
In high schools, where all courses are usually the same number of hours, often meeting every day, students earn one credit for a course that lasts all year, or a half credit per course per semester. This credit is formally known as a Carnegie Unit. After a typical four-year run, the student needs 24 to 28 credits to graduate (an average of 6 to 7 at any time). Some high schools have only three years of school because 9th grade is part of their middle schools, with 18 to 21 credits required.
In a college or university, students typically receive credit hours based on the number of "contact hours" per week in class, for one term; formally, Semester Credit Hours. A contact hour includes any lecture or lab time when the professor is teaching the student or coaching the student while they apply the course information to an activity. Regardless of the duration of the course (i.e. a short semester like summer or intersession) and depending on the state or jurisdiction, a semester credit hour (SCH) is 15-16 contact hours per semester. Most college and university courses are 3 Semester Credit Hours (SCH) or 45-48 contact hours, so they typically meet for three hours per week over a 15 week semester.
Homework is time the student spends applying the class material without supervision of the professor: this includes studying notes, supplementary reading, writing papers, or other unsupervised activities like labwork or field work. Because students are generally expected to spend three hours outside class studying and doing homework for every hour spent in class, 15 SCH is the normal full course load although many colleges consider 12 SCH a minimum full-time load for financial aid and other purposes. Some schools set a flat rate for full-time students, such that a student taking over 12 or 15 credit hours will pay the same amount as a student taking exactly 12 (or 15). A part-time student taking less than 12 hours pays per credit hour, on top of matriculation and student fees.
Credit for laboratory and studio courses as well as physical education courses, internships and practica is usually less than for lectures - typically one credit for every two to three hours spent in lab or studio, depending on the amount of actual instruction necessary prior to lab. However, for some field experiences such as student teaching as a requirement for earning one's teaching license, a student may only earn 8-10 credits for the semester for doing 40 hours a week of work.
To figure a grade-point average (GPA), the grade received in each course is subject to weighting, by multiplying it by the number of credit hours. Thus, a "B" (three grade points) in a four-credit class yields 12 "quality points". It is these which are added together, then divided by the total number of credits a student has taken, to get the GPA. Transfer credits may not be counted in the GPA.
Some courses may require a grade higher than that which is considered passing. In this case, a grade of "D" will still add to the total number of credits earned (unlike an "F"), but the course will not be counted toward graduation requirements until it is retaken and completed with at least a "C".
Credit by examination is a way of receiving course credit without taking the course. This grade often shows as a "K" on a transcript, however it carries no credit hours, and therefore has no effect on the GPA. This also means that a student often must take other classes instead, to meet minimum hour requirements. (This still benefits the student, because he or she can learn something new and useful, instead of repeating what is already known.)
Various types of student aid require students to take and complete a minimum number of course credits each term. Schools often require a minimum number or percentage of credits be taken at the school to qualify for a diploma from that school—this is known as a residency requirement. DANTES and College Level Examination Program are two programs that offer college bound students credit by examination.
Faculty in comprehensive or baccalaureate colleges and universities typically have 12 SCH per semester. Faculty teaching significant graduate work or large classes (100 or more students in a section) may have "load lifts" or "course reductions." Faculty at research universities typically have an official teaching load of 12 SCH per semester, but their actual load is reduced because of the requirement for significant peer reviewed published research. While faculty workloads are almost universally based on the number of SCH taught, faculty teaching in technical "clock hour" programs in technical and community colleges have workloads that more closely resemble high school teaching, so that Faculty in community colleges typically teach 15 SCH or more per semester (5 days per week at 3 hours per day).
In Canada, credits can be earned at the end of a course in high school, earning a credit depends whether a person passes the course or not. A certain number of credits are required to graduate high school. The system is similar to the one used in the United States. In Canada, the term college often refers to a community college or trade school, whilst the more formal and inclusive term for post-high school education is university. Most University courses run from September to April with 13 weeks before Christmas and 13 weeks after. Classes that meet three hours a week are generally awarded 6 credit hours. 3rd and 4th year classes are more specalised so some facilities may offer half courses that run from September to December or January to April. These courses are awarded 3 credit hours.
In Europe, a common credit system has been introduced. The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is in some European countries used as the principal credit and grading system in universities, while other countries use the ECTS as a secondary credit system for exchange students. In ECTS, a full study year normally consists of 60 credits. ECTS grades are given in the A-E range, where F is failing. Schools are also allowed to use a pass/fail evaluation in the ECTS system.
Similar systems are widely used elsewhere. Often the word "unit" is used for the same concept.
There is no a unified academic credit system in Brazil. The regulating bodies of the Ministry of Education and the legislation count the hours of instruction. A full-time year of higher education takes between 800 and 1200 instruction-hours in Brazil, which would be equivalent to 30 US credits and 60 European ECTS. In Uruguay's University of the Republic, a credit stands for 20 hours of work, including classes, personally studying and task activities. Since semesters last 20 weeks, a credit corresponds to one hour of work a week.
In India, most[vague] engineering colleges follow the course credit system. The number of 'Contact Hours' in a week of a particular course determines its credit value. Typically, courses vary from 2 to 5 credits. The GPA is calculated on a 10 point scale, with weighted average of the grades received in the respective course. The grades awarded are; A+,A,B+,B,C+,C,D & E(Fail). This GPA is also known as CGPA (Cumulative Grade Point Average). The thesis submitted at the end of the four-year degree is generally given 20 credits. On an average, students in India need to complete 195-200 credits after their 4-year engineering course to be awarded the degree B.Tech/B.E. with a summer internship (6 weeks minimum) & a one-year-long thesis project.