Certain countries, such as the US and the UK, measure college completion requirements in terms of credit hours rather than the number of courses completed. The intention is to ensure course value equality and college course standardization by measuring each credit hour in terms of the hours that were dedicated towards a certain course. How this works and how to work around this system is outlined below.

What is a college credit?

The US, UK and many other countries use a college credit system. Each credit represents a certain number of hours that were applied to a course. They are also known as semester credit hours, semester hours or credit hours. It is a way to measure how much time was spent on the course. Each credit hour usually represents 15-16 contact hours of schooling. These can include class hours, activity hours laboratory work, physical education and studio course hours, as well as other qualifications. The length of a contact hour can vary per institution o state. For instance, some states might measure 50 minutes as a full contact hour.

University courses usually award three credit hours per semester, with each semester usually being around 15-weeks long. The average year of full-time study with a typical course-load will award a student with 30 credits. Therefore, a standard four-year bachelor’s degree will award 120 credits upon completion.

How many credits do I need to become a CPA?

Since 2005, there has been a 150-credit hour requirement for all those wishing to apply for their CPA License. Some states allow for the exam to be sat with 120-credits but will only issue the license once the 150-credit requirement has been met. This means that you will need to obtain another 30 credits on top of your basic four-year degree. This is why some students decide to take a Master’s in Accounting upon completing their bachelor’s degree. However, this is both costly and time consuming. That is why students are looking for more cost-effective ways to meet the 150-credit hour requirement.

It is also important to note that each state has its own accounting and business course credit requirements. Furthermore, some states will only accept certain types of credit courses, while others will only accept college credits from NASBA approved colleges. These would exclude online courses that are not accredited through a NASBA-recognized college.

Can credits only be earned by going to college?

Yes, but not in the way you might think. There are many other ways to earn college credits without attending a brick-and-mortar college. Many of these methods are cheaper than the traditional route and offer more flexibility for your schedule. However, you will often need your credits or transcripts to be accredited through a college or college credit evaluation service in order for them to be recognized, especially if you are aiming for a degree.

How can I get more credits faster?

There are several ways that someone can try to accrue credits at a faster pace. Here are the common ways:

High School College Credit Courses

Some high schools offer extra credit programs that can help them accumulate credits towards their college degree while they are still in high school. Sometimes these are held on their high school campus, while others will require the student to attend the courses on the partnered college campus itself. Students who want to participate in such programs will usually need to meet certain academic requirements. Some of the common programs are:

  • College Level Examination Programs (CLEP)

These exams allow exam takers to take exams that they already have knowledge in without actually attending the class itself. Once you pass, you can take them for assessment at a participating college or institution to receive credits towards the degree. The credits awarded will also vary depending on the institution: they will not be granted by the CLEP center itself. Therefore, it is best to check which if any exams will be accepted by your college of choice itself before applying to take an exam. You should also confirm whether there is a CLEP exam cap at your institution of choice.

All of the exams are at an introductory level and can help you to cover a wide variety of courses, be it history, psychology, science, mathematics and many others. CLEP exams are offered year-round at over 2,500 CLEP testing centers that are located worldwide, with each being country-specific. NASBA recognizes CLEP credits that have been reflected on the transcripts of a regionally accredited college. They are worth looking into because of the relatively low cost of taking them versus the time and financial investment of a full semester credit course.

  • Advanced Placement (AP) Tests

Advanced Placement tests are offered by college boards themselves and are only offered to students in May after having taken year-long associated courses. These tests usually award either entry into advance college courses or credits. Again, many colleges do not accept them, or cap the number of credits that can be awarded through them. Therefore, it is best to confirm this information with your college of choice before investing time and finances into them. However, AP test results are more widely accepted by tertiary institutions than CLEP exams are, so that is also worth bearing in mind.

  • International Baccalaureate (IB)

The International Baccalaureate is nonprofit foundation that offers another method of earning college credits. Although it was originally established in Switzerland, as its name implies, it is now an organization that has programs in around 100 countries with over 5,000 international colleges and universities recognizing them.

It offers four educational programs, with the DP Diploma and IB Career-related programs being most useful to college-minded students. The IB Career-related programs are open to students within the 16- to 19-year-old age range and are available in English, French, and Spanish. Some countries only recognize one language, though. It is usually offered in high schools and provides students with extra course options. At least two courses in a subject must be taken in order to write the exam and receive credits. Each course comprises of four components and a career-related study.

The exams are marked by an external examiner, who will score them with marks between 1 – 7. A period of 18-24 months of preparation is recommended before sitting the exams. A Diploma is awarded to students who receive at least 24 points from the various exams. These diplomas can then be sent to participating universities who will award credits based on their own system. Its not uncommon for 30 credits or more to be awarded for a full IB diploma. Again, you will want to confirm that your institution of choice recognizes it before registering for the program.

  • Dual Enrollment

Some colleges offer dual enrollment courses. These allow for students to take certain college courses while they are still in high school. Many institutions offer their courses on the high school campus themselves and some even during the regular high school day.  These courses will them count both towards their high school diploma and earn them college credits that can either be used towards their college degree at the institution or transferred to another one.

Online Courses

There are a plethora of credit-awarding courses online. Some of these are offered by the college themselves, or in partnership with a college. For instance, all of CpaCredits courses are all offered through regionally accredited colleges and universities. This is an important consideration to look into, as not all online courses are accredited through a college. Additionally, you will want to confirm with your state board or college that they accept credits from online institutions.

Taking Extra Courses in College

Some colleges have both a minimum number of courses that they are obliged to take each and a maximum number of courses that they are required to take each semester. This is especially true of specialized degree courses that provide you with a set schedule. However, that still gives you some leeway to take an extra course or two during every semester.


Some colleges allow students to register for one or two courses at another college, or faculty within the college, while they are still completing their current curriculum.  This is a possible solution to counter maximum course limitations that your institution may have, Of course, those limitations often exist for a reason, so you might want to go through your first semester without extra courses to evaluate whether you could handle more.