August 17, 2017

No Two Credits are Alike

Just like our students, our courses and credits bear different characteristics that render them unique, and some better suited to you than others (not unlike roommates….but more on that another time).

You hear a lot of credit numbers at Rutgers. Some numbers are firm: 120 credits to graduate; 12 to be a full-time student. But, how many credits should you take each semester? Well that’s a much more flexible and personal number. For first-semester first-year students, the gold standard is 12-16 credits, which can represent 4-6 classes, but how many YOU should take in any given semester will depend on the composition of your courses, your academic path and progress, and your graduation date.

Understanding the “right” credit number for your first semester can be difficult, so your first-year advisers address some common credit myths and misunderstandings below to help you be better informed: 

Myth: Credits indicate difficulty level (e.g. a 4-credit course is harder than a 3-credit course

Nope! “Credits” is short for “credit hours,” or the amount of time you will spend in the classroom. A 3-credit course typically meets for close to 3 hours in the classroom, which can be spread across 1 day (3 hr block), 2 days (2 80 min periods) or 3 days (3 55 min periods). A 4-credit course typically meets 3-4 times per week for 4+ total hours of classroom time.
Math and science courses typically include recitations, which means more classroom time and more credits, as do elementary language courses and Signature courses, which include discussion groups.
Note: Labs are a trickier calculation. Most three-hour labs are worth 1 credit and longer labs are worth 2 credits.

Myth: My 14 credit schedule and my friend’s 14 credit schedule will demand the same time.

Fact: Sorta kinda…but no. Though you will spend the same amount of time *in* the classroom (as you learned 2 paragraphs ago), how much time you’ll need to dedicate to reading, study groups, tutoring, office hours, and other preparation depends entirely on the nature of the material and your proficiency in it. Expository Writing, and Math and Science courses all have dedicated tutoring programs, but there is academic assistance for all coursework through our Learning Centers ( What’s “hard” is unique to you, so the way that you spend your time and energy must differ!

If I don't take 15 credits each semester, I won't graduate on time.

ALL the nopes! This myth is based on simple math: 120 credits ÷8 semesters =15 credits per semester.

This simple math doesn’t account for 1 credit seminars, 4 credit science and math courses, research, or pre-college credits that you’ve already earned! For these reasons, students take a range of credits based on the demands of the courses and other life constraints (for example, a student studying for the MCAT may take a reduced course load of 12-13 credits in that semester to ensure extra time for effective studying).
We generally recommend fewer credits in the first year, when transition issues are hard to predict and you are still getting used to the pace and requirements of the semester, or as we say, when you are still "learning how to college." It may seem counter-intuitive, but students are often more comfortable taking 15+ credits of upper level major courses in later semesters, because they are fully engaged and focused on the subject matter.
Plus, with a few successful college semesters behind you’ve typically “got this,” where this = organization, preparation, and resources. A quick shout out to the Career Exploration in Arts and Sciences mini-course (1.5 credits) for sophomores and juniors; it’s a great course to help with academic and career planning and provides 1.5 graduation credits.

Myth: Don’t take 1 credit seminars, it’s better to add a 3 or 4 credit course.

Fact: STAAAHP. You're better off balancing your schedule with a Byrne Seminar and/or FIGS than reaching 15 or 16 with only regular classes. Seminars only run 10 weeks and are largely discussion and small assignment-based; they will allow you to focus on those 3 and 4 credit courses without the pressure of additional exams or research papers. Plus, these small seminars are only for first-year students, so you don’t want to miss the opportunity to take them with your classmates! 

What now?
When schedules are released on August 20th, review your schedule for both the total credit number and course composition. You may have 17 credits, not because your first-year advisers want you to take 17 credits, but because we were able to schedule all your choices. Yay! But, 17 credits is still a really heavy start. Boo! We did not want to make the choice of what to drop for you. We would rather you attend the classes during add/drop week and then make an informed decision to drop a class and take 13-15 credits.

Now look, none of this is to say that you shouldn't challenge yourself. But you *should* be making class choices based on your academic goals and skills, rather than obsessing about a number. Questions about whether you’re taking too much or not enough? Ask an adviser!