How many college credits do you need per year?

You’ve chosen a school, and now you need to figure out how many credits you need per year…

The decision, while daunting, can be simple. When deciding how many credits to take each year, there are a few factors to keep in mind.

How quickly would you like to graduate?

Let’s break it down.

To earn an undergraduate degree, most schools require students to take a total of 120 credit hours. So, if you’re planning on graduating in 4 years, you’ll need to take 15-credit hours per semester.

If graduating in 4-years doesn’t fit your plans, don’t worry! All students have a different path, and 5th-year seniors are much more common than you think.

Either way, if you take 12-15 credits per semester, you’ll be on track to graduate within a 4-5-year time—the average for most undergraduate college students.

Are you going to be relying on financial aid to cover expenses?

Financial aid is awarded differently based on enrollment status. Most schools consider students who are enrolled in 12+ credit hours to be full-time students. Anything less than 12-credit hours is part-time.

If you receive financial aid, many forms of aid require students to be enrolled in either full-time status or have a limit on how many semesters or years the student can receive the aid.

For example, the maximum Pell Grant award for the 2020-2021 semester is $6,345. In addition to demonstrating financial need, students also have to be enrolled full-time to be eligible for the full amount. For students taking less than full-time credits, their aid award is pro-rated based on enrolled credits.

If you rely on aid to complete your degree, you should understand the terms of your aid package and work with your financial aid advisor. This way, you can make sure to stay on track and take advantage of all financial aid possible.

Are you planning on taking classes with accelerated credits?

Some schools allow students to take more than 15 credits per semester. In fact, sometimes there is a “break-even” point where taking over 15 credits costs the same no matter what. 

This allows students to weigh their options to see if they want to take 18 credits (6 courses, usually) per semester and try to complete their degree faster without any extra cost.

Sometimes students can plan this strategically if they have to take a lot of General Education (GE) courses one semester followed by more advanced classes the next semester.

Though finishing your education faster can help with the burden of student debt, it’s not for everyone. Before taking on a big class load, talk to your counselor. 

When deciding how many credit hours to take in college, it’s important to weigh your options. Reach out to your college advisor, talk with a close friend or family member. Everyone is different, so don’t feel obligated to take the same credits as your peers.

If you have questions about financial aid or need help applying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), we’re here for you. 

You can reach our team of financial aid experts via email at or text us at (347) 690-7886.