Semester hours vs. Credit hours: What’s the difference?

When beginning your college career, you may hear the terms “credit hours” and “semester hours.” They sound the same – so what’s the difference?

While it may differ in countries outside the United States, in the US, “semester hours” and “credit hours” mean virtually the same thing.

Here are how these terms are most commonly used.

What’s a semester hour, and when is this term used?

Semester hours refers to the total number of credit hours you are enrolled in and/or have completed during a semester. If you are a full-time student, you would likely need to have a minimum of 12-15 total credit hours for the semester to maintain your full-time status.

Make sure you work with your academic advisor to confirm your school’s specific qualifying status for full-time enrollment, as this could change from school to school. You may also need to know it for financial aid and insurance purposes.

What’s a credit hour, and when is this term used?

Credit hours are the number of credits you receive for the classes you are enrolled in. Most classes qualify for three credit hours. But there are some examples where your course might count for more credit hours, such as:

  • Work-study programs: some count for more than three credits, ask your school for details.
  • Internships: some internships can replace an entire semester’s worth of class credits, make sure you work with your academic advisor for details.
  • Classes w/lab component: most classes with a lab offer four or more credit hours, this will vary based on the class and the school.

This means that if you are trying to complete 15 credit hours per semester, you would likely need to enroll and complete five classes for that semester. If you have a science class with a lab, you might receive four credit hours for the class, three credits for in-class lectures, and one credit for the lab component.

As you continue to accumulate and enroll in classes, you might hear these referred to as your “semester hours.”

Now you know that these two terms are the same. So, don’t get too concerned if you hear people using them interchangeably. The most important thing to know is how many credit hours you need to graduate. And, of course, whether the classes you take are credited towards your degree program. By doing so, you will stay focused and on schedule for your graduation and degree.