US universities are most known for the flexibility in their curriculums. This is due to the fact that they offer a credit-based system to measure coursework required for a specific Undergraduate or Graduate program. This framework provides greater freedom in course selection to its students. For instance, you could do a double major or a major and a minor, as long as you are satisfying mandatory credit requirements.
Typically, you are expected to fulfill 120-130 credits to receive your Bachelor’s degree. One credit equates to one credit hour. Credit hours mean ‘contact hours’ i.e. the time spent in structured learning environments. These contact hours could be split between lab work or in-class teaching on or off-campus, study abroad programs included. Many research and internship opportunities can count as classes or be used as credits. The US gives flexibility not only for choosing courses but what counts as courses, unlike degrees in other parts of the world.
Alternatively, few universities such as MIT and UChicago offer a Quarterly Calendar system that is comprised of ‘units’. One unit means one hour work/week. At MIT, most classes are 12 units and you would generally have to satisfy 48-60 units/semester.
The University of Chicago College curriculum has three components as mentioned on their website:
general education requirements (1500 units)
a major (1000–1900 units)
and electives (800–1700 units)
A minimum of 4200 units of credit (forty-two 100-unit courses) is required for the undergraduate degree. Of all credits earned, at least 3800 must be earned via course enrolment, as opposed to credit earned via examination.
Students can take any course within their major as long as they are satisfying credit requirements. Some courses are mandatory, such as General Education Requirements or the Core Curriculum (see: Columbia/UChicago’s Core Curriculum). The best part of the US college experience is that you can gain credit by opting for Electives that allow you to explore your unique interests such as Creative Writing, Art History, Anthropology, or even Dance Appreciation!
Students we work with often ask what are the benefits of a US education. Here are a couple of points to help you answer that question, thanks to its governing credit system –
1. More Flexibility
You can choose courses that truly interest you and you can take them any time of the four years. Big colleges like the UCs have large classes which could mean that you only get into a course of your choice in Junior or Senior year. You could also cherry-pick from a range of courses, even take advanced level courses to learn complex concepts.
2. Areas of Specialization
You can select different areas of specialization within your major, developing your knowledge across a breadth of areas that can be profitable while applying for a job immediately after graduation.
3. Holistic Education
Due to the credit system offered by the US, students get the chance to learn for the sake of learning through myriad options. Studying in other countries, including India, would mean that you normally wouldn’t get take courses in areas outside of your major.
Credits offered by Summer Programs and its relevance to college applications
Most of our students apply to summer programs every year and are especially keen on applying for programs offering credit. While this is a personal preference, it does not necessarily mean that credit-based programs are more desired by universities. The competitive nature of a summer program determines the quality of the program. Such programs offer college-level skills that are valued by universities.
One thing to note is that credits offered by summer programs may or may not convert to credit for college. This depends on whether coursework completed in this program overlaps with that offered by the university. Few universities may accept it; others may not. Hence, it is not ideal to only chase summer programs that offer credit since you may miss out on the opportunity to gain key skills that are in fact more sought after by top universities in the US.
We hope this sheds light on your queries on the credit system followed by US universities.