How many credits do you need for most degrees?

The number of credits required to earn a college degree can vary significantly depending on the type of degree, the country, and the individual policies of the college or university. However, most bachelor’s degrees in the United States require around 120 semester credits or 180 quarter credits. Master’s degrees often require 30-60 credits beyond the bachelor’s degree. And doctoral degrees usually require another 30-60 credits beyond the master’s level.

How Many Credits for a Bachelor’s Degree?

In the United States, most bachelor’s degrees require students to complete around 120 semester credits or 180 quarter credits. This usually takes most full-time students 4 years to complete.

Here is a quick overview of the typical credit requirements for common bachelor’s degrees:

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA): 120 semester credits
  • Bachelor of Science (BS): 120 semester credits
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA): 120 semester credits
  • Bachelor of Music (BM): 120 semester credits
  • Bachelor of Engineering (BE): 128 semester credits

However, there can be some variation in the required credits depending on the college or university. For example, some schools require 124 credits or more for a bachelor’s degree. Overall, though, most standard bachelor’s degree programs will fall in the range of 120-128 semester credits.

Breakdown of Credit Requirements

Within those total required credits, bachelor’s degree programs typically include the following components:

  • General education requirements (30-45 credits): These are courses in writing, math, sciences, humanities, languages, social sciences, etc. They provide a foundation of core knowledge outside the major.
  • Major requirements (30-60 credits): These are courses required for the specific major or field of study.
  • Electives (15-30 credits): These credits allow flexibility to take additional courses of interest.

The remaining credits are usually divided between minor courses of study and any additional program requirements.

How Long Does It Take to Earn 120 Credits?

Most bachelor’s degree programs are designed to be completed in 4 years of full-time study. This involves taking around 15 credits per semester. With 120 credits total divided over 8 semesters, this comes out to approximately 15 credits per semester.

Here is a typical breakdown:

  • 15 credits per semester
  • 8 semesters
  • 120 credits total

Students who take on a heavier course load of 18+ credits per semester could potentially graduate early in 3 years. On the other hand, those who attend part-time or take lighter loads may need 5-6 years to complete their bachelor’s degree.

How Many Credits for an Associate Degree?

Associate degrees typically require around 60 semester credits or 90 quarter credits. This is equivalent to about 2 years of full-time study at a community college or technical school.

Here is an overview of typical credit requirements for common associate degrees:

  • Associate of Arts (AA): 60 credits
  • Associate of Science (AS): 60 credits
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS): 60-72 credits
  • Associate of Fine Arts (AFA): 60 credits

The 60 credits are usually divided between general education courses, program requirements, and electives. Some applied associate degrees, like the AAS, may have slightly higher requirements due to technical coursework or internships.

Completing an Associate Degree in 2 Years

With roughly 60 credits required, most students can complete an associate degree in 2 years by taking 15 credits per semester:

  • 15 credits per semester
  • 4 semesters
  • 60 credits total

However, those attending part-time or taking lighter course loads may need 3+ years to finish their program.

How Many Credits for a Master’s Degree?

The number of credits required for a master’s degree depends on the type of program and field of study. However, most master’s degrees require 30-60 credits beyond the bachelor’s degree, which takes 1-2 years of full-time graduate study.

Here is an overview of typical credit requirements:

  • Master of Arts (MA): 30-60 credits
  • Master of Science (MS): 30-60 credits
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA): 36-60 credits
  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA): 36-60 credits
  • Master of Public Health (MPH): 42-60 credits
  • Master of Social Work (MSW): 45-60 credits

Professional master’s degrees like the MBA tend to be on the higher end of the range, while research-focused master’s may be on the lower end.

Completing a Master’s Degree

To complete a master’s degree in 1-2 years, most students take around 9-15 credits per semester.

For a 30 credit master’s:

  • 15 credits per semester = 2 semesters

For a 60 credit master’s:

  • 9 credits per semester = 6 semesters
  • 15 credits per semester = 4 semesters

Part-time students completing a 60 credit master’s could need 3-4 years depending on their pace.

How Many Credits for a Doctoral Degree?

The credit requirements for earning a doctoral degree can vary substantially across different programs and fields. However, most doctoral degrees require 30-60 credits beyond the master’s degree.

Here are typical credit requirements for common doctoral degrees:

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD): 30-60 credits beyond master’s
  • Doctor of Education (EdD): 45-60 credits beyond master’s
  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA): 54-60 credits beyond master’s
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP): 30-35 credits beyond master’s
  • Juris Doctor (JD): 78-90 credits beyond bachelor’s

The time required to complete these credit requirements depends on whether students enroll full-time or part-time. Full-time students can finish doctoral coursework in 2-4 years before moving on to dissertation research. Part-time students may need 6-8 years just to complete their classes.

Key Considerations

Importantly, most doctoral programs have a required residency period and demanding dissertation requirements that extend well beyond just the completion of formal coursework and credits. It’s not unusual for doctoral programs to take over 5 years of sustained effort to finally earn that degree.

Comparing Undergraduate and Graduate Credits

When comparing bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, it helps to keep some key differences between undergraduate and graduate credits in mind:

  • Graduate courses typically demand more advanced, specialized study than undergraduate classes.
  • Graduate credits tend to represent more in-depth learning and skill development per course.
  • Graduate students usually take on smaller course loads due to the increased workload and rigor.
  • Graduate credits often involve extensive research, writing, analysis and critical thinking skills.

So while a bachelor’s degree takes around 120 credits and a master’s takes around 30-60 credits, this doesn’t mean master’s students learn 2-4 times less. The graduate credits require much more time and effort to successfully complete.

Typical Credit Requirements By Country

While this article focuses on credit requirements in the United States, here is a quick look at how it compares to other higher education systems:


  • Bachelor’s degree: 3 years
  • Master’s degree: 1-2 years
  • Doctorate: 3+ years


  • Bachelor’s degree: 3-4 years
  • Master’s degree: 1-3 years
  • Doctorate: 4+ years

United Kingdom

  • Bachelor’s degree: 3 years
  • Master’s degree: 1 year
  • Doctorate: 3+ years

So while the length of degree programs is similar, the credit system differs across countries. Requirements are often structured around years of study rather than assigning credits.

Factors That Affect Required Credits

While this article provides a broad overview of credit requirements, there are many factors that can affect the number of credits needed for an individual degree program including:

  • Public vs. private university
  • Region or state
  • Specific degree and major
  • Amount of general education mandated
  • Use of semesters or quarter system
  • Individual graduation requirements
  • Transfer credits
  • Study abroad credits

The key is to always carefully review your own program curriculum and graduation requirements when planning out your path to a degree. Don’t rely on general assumptions about how many credits it takes.


While earning a college degree demands dedication and hard work regardless of the program length or credits required, understanding the typical credit expectations can help you plan out your route to graduation.

Most bachelor’s degrees require around 120 semester credits, associate degrees require around 60 credits, master’s degrees need 30-60 graduate credits, and doctoral programs demand 30-60 credits beyond a master’s.

Of course, your own degree pathway depends on many individual factors. Carefully mapping out required courses and credits for your specific program is the best way to optimize your progress toward that diploma.

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