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Credit Hours:

If you are an international student, you may have hard time in the beginning trying to understand what credit hour stands for and what are courses. Everyone around you would be talking the credit hour lingo and courses….it can be frustrating..I was recently asked by one of our readers about credit hours as well, let me share some of my thoughts on credit hours.

What are credit hours?

In simplistic terms, credit hour is the basic unit of measurement that count towards award of degree either bachelors or Masters.  Every degree would have its own set of requirements for credit hours…i.e. for instance, to obtain a bachelors degree usually schools may require anywhere from 110 to 140 credits depending on school…similarly for Masters, it may be anywhere from 30 to 39 or more depending on program.

What is the relation between course and credit hour?

A course is measured in terms of credit hours. Based on the amount of work load and instruction hours, a course is assigned certain number of credits.  Basic courses may be like 1 credit or 2 credits in Undergrad. As you take higher level ones in Undergrad, they may be range 3 to 4 credits. In masters most of the courses are either 3 or 4 credits.

Credit hour work load, instruction time in class?

This totally depends on school….but in general, each credit hour corresponds to one hour of lecture time in class per week. For instance, if you take a 3 credit class, you would have 3 hours of instruction in class.  Depending on school, a credit hour can have 2 to 4 hours of off class work like labs, home work, project work etc. What it means is, if you take 3 credit class, you may be required to study 6 to 12 hours outside of class to be able to do well in class.

Full time vs. Part time based on credit hours?

In Masters level, typically, if you take 6 credits or less your status is considered part time. if you take 9 or more credit hours, then it is considered full time. It does not matter how many courses you take, what counts is the number of credits. For instance, you may take one 3 credit course and two 1.5 credit courses,  though you are taking 3 courses, still you are part time because you are taking less credits. In undergrad level, typically taking 12 credits is considered full time. Also, there may be limit on the number of credits you can take in a semester based on the school…

How is GPA computed in US schools? GPA Computation formula?

One of things that confuse international students after coming to US is GPA (Grade Point Average). In most of our home countries, we are used to percentage scale which ranges from 0 to 100. But, as soon as we come to US, the grading system changes to GPA system and the range is 0 to 4. Students often wonder how does this scaling work? Also, how is the cumulative GPA calculated at the time of graduation?  This article explains the GPA calculation in US schools with transcript screenshots.

Courses and Credits in US schools:

We are used to just taking a course or class in B.Tech our home countries, though some of them have credits assigned we ignore the concept and just think of classes and percentages. Whereas in US, each course has a set of credits assigned to it. The number of credits determines the work load of a class.  Typically, in graduate level, the courses are 3 credit classes and you meet once a week in class for three hours for lecture.

Importance of Credits breaks down:

As said before, the work load of the class depends on the number of credits. The concept of credits is important because, it gives you the flexibility to break down a 3 credit class and instead take a 2 credit class and 1 credit class or just three one credit classes. For instance let’s say, you get a 3-credit class waived in MS because you tell the advisor that you have experience and show that you have already done in B.Tech, then you are given option to take that 3 credits in anyway depending on University. What you can do is, you can take a 1-credit Music class and 2 credits Writing class or you may take one credit Gym class, one credit leadership class and one credit modern art class.   Do you get why Credits are important and not just classes? It is much flexible.

Grading system in US Universities is as below

Grading system varies by University. Few universities have just A, B, C, D and F like below,

GradeGrade PointPercentage
A490 – 100
B380 – 89.9
C270 – 79.9
D160 – 69.9

But, most of the Universities implement the below grading system. You can take the below one as most standard.

GradesGrade PointsPercentage of Marks
A4.000Greater than 93%
A-3.67087 -89.9%
B+3.33084-86.9 %
B3.00080 – 83.9%
B-2.67077 – 79.9%
C+2.33074 – 76.9%
C2.00070 – 73.9%
C-1.67067- 69.9%
F0.000<59 % ( Fail )

 Grade in an individual class:

Grade in an individual class is given by your instructor based on the points or marks you get in the class.  Your grade is just based out of the table above. For instance you get 88 points, then your grade in A- and your GPA for the individual class is 3.67.

How is the Cumulative GPA computed?

At the end of semester or when you are graduating, your cumulative GPA is computed with formula.

Cumulative GPA = (Total Grade points obtained) / (total Credit hours taken)

Total Grade points you obtained = Grade in the class X Credit hours of the class.

E.g.  Let’s say, you have taken a two 3 credit classes and you got B+ (GPA 3.33) and C+ (GPA 2.33) in them, cumulative GPA for these two classes is as below.

Total grade points = (3.33 X 3)   + (2.33 X 3)= 9.99 + 6. 99 = 16.98

Now cumulative GPA =   16.98 / 6    = 2.83


Some of you might be in situations, where you realized after couple years of work life that your first masters (MS) in US was not the right one in your desired field of interest and decide to do second Masters in US. Some of you might even be passionate to quit your current job and go back to F1 visa to study second masters. It would be good if you get to know about the OPT(Optional Practical Training) rules related to doing second masters.  Let me try to shed some light on the OPT rules for second masters. Read Working on OPT vs CPT in US for some background info.

Do you get OPT for second Masters (MS/ MBA) in US ?

Short answer, NO (in most cases)…unless you have not used up all of your 12 month OPT after completing first masters or even applied for 12 month OPT and got it approved by USCIS.  Let me explain with an example, lets say first you graduated with MS in Computer Sciences and have worked on OPT for 12 months or applied for 12 month OPT and got it approved. After couple years, you decide to convert to F1 visa and do MS in Marketing or MBA in Finance as full time student…Although your second masters belongs to different major, you will NOT get one year OPT period because you have used 12 month OPT (or even applied for it and got it approved).
USCIS rules states that “You get 12 month OPT for one degree level, even if in different fields or majors”. i.e. you get one 12 month OPT for Bachelors, One for Masters and one for PhD. The majors or number of degrees in one level does not matter. You only get one OPT for one level.

What are your options for getting second OPT?

USCIS says that you can split your 12 month full time OPT period between two masters degrees. Even though it sounds you can do it, it may be difficult for students to plan for their OPT of second masters down the lane after few years…talk to your DSO( designated school official) or international advisor at your school for more info.

Impact of NOT having OPT for second Masters:

Not getting 12 month OPT for second masters in US puts you in a difficult spot with no time left for job search or do extended internship…You need to have a H1B sponsor right after graduation. Unfortunately, it can be one the hurdles you would have to deal with when you take up second masters.

If you are considering second masters, I highly recommend you talk to your prospective school’s International student advisor or DSO and get advice before you jump all in on F1. Also, read the references below for more clarification.