How Many Classes Can You Take in College? [2021 Guide]

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How many classes can you take in college? Most full-time, on-campus students take 5 courses at a time, but you can determine your own course load.

How Many Classes Can You Take in College

This question is often asked by those considering higher education, but the answer varies depending on the student.

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The number of college classes you can take depends on your own personal work ethic, schedule, and future goals. It also depends on what type of degree you’re pursuing and if you’re planning to take advantage of online college courses for credit.

How Many Classes Do You Take in College?

college students studying together in library

Most bachelor’s programs require 120 credits hours to graduate, though some require more or less. If you hope to obtain your bachelor’s degree, you will likely take 120 total credit hours’ worth of college courses. But what exactly does that mean in terms of the number of classes and semesters you’ll be taking?

120 Total Hours – Breaking Down the Timeline

A typical college course is worth three hours of college credit. There are exceptions to this rule, but most courses fit into the three-hour category. Some classes that might not fit this standard are:

  • Mandatory freshman orientation courses
  • Science, engineering, and STEM-related labs
  • Elective classes
  • Research or learn-to-use-the-library classes

Taking several of these types of classes can change the number of courses you need to take to receive your bachelor’s degree.

Assuming most courses are worth three credit hours apiece, though, it will take you approximately 40 classes to reach the 120 credit hours that are typically required for a bachelor’s degree. Most students take between 12 and 15 credit hours—four or five classes—each semester.

If you take between 12 and 15 hours a semester, you’re considered a full-time student. You should be on track to graduate in the prescribed four years if you take classes full-time in both the fall and spring semesters each year. You could also take summer classes to potentially speed up the graduation process.

The Pertinent Info

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We’ve made a quick summary of the pertinent information for quick reference:

  • A bachelor’s degree typically requires 120 credit hours.
  • With a few exceptions, most college courses are worth three credit hours.
  • 120 total hours divided by three hours per class = 40 total courses.
  • 12-15 hours a semester = 4-5 classes a semester.
  • 40 total courses divided by 4-5 classes a semester = 10 or 8 total semesters, respectively.

Depending on whether or not you take full-time classes in the summer semesters, you could potentially have your bachelor’s degree in as little as three years!

120 Hours – Breaking Down the Classes

120 Hours - Breaking Down the Classes

Of the 40 or so classes you’ll be required to take to earn your bachelor’s degree, you’ll likely take some general, core education courses and several non-specific electives.

You’ll also take program-specific courses. Program-specific courses are those courses that pertain directly to your desired fields of study—your major and your minor.

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The exact courses you’ll need to take will vary between schools and programs, but there are definitely some common factors. For instance, most students are required to take classes in many of the same core subjects, such as math, science, and English. You’ll probably take approximately 60 hours to receive your associate’s and 60 to receive your bachelor’s.

At the associate’s level, depending on which associate degree you’re getting, you’ll likely be required to take between 30 and 40 hours of core classes, including courses in the following fields:

  • Humanities
  • English
  • Social sciences
  • Communications
  • Mathematics
  • Natural sciences

Your remaining 20-30 hours will likely come from electives and program-specific courses.

At the bachelor’s level, there may be some higher-level core classes you have to take, but most of the 60 higher-level hours should come from courses directly related to your anticipated degree and will be vastly different for people in various fields of study.

How Many Classes Can You Take in College?

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Just because most students need to earn the same number of credits to earn degrees of the same level, it doesn’t mean everyone has to take classes and earn them the same way. The number of total courses you have to take to get your degree and the number of classes you take at one time are two very different things.

To be considered a full-time student, you must take between 12 and 15 hours a semester. However, you don’t actually have to be a full-time student to go to college. There are definite advantages and disadvantages to both full-time and part-time student status.

Pros and Cons of Part-Time vs. Full-Time

college students walking in university campus

There are some definite upsides to being a full-time student if your schedule allows it. If you are a full-time student, you are more likely to:

  • Graduate on time or even possibly ahead of schedule
  • Have fewer semesters in college
  • Have greater access to scholarships
  • Receive more Pell Grant money at one time
  • Have the option to live on campus

There are some downsides to full-time student status as well. If you are a full-time student, you’ll probably have:

  • Less time for work
  • Less free time, especially if you have to work as well
  • Higher tuition costs at one time
  • Heavier course loads

college students working together on a project in a library

Just as there are pros and cons of being a full-time student, there are also pros and cons of being a part-time student. If you are a part-time student, you’ll probably have:

  • The ability to work full-time and still have some free time
  • A lighter course load
  • A more flexible schedule
  • Smaller tuition amounts required at one time

There are disadvantages to being a part-time student as well, though. If you are a part-time student, you:

  • May need more time to earn your degree
  • May not be eligible for scholarships
  • May receive less or no federal Pell Grant money
  • Are likely ineligible for campus residency

Weighing the pros and cons of being a full-time or part-time student can help you decide which one is right for you. Your schedule and home life will likely play significant parts in making this decision.

Minimum vs. Maximum Course Load

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Discovering what type of student you are and what your strengths and weaknesses are can help you determine whether you need to take a maximum (heavy) course load, a minimum (light) course load, or something in between.

A maximum course load typically consists of about 15 credit hours or five classes a semester. This is an ambitious goal, especially if your classes are difficult or the homework in them is time-consuming.

A minimum course load may mean taking as little as a single class each semester. This would likely be the easiest path, but it would probably take you many years to obtain a degree when taking only one class per semester.

The great thing about college is that you can be flexible. Just because you take three semesters of heavy course loads doesn’t mean you have to take a heavy course load in your fourth semester. For example, while getting your core classes out of the way, you may decide to take five classes each semester for your first year and a half.

college students studying together

In your fourth semester, you may have to take a class that you are absolutely dreading. Maybe it’s a class you’ve been terrified of taking ever since you saw it on your required courses on your first day of college.

If you’re not in a hurry to graduate right away, you may want to take only that class in your fourth semester. You could also decide to take that class along with one or two incredibly easy electives. Either way could help you minimize your stress levels over this particular class.

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The course load you choose each semester will have an impact—likely a significant one—on how quickly you graduate and earn your degree. Taking heavier course loads each semester could greatly help you on your way towards graduating on time or early, but it could also potentially lead to a lot of extra stress.

Taking the minimum or a lighter course load each semester will extend your time in college and postpone your graduation, but it may also be less stressful than taking a maximum course load each term, especially when classes are challenging.

Accelerated vs. Traditional Classes

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Over the last few years, there has been a marked increase in the number of students choosing to take accelerated courses as opposed to traditional courses. These accelerated courses are often offered online.

Are online courses difficult? It depends on your learning style.

Accelerated courses don’t run on a regular semester schedule. Instead, a term in an accelerated program tends to be eight weeks long, though this varies from program to program. Accelerated classes can help you earn your degree faster, but taking accelerated courses can come with some difficulties for some students as well.

Because each term is only eight weeks long, as opposed to the approximate 15 weeks in a semester for most standard programs, you’ll be learning at a much quicker pace, hence the name accelerated classes.

If you intend to take accelerated classes, most colleges recommend taking no more than two at a time, although if you’re a very determined and bright student, they can often be persuaded to let you take three. Three is usually the max, though.

college student participating in class

When choosing how many accelerated classes to take, it pays to be cautious, though, because you’re still required to learn everything you would in a standard class. The difference is you have to learn the information much faster.

Trying to cram three full semester courses into eight weeks can be a real challenge. If you’re up for the challenge, though, you could potentially shave more than a year off your degree.

Taking traditional classes means you’ll likely be in school longer than with accelerated courses, but if you like to learn at a slower, more relaxed pace while maintaining a reasonable stress level, traditional classes may still be the way to go.

As we’ve said already, though, the great thing about college is how flexible you can be. If you think you might want to try an accelerated class, you might consider taking only one in addition to your regular semester classes.

This can help you figure out if you’ll have any trouble keeping up with the coursework and managing the quick pace of an accelerated program. You might find out accelerated classes are exactly what you need.

How Many Classes Should I Take in College?

How Many Classes Should I Take in College

The correct answer to this question really boils down to what type of student you are. All of us are very different people, and we all learn in very different ways.

While most programs of the same degree level require approximately the same number of classes to graduate, no two students have to take those classes at the same time or in the same way. The important thing is to know yourself. Being careful about how much stress you can handle can help you succeed in college.

If you have the means to pay for it and your schedule and personal study habits allow it, you can take a full course load and work towards earning your degree faster! If you’re a great student, you may be able to push yourself by taking a few accelerated courses in an effort to speed up your graduation date.

 

What’s the best way to make your college class schedules work? One way to help yourself is to balance out the most challenging classes on your schedule with some of the easiest courses on your schedule.

Most students have to take many of the same basic core classes, and when it comes to your higher-level, program-specific courses, you should get an outline of what you’ll have to take shortly after signing up for a specific program. You can use this information to plan ahead to make your schedule work for you.

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Jordan Meeks
WRITTEN BY
Jordan Meeks
Jordan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and earned her Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management and her Bachelor's in Business Administration. Jordan's research focuses on adults returning to college and online degree programs.