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 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. The real answer, though, can’t be given in a simple, single number.

How many 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

If you hope to obtain your bachelor’s degree, you can plan on taking 120 total 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, of course, but most courses fit into the three-hour category. Some classes that don’t could include:

  • Mandatory freshman orientation courses
  • Many science, engineering, and other STEM-related labs
  • Various elective classes
  • A research or learn-to-use-the-library class

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

However, assuming most courses are worth three credit hours apiece, it will take you approximately 40 classes to reach the required amount of 120 credit hours for your 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, and you should be on-track to graduate in the prescribed four years if you take classes 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

college students listening to university professor in a classroom

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

  • A bachelor’s degree requires 120 hours of course credit.
  • With few exceptions, most college courses are worth three hours of course credit.
  • 120 Total Hours divided by three hours per class = 40 total courses.
  • 12-15 hours a semester = 4o-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, some are general, core education courses, and several non-specific electives.

Finally, there will be what are known as program-specific courses. Program-specific courses are those courses that pertain directly to your desired fields of study – your major and your minor.

The exact courses will vary between schools and programs, but there are definitely some common factors. For instance, every student will be required to take many of the same core subject classes. You’ll 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’s you’re getting, you’ll 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 come from electives and program-specific courses.

At the bachelor’s level, there will be some higher core classes you may have to take, but most of the 60 higher-level hours will 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?

college students having fun studying together

Just because everyone has to take practically the same number of classes to finish college doesn’t mean everyone has to take them all the same way. How many courses you have to take to get your degree and how many classes you can take at a 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. These include:

  • Graduating on-time or even possibly ahead of schedule.
  • Fewer semesters in college.
  • Greater access to scholarships.
  • More Pell Grant money at one time.
  • You often have the option to live on campus.

There are some downsides to full-time student status as well, though, such as:

  • Less time for work if you need money.
  • If you do work full-time, you’ll have almost no free time between school and college.
  • Higher tuition costs at one time.
  • Heavier course load.

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. Some of the best things about part-time are:

  • The ability to work full-time and still have some free time.
  • Lighter course load.
  • Much more flexible schedule.
  • Smaller sums of money required at one time.

However, the disadvantages of being a part-time student are also things you should consider. These include:

  • Being in school longer before earning your degree.
  • May not be eligible for scholarships.
  • May receive less or no federal Pell Grant money.
  • Ineligible for campus residency.

It’s vital that you weigh the pros and cons of both before making a decision as to which one is right for you. Your schedule and home life will also play significant parts in making this decision.

Minimum vs. Maximum Course Load

student studying his books in a university library

It’s also crucial that you know what type of student you are and where your strengths and weaknesses lie. This will 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 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 could mean taking as little as a single class each semester.

This would be the easiest path, but it would take you many years to achieve a degree 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

However, 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 the 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.

Just keep in mind that the course load you choose each semester will have an impact – perhaps even 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 undoubtedly extend your time in college, postponing your graduation. However, it is also less stressful than taking a maximum course load each term, especially when classes are challenging.

Accelerated vs. Traditional Classes

student working on her laptop in a cafe

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-type schedule. Instead, the term for accelerated classes is generally eight weeks long. Accelerated classes can be an excellent way for you to earn your degree sooner than you would taking traditional classes, but it also comes with some pitfalls.

Because each term runs only for eight weeks, as opposed to the standard 15 weeks in a semester, 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

Be cautious when choosing how many accelerated classes to take because, with accelerated courses, you’re still required to learn everything you would in a normal class. The difference is you have to learn it 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 be in school longer than with accelerated courses. However, if you like to learn at a slower, more relaxed pace while maintaining a reasonable stress level, then 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, maybe start out by only taking one in addition to your regular semester classes.

See if you have any trouble keeping up with the coursework and managing the quick pace. You never know, 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.

All students have to take basically the same number of classes, but no two students have to take those classes at the same time or in the same way. The important thing is to know yourself. Don’t try to put more stress on yourself than you can handle.

By the same token, though, don’t sell yourself short. If you have the means to pay for it and your schedule and personal study habits allow it, take a full course load and work towards earning that degree faster!

If you’re a great student, push yourself by taking a few accelerated courses in an effort to possibly speed up your graduation date. Try to balance out your coursework to minimize your stress levels.

All students have to take many of the same basic core classes, and when it comes to your higher-level, program-specific courses, you’ll get an outline of what you’ll have to take shortly after signing up for a specific program.

What’s the best way to make your college class schedules work? Balance out the most challenging classes on your schedule with some of the easiest courses on your schedule. In short, make your schedule work for you.

Conner Thomas
WRITTEN BY
Conner Thomas