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How Many Credits Do You Need to Graduate College?

The amount of credits needed to graduate from college varies by degree level. You will typically need to earn 60 credits for an associate degree, 120 credits for a bachelor's degree and 30-60 credits for a master's degree.
Matthew Seawright a 2019 bachelors in business administration graduate from SNHU shaking hands with SNHU president Paul LeBlanc as he gets his degree

Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.

The number of credits needed to graduate from college depends on what degree you want to earn. Each degree has a different credit requirement, takes a different length of time to complete and presents different opportunities for the focus of study and career advancement.

There are a lot of things to consider when earning your college degree. For example:

  • Are you concerned about the overall cost?  
  • Do you have any credits you can transfer?
  • Is the time it takes to earn a degree a primary factor?

When deciding on which degree you should earn, having a solid understanding of your options will help you choose what’s best for you.

How Many Credits Do You Need for an Associate Degree?

Infographic with the text Associate degrees generally require 60 credits.An associate degree is one of the first levels of higher education you can pursue. Some people will earn the degree to gain access to entry-level professional positions, while others use it as a stepping stone to a bachelor's degree.

Associate degrees are usually 60 credits or around 20 courses. This degree usually takes two years to complete if you're a full-time student. You can also take classes part-time, if your financial aid allows, which will extend the time it takes to graduate. 

If you've attended college in the past or have relevant work or life experience, you may already have a portion of the 60 credits completed. A college admission counselor or academic advisor can help you determine if any of your prior experiences can count toward your degree.

Courses in an associate degree program are focused on general education, as well as more specific knowledge if you’re studying to enter a particular field.

For example, an Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts provides a broader academic base than an Associate of Science in Accounting, which will have courses specifically chosen to prepare you for working in a financial department or an accounting position. 

What is the Purpose of the General Education Courses in an Associate Degree Program?

Whether general or career-specific, you’ll still need around 60 credits to graduate with an associate degree, and a portion of those credits will relate to general education.

General education courses are important because they can:

  • Connect you with people from diverse disciplines
  • Help you become well-versed in a variety of disciplines
  • Reshape your outlook on learning
  • Teach you soft skills desired by employers

The 60 credits you earn from an associate degree program can be transferred to a bachelor's degree, drastically reducing the time it takes to complete a bachelor's program. 

How Many Credits Do You Need for a Bachelor's Degree?

An infographic piece with the text bachelor’s degrees are 120 credits. That’s roughly 40 classes.A bachelor’s degree may be your education goal from the start or the follow-up to an associate degree you’ve already earned (note: you do not need an associate degree to earn a bachelor's degree). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) determined many career fields, especially competitive fields, such as those in the information technology (IT) field, require a bachelor’s degree. Additionally, BLS found 179 occupations that have an entry-level education of a bachelor's degree.

A bachelor’s degree is 120 credits, which is around 40 courses. Typically, earning a bachelor’s degree takes four years, but depending on your previous education and whether you’re a full- or part-time student, it may be a shorter or longer length of time.

How Can I Earn My Bachelor's Degree in 3 Years?

You can potentially get your bachelor's degree faster — in three years or less. Transferring earned credits from courses you've previously completed, such as those in your associate program, can help you reach graduation day sooner. Some colleges also offer college credit for military experience and certifications, and you may be able to test out of classes as well.

Bachelor’s degree programs are designed to prepare you to enter a particular field. Some bachelor’s programs offer you the additional option of studying in a specific concentration. Degree concentrations are specializations within a field of study. For example, if you’re earning a bachelor’s in psychology, you can concentrate on topics like addiction, mental health or child and adolescent development. 

Similar to a concentration, an academic minor is a way to specialize in an area outside of your major. Adding a minor or concentration to your bachelor’s degree allows you to learn more specifically about the area in which you’re aiming to have a career.

If you've completed your bachelor's degree and are still looking to expand your knowledge, a master's degree could be your next step.

Find Your Program

How Many Credits Do You Need for a Master's Degree?

A blue infographic with the text master's degrees can require 30 to 60 credits depending on the programIf you’re looking for upward mobility in your career field, earning a master’s degree can be helpful when it comes time to ask for a raise or promotion. Some employers may offer to help with tuition as an employment benefit in order to retain valuable employees.

Usually, a master's degree, which comes after a bachelor's degree, will take 1-2 years of full-time study to complete. But the time it takes depends on a few factors, including your pacing and field of study.

Most master's degree programs require 30-60 credits. For example, a Master of Science in Psychology at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) is 36 credits, while a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing is 48 credits.

Unlike associate and bachelor's degree programs, which often have general education requirements, most master's degree classes focus on topics within your field of study. While some of the classes will be predetermined, you might be able to choose from a list of electives. Your curriculum might require you to complete a capstone project or thesis assignment at the end of your program, serving as a culmination of all you've learned.

You can consider taking asynchronous classes online if you want the flexibility to simultaneously advance your career and education. With five term starts per year at SNHU, you might not have to wait as long to get to work on your classes, either. And just because classes are online on your own time doesn't mean there aren't resources such as tutors and a virtual library available around the clock.

If you're not sure you want a master's degree, you can always begin with a graduate certificate. A graduate certificate is beneficial if you want to advance your knowledge in a particular area in a shorter amount of time. While the number of credits you need to complete a college certificate can vary, between 12 and 21 credits is typical. 

And, at the end of the program, you may be able to transfer the credits you earned into a master's degree, if you'd like to continue your studies.

Can You Transfer Credits Into a Degree Program?

If you've taken college courses before, you may be able to transfer those earned credits into a new degree program. For example, at SNHU, you can transfer up to 45 credits toward an associate degree, 90 credits toward a bachelor's and 12 credits toward a master's.

How Can You Transfer to SNHU? 

Could you have up to 75% of your program done by the time you start at SNHU? Here's how you can find out:

  1. Complete the free 5-minute online application. There’s no obligation after filling it out.
  2. Get your transcripts requested — for free. Chat with an admission counselor, and we'll request your transcripts on your behalf.
  3. Receive your free evaluation. Soon after all your transcripts are in, you'll get your official evaluation. It will show you what was transferred in — and what classes you need to complete.

You could even have credits from certifications or prior experiences that are transferrable into a degree program. 

For example:

  • Microsoft offers a 365 fundamentals exam, and if you receive a qualifying score, it could count toward your transferrable credits at SNHU
  • Advanced Placement (AP) exams and College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) are other common exam-to-college credit opportunities available to move you closer to your degree
  • If you're in the military, your education could transfer your military education to college credits
  • And if you have any certifications, such as CompTIA or Amazon Web Services (AWS), you may be able to receive credits for them

Bring up any prior experiences with an admission counselor to see if you have credits available to transfer.

Earn Credit Toward a Successful Future

BLS keeps track of weekly earnings and unemployment rates compared to education levels. Year after year, BLS has found higher education attainment has led to higher weekly wages and lower unemployment rates.*

Whether you're just getting started or ready to finish your degree, you can connect with your academic advisor at any time to discuss your course schedule and how you're progressing through your program's required credits.

While education takes commitment, time and money, earning a degree at any level can be advantageous for you and your career. 

A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU online degree that can best help you meet your goals.

*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.

Ashley Wallis '16 is an Army veteran and writer with a Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature from Southern New Hampshire University. She is currently living in the Denver area.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

Two students walking in front of Monadnock Hall

SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.