Change to Credit Hour System

In fall 2018, the Schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering will adopt the credit-hour system used by most universities in the United States. When the new credit system is in place, most Tufts courses will be worth three credits, many will be worth four credits, and a few may be worth five or more credits. Current “half credit” courses will be worth one or two credits in the new system. In addition to meeting all degree requirements, students will be required to earn a minimum of 120 credits for the baccalaureate degree (though some degree programs may require more credits) and a minimum of 30 credits for the master’s degree (though some degree programs may require more credits). If you matriculate prior to the implementation of the new credit system, you will see a change in the way course credits appear, but Tufts will make every effort to keep degree requirements consistent with information provided in the Bulletin in your year of matriculation.

The new credit-hour system will make transfer of credit easier for students and will make the Tufts transcript more self-explanatory to most graduate and professional schools. Because the credit hour generally reflects the amount of time required for the course, students may find it easier to create a balanced course-load each semester. For example, a three-credit course generally requires three hours of class or instructional contact per week, a four-credit course generally requires four hours of class or instructional contact per week, and so on.             

Background on Credit Hours

From the 1970’s through the first decade and a half of the twenty-first century, Tufts’ Schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering adhered to a residential model of a traditional liberal arts college. In this model, undergraduate students were required to be enrolled “in residence” for eight full-time semesters, completing 34 courses (for liberal arts) or 38 courses (for engineering), with some allowance for transfer credits, study abroad, and strict limits on pre-matriculation credits. Accordingly, all courses were worth one credit (except for some “partial credit” courses worth a half credit).

In 2011, the United States Department of Education instructed all accreditation agencies to review university credit policies and ensure that universities use a common standard for awarding credit hours. This has resulted in the need for Tufts to move to a system where credit hours and instructional contact hours are linked. The Department of Education clarified that the federal definition of the credit hour is the standard for higher education in the United States, with institutionally-determined flexibility to account for unique courses and novel instructional methods (such as online courses or “flipped” classrooms).

On April 29, 2015, the faculty of the Schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering voted by an overwhelming majority to adopt the semester-hour credit system, in which the majority of courses (at the undergraduate and graduate level) will be assigned three credits and undergraduates would be required to earn at least 120 credits for the baccalaureate degree and graduate students would be required to earn at least 30 credits for the master’s degree. The faculty agreed that intended learning outcomes and scheduled class time vary significantly across the curriculum, and courses may be assigned values of one credit hour, two credit hours, three credit hours, four credit hours, five credit hours, or more, according to the federal definition of the credit hour.

Definition of the Credit Hour

For all degree programs and courses bearing academic credit, the credit hour is defined as the amount of work represented in intended learning outcomes and verified by evidence of student achievement that is an institutionally established equivalency that reasonably approximates not less than:

  • One hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out-of-class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks for one semester hour of credit, or the equivalent amount of work over a different amount of time.


  • At least an equivalent amount of work as required above for other academic activities as established by the institution, including laboratory work, internships, practica, studio work, and other academic work leading to the award of credit hours.

A credit hour is assumed to be a 50-minute (not 60-minute) period. In courses, such as those offered online, in which "seat time" does not apply, a credit hour may be measured by an equivalent amount of work, as demonstrated by student achievement.

Timeline For Implementation and Transition

Tufts has a target date of September 2018 for the full implementation of the new credit system. This means that when registering in March 2018 for fall semester courses, students will use a course catalogue with the  new credit values. Students matriculating in fall 2018 will have new degree requirements (at least 120 credit hours for the bachelor’s degree and 30 credit hours for the master’s degree), and all degree requirements and policies for various programs and majors will be updated to reflect the new credit system.

Most current graduate and undergraduate students will graduate before the credit system changes. The vast majority of current sophomores (Class of 2018) will be the last Tufts class to graduate under the traditional “Tufts credit.” Students matriculating in Fall 2015, 2016, and 2017 will be assured that the essential degree requirements under which they matriculate will be the same by the time they graduate, whenever they graduate. The university is actively developing a petition process for students who, upon reaching their scheduled graduation dates, believe this change may have prevented them from meeting their degree requirements in a timely manner.