Change to Credit Hour System

In June 2018, the Schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering adopted a new credit-hour system used by most universities in the United States. This system assigns credit to each course using a formula in which both instruction time and homework time are taken into account. Most Tufts courses have been assigned 3 credits, or "SHUs" (Semester-hour units), but many have been assigned 4 SHUs, and a few may be worth 5 or more SHUs. Some courses may bear 1 or 2 SHUs.

In addition to meeting all degree requirements, students will be required to earn a minimum of 120 credits/SHUs for the baccalaureate degree (though some degree programs may require more credits). All undergraduates must also complete 8 semesters of full-time study (or 10 semesters for those in the combined-degree programs) to fulfill Tufts' Residency Requirement.

Students will be required to complete a minimum of 30 credits/SHUs for the master’s degree (though some degree programs may require more credits). Credit for coursework and continuation status for doctoral programs have also adopted the new credit values, but most doctoral programs retain their own programmatic requirements.

Why adopt a new credit-hour system?

The new credit-hour system adheres to the federal definition of the credit-hour and makes transfer of credit easier for students. Adopting the standard credit hour system also makes 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, with commensurate amounts of out-of-class work for each additional credit.

Am I impacted by the new credit-hour system?
  • If you graduate in May 2018 or before, you will graduate under Tufts' traditional “1 class = 1 credit” system.
  • If you graduate in August 2018 or are in the Class of 2019, 2020, or 2021, you will experience two different credit systems: Tufts’ traditional “1 class = 1 credit” system and the more nuanced semester-hour system in which most courses are assigned 3 SHUs. Past completed courses will be converted from traditional credits to SHUs on your transcript. Each 1.0 credit will appear as 4 SHUs. (See "How are past courses going to be converted to the new system?" below.)
  • If you matriculate into the School of Arts & Sciences or the School of Engineering in Fall 2018 or after, you will experience only the new semester-hour system.

Students who graduated in May 2018 were the last Tufts class to graduate under the traditional “Tufts credit.” Students who matriculated in Fall 2017 and earlier will be assured that the essential degree requirements under which they matriculated will be the same by the time they graduate, whenever they graduate. The University has developed a petition process for students who, upon reaching their scheduled graduation dates, believe that this change may have prevented them from meeting their degree requirements in a timely manner. 

What's the definition of a Semester-hour unit (SHU)?

For all degree programs and courses bearing academic credit, the Semester-hour unit (SHU) 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.
How are past courses going to be converted to the new system?

The Registrar and the technical team that oversees the programming of the Student Information System have looked carefully into the process for converting to the new credit system. This conversion for the students who straddle two different credit systems will require that the transcript show a “credit conversion” in which all credits earned prior to Summer 2018 (including transfer credits and pre-matriculation credits) will be converted from the traditional "Tufts credit" to Semester-hour units (SHUs) as follows:

  • each course assigned 0.5 Tufts credits will be converted to 2 SHUs
  • each course assigned 1.0 Tufts credit will be converted to SHUs
  • each course assigned 1.5 Tufts credits will be converted to SHUs
  • each course assigned 2.0 Tufts credits will be converted to SHUs

Any courses taken in Summer and Fall 2018 and thereafter will be in semester hours, with a majority of courses assigned 3 semester hours.

How were new credit values (3, 4, or 5 SHUs) assigned to courses?

The SHUs assigned to courses will roughly reflect the amount of time you can expect to spend in class or doing homework each week.

  • Most courses will be assigned 3 SHUs.
  • Many courses will be assigned 4 SHUs, including many that require additional instructional time, such as an added recitation or online component.
  • A few courses will be worth 5 SHUs, especially those with an intensive lab requirement.
  • Courses will be assigned 1 or 2 SHUs if they require only 1 or 2 hours per week in class and/or have minimal outside work, such as physical education, music, dance, and other performance courses.

The faculty agreed on the process for assigning credit hours to each course under the new system:

  1. The Educational Policy Committee devised standard guidelines for assigning credit to different kinds of courses (such as lectures, recitations, lab courses, internships, independent studies, research, thesis, etc). These guidelines were shared widely with faculty and academic departments and programs.
  2. Departments and programs recommended a credit value for each course in the catalogue, and provided justification for assigning more credit than the standard 3 credit hours for courses with instructional time not readily apparent from scheduled class time and for courses that take a novel approach to instruction.
  3. The appropriate Committee on Curricula reviewed and approved the final credit value for each course. The Committees of Curricula also heard appeals from departments and programs and resolved disparities in the way in which credit is being assigned to courses in different schools or degree programs.
Can I get more background information on Tufts' decision to change the credit-hour system?

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.

If you are an undergraduate student and have additional questions about the change to the credit-hour system, please review our list of Frequently Asked Questions.