What are university credits? Everything that you need to know about ECTS credits

What are university credits, what do ECTS credits do, how much is a university credit worth, how can you earn credits, what are free-elective credits... You will have your answer to all these questions!

During your university studies, you will often hear someone ask "what in the world actually are ECTS credits? " Admit it, this isn't the first time you've looked up information about them. Maybe it's the second, the third... the fourth time? Whatever it is, don't worry, because it makes sense that you have: ECTS credits are quite a confusing and vague concept, which can easily lead to misunderstandings. After all, how can we not go and forget exactly what is a bloody ECTS credit? But stay calm, because Erasmusu are here to help all you students out: today, once and for all, we are going to make it clear what these university credits actually are. From here on out, you can use this article as your reference point for next time you're searching for your next searches, information, because we know: you will come back!


If you're wanting to know more about how university credits work, maybe this is because you are about to start your university studies, or perhaps you are thinking on going on a Erasmus year. Both of these really important reasons are grounds for having ECTS credits and this gives us a clue about what they are there for. Here we go!

What are ECTS credits at university?

The term ECTS credits (European Credits Transfer System) references the amount of hours of work that each student completes. Now well, how can we comparatively measure work that not just one student, but all the students of the world need to do in order to equate to a semester, a conference, a university activity or a subject? You'll see that it is practically impossible to work it out exactly.

How many hours is one credit worth?

It is assumed that one credit represents 25 - 30 hours of work for a student. This takes into account hours spent in the classroom as well as the hours spent studying outside of it. But, at the end of the day, it is nothing more than a simple calculation that the universities do to their activities or taught classes.

How many hours is 60 credits worth?

Maybe you would have seen that a year of degree study is equivalent to 60 ECTS credits. If we follow the formula of hours to work given before, 25 times 60 gives 1, 500 hours of work altogether per year for each student. If we assume that an academic week lasts 9 weeks, we are talking about 36 weeks per year. Then if after, we divide this between the 1, 500 total hours, we can work out that university students will study for 41 hours a week. Do you agree?

Well, many people are critical about ECTS credits, I am going to say why they are like that. Why did they create this system?


Workload of ECTS credits

The ECTS have a very important function within the project which integrates all those who are studying degrees in the world, and especially in Europe. In 1999, the Ministries of Education of different European countries met in the city of Bolonia to sign the so-called Bologna Process which then led to the creation of the European Higher Education Area. Amongst the various propositions that were put forward concerning this method, ECTS credits are presented as a way of quantifying the amount of work in each degree program and there bringing cohesion to make sure they are all similar and integrated.

This has brought about many advantages and solved the heartache for those that had to do it when there was not a common reference point between systems and countries. For example, if you are thinking about going on Erasmus, thanks to the number of degrees and modules in each university that are measured in ECTS credits, nowadays there is a direct equivalent between what you should be studying at your home university and what you are going to study in your Erasmus destination. So you just have to find classes similar to those that you would study at home and choose more or less the equivalent workload. This process is made clear in the Learning Agreement that you have to sign later on with your study abroad coordinator and your host university. With this, I don't want to say it is going to be a piece of cake, but at least there's some support and you don't have to take out your calculator to go from French credits to German credits until you get to Spanish credits

Now, sometimes there can be curve-balls when your home university doesn't know and doesn't answer regarding what credits each of their classes are worth; in this case be patient because the problem will end up being resolved.

What usually happens in your host university that instead of having just one class that is worth 6 credits, you will have three classes that are worth 2 credits. In any case, you have to juggle and connect the subjects that are equivalent to one in your home university. For students who come from countries such as Finland where, despite the efforts of the European countries to standardise everything, their education system remains different to that of Spain and they divide each skill or module up more.

How to get university credits?

The real way to get credits is, of course, to pass your classes. If you pass all of them, each year you would have accumulated 60 ECTS credits, going up to 240 ECTS credits for completing an entire degree course in Spain. I said Spain, because in other countries such as France, their equivalent to the degree, "la licence", lasts for 3 years and is worth 280 ECTS credits, and after this, they can go straight into doing a masters degree. But if you've been studying in Spain, you can also do the same thing. So basically, even if you have studied for three years in Spain, you will still have enough credits to go onto a Masters degree. And some people take advantage of this by going to France in their fourth year of Erasmus and doing the first year of a Master degree at the same time as doing their Erasmus.


But there are also other ways to obtain credits. How? With the credits called free-elective credits. As students, throughout your academic lives, you will receive offers to sign up to cultural university activities, university sports societies, student representative roles...

For example, some students volunteer as guides on the open-days to show future students around the university; whilst others go to welcome and guide newly-arrived Erasmus students and help make their lives a bit easy on their first few days. All of these people will receive ECTS credits in exchange for their efforts. And if you keep accumulating the credits that you have earned from these activities, in the end, you will have enough to have them classed as a full-blown subject. Is there a class that doesn't interest you at all and you have earned free-elective credits doing another extra-curricular activity? Then don't worry, you can validate these credits for this subject. And there you have it!

And don't forget the optional or compulsory work experience which you are able to complete as a student. Thanks to ECTS credits, these are also taken into consideration when you have finished your studies. And little by little, credit by credit, you will have finished your degree in a blink of an eye.

Don't forget!

If you're looking for accommodation, we can help you out. Erasmusu offers hundreds of spacious rooms, studios, university dorms and flats in lots of different cities, so you will be able to find your perfect home, before you even get to the city.

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