All You Need to Know about the European Credit System ECTS

The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) (European Credit System) is a crucial feature of the Bologna Process meant to assist foreign students to optimise their study abroad experience. Originally, the ECTS was directed towards Erasmus scholars, as a tool for recognizing courses and programs they studied overseas.

ECTS credits are used by universities all over Europe

ECTS (European Credit System) is also used for acknowledging not just study exchange experiences, but full-time Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate (PhD) degree programs also. The only exemption not added or accepted by the ECTS is the final degree certificate, the examination that you would typically take at the end of a degree.

The European Credit System assesses and compares learning accomplishments and assists students easily transfer credits from one higher academic institution to another.

What are ECTS credits good for?

The ECTS European credit system makes degree programs and student performance more apparent and comparable across all nations that are part of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). ECTS replaced or supplemented the various local (national) standards within Europe.

Thanks to the ECTS European credit system, candidates from EHEA nations can go overseas and study for a degree that will be globally accepted all through EHEA.

Top foreign destinations using the ECTS European credit system

  • United Kingdom
  • Germany
  • The Netherlands
  • Spain
  • France
  • Ireland
  • Sweden

How do ECTS credits work?

By finishing a course, seminar, or module, you get credited with ECTS credit points. Every ECTS credit point signifies the amount of workload you accomplished in that frame of time.

Some instances of ECTS credits allocated per degree type are:

  • 1 full year of academic studies:  60 ECTS credits 
  • 3-year Bachelor’s program: 180 ECTS credits
  • 4-year Bachelor’s program: 240 ECTS credits
  • 1 or 2-year Master’s program: 90 or 120 ECTS credits 

ECTS credits may comprise various amounts of study hours

This means that typically a module or program with 10 ECTS credits has around twice the workload of a course with 5 ECTS. But why just in theory? Based on the nation, one ECTS credit point can equal on average between 25 and 30 real study hours. Examples include:

  • Italy, Austria,  and Spain: 1 ECTS = 25 study hours
  • Finland: 1 ECTS = 27 study hours 
  • The Netherlands, Portugal: 1 ECTS = 28 study hours 
  • Belgium, Germany,  Romania, and Hungary: 1 ECTS = 30 study hours 

Study hours (also referred to as work hours) are approximations because you might spend much more time on a program you are not so used to and maybe way less on another program that is precisely in your area of interest and expertise.

That implies that one of your 5 ECTS courses might entail more work than a 10 ECTS course, even if it is on the same program, and at the same school.

How the ECTS grading scale works

Apart from the ECTS-credits, the European Commission also outlined policies for ECTS grading systems. Since there are almost as many different grading systems as nations, its objective is to make grades easily comparable.

The ECTS grading systems are not taking the place of the local grading systems, but they’re meant to be a complement to local grades, for instance, on a transcript of records.

Like the American grading scale, the European Credit System is on the basis of the class percentile. That implies that the grade demonstrates how a student performed in comparison with the other students in the same class.

Before the assessment, the results are split into two subgroups: pass and fail. Therefore, the outcomes are independent of the students who did not pass a course.

Owing to its relative nature, the ECTS grading scale can just provide an orientation about a candidate’s performance, since the grading is based on the group performance, which can vary, particularly in smaller groups.

How to convert ECTS credits to U.S. credits?

If you have already schooled in Europe and wish to continue your schooling in the U.S. you will need to get your credits adapted into American credits.

Typically, the conversion rate from ECTS to American credits is 2:1, implying 60 ECTS would convert into 30 American credits. However, this conversion rate differs, as some schools in the U.S. may use different credit systems. Learn more about academic credits in America.

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