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How Long Are College Classes Today?

Kara Kots

Feb 10, 2021

The Average Class Times of College Courses

When transitioning from high school to college, there are several changes to adapt to, including a new learning environment, style, and structure.

A student's experience and knowledge regarding studying, tests, and grades likely need to be modified to the college or university they want to attend. Now in the driver's seat of their education, students have more freedom to tailor their education and experience to their liking. Once a student’s online college application is approved and the candidate accepts the offer, the reigns are handed over to the student to pave their way to success.

With more independence, students also have more responsibility. When attending college, this is often the first time students are away from their family and friends. They are not only in control of choosing their majors and class schedules but also in how they manage their time. Ultimately, this can impact a college student's success during the academic year.

How Does A College Class Schedule Differ From A High School One?

In high school, students are typically on a four-year track taking many pre-determined classes with little to no flexibility. Class schedules remain the same day-to-day throughout school operating hours. On average, students attend six classes every day in the same building. While some classes such as electives only last for a fall or spring semester, other classes like English or math last the entire academic year. Classes like these depend heavily on each institution's curriculum.

A college course schedule, on the other hand, provides more freedom and flexibility. Instead of having a set quarter or semester schedule, college students can tailor their classes and class times to what works best for them. Depending on the times of classes offered, students can choose from attending classes in the morning, afternoon, and even in the evening. If available, they can also choose which days of the week to attend a class, whether that is on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Summer class is often offered for students who want to take college level courses. Summer semester enrollment can be different for different colleges and universities but they are a great way to take core classes or classes specific to your degree plan. Taking classes during the summer semester will lighten your course load and free up time to take different classes or participate in extracurricular activities. 

In addition to the many classes and class times offered, you may be wondering, "how long are college classes typically?" The average time spent in a class differs as well. For high school, classes usually last around 55 minutes long, meeting every day. In college, classes can last around 50 minutes, meeting three days a week or twice a week, meeting for an hour and 15 minutes. A class that meets for an hour two or three days a week is a standard college schedule for full-time students.

Before registering for your first year, you may be wondering “how many classes should I take a semester to graduate on time?” When attending college full-time, students must take a minimum of 12 credits. Even as a full-time student, there is less time spent in the classroom compared to high school. A student will spend, on average, 15-20 hours per week compared to 25-30 hours. Fewer hours spent inside the classroom allow students to arrange more time to study and work on a variety of college-level projects or research.

A better understanding of how high school and college class schedules differ is essential to discuss how the length of classes is measured.

Class Length Based Off College Units

Before discussing how college units impact the length of a class, it is essential to understand what college units are and how they work. As defined by ​ThoughtCo.​, "A "college unit of credit" is a number value assigned to each class offered at a college or university." The purpose of these units is to measure the value of a class. Several factors determine this value.

As stated by ​College Express​, "All college classes are not created equal." Often determined by the level, rigor, or the number of hours spent, one class can be worth more credit units than others. It is common to find that the harder or higher a class is, the more units of credit it will be worth.

ThoughtCo. ​breaks this down further by stating, "Typically, a 1-unit course corresponds to classes that meet for one hour of lecture, discussion, or lab time per week. As follows, a course that meets twice a week for one hour would correspond to a 2-unit course, and a class meeting twice for 1.5 hours would be a 3-unit class." The more frequently a class meets, the more likely it will be worth more units of credit. In most cases, college classes are 3 or 4 units.


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Class Length of Different Subjects

More often than not, classes scheduled on the same days last the same amount of time in college. However, there are exceptions. Like college units, the subject can also determine the class length. For instance, labs can accompany class lectures. Labs are usually more prevalent in specific majors, such as ​biology ​or ​physics​. According to ​Campus Explorer​, labs can also play a role in fulfilling general education credit requirements. Furthermore, some language and writing classes may meet for a longer time if the college or university requires them. Longer class time is needed to provide enough time for presentations or discussions.

How Many Credit Hours Should I Take A Semester?

Aside from being knowledgeable of the common question “what do credits mean in college?”, it’s important to understand how to plan each semester accordingly to ensure you graduate on time. When it comes to choosing how many credit hours to take in a semester, there are various factors to consider. An important factor is a student's availability. When entering college, a newfound opportunity or need for a job can ultimately affect a student's schedule. A student's major or minor can also impact this decision, depending on how much room the program grants.

College Express shares advice stating, "Many colleges recommend taking around 15 credits per semester, which totals 120 credits after four years. Most bachelor's degree programs require 120 credits to graduate." By taking this amount, students can feel confident that they are on the right track to graduation. However, attending college is a big step, and it is more than understandable for a student to take fewer classes in the first semester to minimize feeling overwhelmed. After the first semester, students can adjust the number of hours based on what works best.

Whatever that amount is, it is essential to keep in mind that to be considered a full-time student, 12 credit hours are needed. This amount enables students to receive financial aid and indicates how long a student's college career will be.

Kara Kots is a Social Media Specialist at North Central College, where she contributes her communication, content, and writing skills.