Everything you ever wanted to know about the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS)

The European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) is one element of the Bologna Declaration of 1999, an agreement signed by countries throughout Europe that has helped to develop standards for higher education in the EU and its neighbors. 

What is ECTS?

ECTS was organized to define the workload required to accomplish the objectives of each particular course within a degree program and award credits based on student achievement. It requires that every element of a course, from assignments to presentations to group project is clearly defined by the number of student work hours necessary to fulfills the goals set out by the professor and program coordinators. This means that students and universities understand exactly what it takes to earn a credit and what that credit means.

Academic Work

In order to earn one ECTS credit, students must complete 25-30 hours of academic work. This includes all activities deemed necessary to achieve the stated goals of the course, including class sessions, readings, essays, presentations, professor-supervised activities, and internships.

Course Load and Program Length

Most courses will award between 3-5 ECTS credits depending on the number of hours required to complete the academic work assigned. Some classes will award far more, however, and internships can cover up to a full semester of ECTS credits.

Full-time students normally complete 60 ECTS per academic year by completing between 1,500 to 1,800 hours of study. Bachelor's and Master's degrees are also defined by ECTS credits.

  • Bachelor's degrees (first cycle) are worth 180 - 240 ECTS (3 to 4 years).
  • Master's programs (second cycle) are worth 60 - 120 ECTS (1 to 2 years).

ECTS vs US College Credits

ECTS is based on student workload and the US College Credit system is based on contact hours and the idea that for every hour spent in class, students should spend two outside of class. This means that the ECTS is focused on the work students need to do to complete the academic requirements, while the U.S. system reflects the time a faculty member needs to teach.