What are ‘credits’/ECTS?

By lidewij

When I started university, I encountered a sea of new terms I didn’t know before. Like, what is credits and why do I hear other students using this term so often?

What is meant with credits?

Think of credits as a tracker of your university progress. A university degree typically consists of a set amount of ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) credits: 180 credits for a bachelor’s degree and 120 credits for a master’s degree. Meaning that a student needs to obtain all 180 or 120 credits to complete a degree (each academic year consist of 60 credits).

How do I obtain credits?

Students earn credits by successfully completing each part of the degree programme – typically including various subjects and a thesis. For instance, if a subject consists of 6 ECTS credits, it means that you have to pass all aspects of the course to obtain the 6 credits. Each subject has a different set of requirements for successful completion, like having to pass an individual assignment and an exam.

Important: Each subject is worth a set amount of credits. If you pass the required parts of the subject, you will be awarded the full amount of credits. As a student, this means that you have to achieve a grade of 5.5 or higher in order to pass. A higher grade, for instance, and 8, does not result in additional credits, and failing does not mean you are awarded a partial amount of credits.

What do credits indicate?

The degree programme calculates the average time required to successfully complete each part of a subject. For every 28 hours of work, you will earn one ECTS credit. The degree programme provides an estimate based on experience, and then assigns a quantity of credits to each course or subject.

In practice, this means that the number of credits you need to earn for each subject indicates the estimated amount of time required to put into the subject. For example, as a bachelor student, you will typically encounter ‘small’ subjects, which require fewer hours, with 3 ECTS credits, subjects with 6 ECTS credits, and larger subjects with 9 or 12 ECTS credits per term.

Binding study advice:

In your first year as a student you must earn a certain number of credits, known as the Binding Study Recommendation (BSA), which all universities have. Sometimes, a university requires 36 ECTS credits, but 45 or even 60 ECTS credits can also be required. This differs per degree programme and per institution.

For most degrees at the WUR you will have to obtain a minimum of 36 ECTS credits to receive a positive BSA. Obtaining the binding study recommendation is important, as it determines whether you, as a student, are allowed to continue your studies at the university.


Study progress

As mentioned before, you are expected to obtain 60 credits per year, but in reality, this can be quite a challenge. If you fail a subject (and therefore not obtain the required credits) you will have to retake the subject or redo the certain part that you failed. During the three resit blocks you will be able to do this. However, remember to discuss your study progress with your study advisor, as s/he can advise you on how to schedule your resits and getting help.

Many students complete a three year bachelors degree in 4 years (or a two year masters in 3 years etc.), meaning that you obtain fewer credits than 60 per year – keeping in mind that you have to pass your BSA in your first year and all credits must eventually be obtained.

Quick FAQ:

  • Why credits? In Europe, this is the credit system that is used. It is also called ECTS, the European Credit Transfer System. This was introduced in order to make all diplomas in Europe of equal value. This is great for students who want to do part of their degree programme abroad.
  • How long do credits remain valid? The university determines for how long credits are valid, usually between five to ten years. This is because the university wants to encourage students to complete their degree within a reasonable amount of time. Also, the content of certain courses can change, e.g. other requirements being set for the degree programme and an outdated credit no longer “covers the scope” of the degree programme. In some cases, the student does not need to retake the course but is required to complete a replacement assignment. This is all described in the regulations of the educational institution.
  • Can I transfer credits if I decide to switch to a different degree? If you decide to pursue a different degree than the one you started with, you can often transfer the credits you have already earned to a different study program. This is easier to do at the same institution than when switching to a different institution. However this is not always the case – again, this is very important to discuss with your study adviser, as this will determine how many credits you will still have to obtain for your new degree.

Before you know it, the term ‘credits’ or ECTS will become part of your/ your child’s everyday vocabulary. If you want to know how a yearly schedule at the WUR looks like (and how credit distribution usually looks like) you can read Monika’s blog as well 🙂



By lidewij

There are 2 comments.

  1. By: Johnson Korbla Klu · 04-12-2023 at 14:38

    Interesting read.Very informative and self_explanatary

    1. By: Laura Sanchez · 07-12-2023 at 13:45

      Dear Johnson,

      Thank you for your feedback!

      Kind regards,

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *