A Guide to Understanding Total Credit Hours On a Transcript

Ginger Abbot

Feb 27, 2023

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Transcripts offer a wealth of information to students wondering about their current academic standing. 

Typically, students must pay for official transcripts and wait for them to arrive in the mail. For example, prospective transfer students — 630,000 students transferred to another school in Spring 2022 — must request that their current college or university send official transcripts to the intended institution for consideration. 

However, unofficial transcripts are usually free, much easier to obtain, and just as informative for students curious about their grades and status. Of course, understanding the total credit hours on a transcript is vital if you want to calculate your grade point average (GPA) and make the most of the provided details. 

With this helpful guide, you can easily read your transcript and use it to your advantage to improve your academic performance. 

The Different Sections of a Transcript

At the top of your transcript, you should see your admissions date, cumulative GPA, and major. Additionally, the date you requested your unofficial transcript should also be listed — this is essential if you send your transcript to a company for a job. Likewise, your transcript will note any prior degrees earned from another college or university. 

Transfer students will see a list of transferred credits in the next section. An advisor should have met with you early on to determine which credits were transferable when you enrolled. After each course line, a number will indicate how many credits transferred over for each class, followed by the equivalent course they fulfilled at your new school.

Following any transfer credits, coursework completed at the current institution will be shown by semester and year. While some colleges may follow quarters or trimesters terms, most schools offer fall and spring semesters that run about 15 weeks long.

Total Credit Hours On Transcript Documents

Like transfer credits, you can see your earned credit hours for completed courses by reading across each course line. 

The first pieces of information should be the course code and course title. Colleges use course codes to indicate the subject, sequencing, and upper or lower-level credits — for example, “MAT 110” may identify introductory College Algebra. 

Course codes also help certify transferable credits; however, multiple cataloging systems can make cross-matching codes between institutions tricky.

After the course code and title, your transcript will display the attempted credits — also known as the total credit hours — along with how many credits you earned for the course. If you pass the class — look for a letter grade between A and F — both numbers should be the same. 

The final detail on a course line may tell you how many quality hours or points you earned. This number allows you to figure out the GPA.

What Is a GPA and How Is It Calculated?

Looking at your transcript, you’ll notice your GPA following each semester’s section. Your GPA will fall somewhere on a 4.0 scale, measuring your academic performance. 

You can figure out the quality hours or points earned for a class by multiplying the grade value with the credit hours. For example, an A may count for four quality points, while a B is worth three points, and so forth. If you received a B in a history course with three attempted credits, you’d earn nine quality points.

Determine your GPA by dividing the total grade points earned — the sum of all the quality points for the semester — by the total attempted credits. 

The final detail listed on your transcript is your cumulative GPA — your overall GPA for every course completed throughout your academic career. The cumulative GPA is calculated similarly to each semester’s — by adding the total grade points you earned each semester and dividing the sum by all the attempted credits.

It’s noteworthy that transfer credits do not count toward your GPA or academic standing at your current institution. 

How to Use Your GPA to Your Advantage

Most colleges require students to maintain a cumulative GPA no lower than 2.0 for continued enrollment in their program — yet, the higher your GPA, the better. 

Good academic standing makes students eligible for federal financial aid, scholarship opportunities, future jobs, and graduate school. It also permits them to play college sports. Your academic standing may even deliver awards and honors that look great on a resume.

For an even higher GPA that possibly exceeds the 4.0 scale, take four and five credit-hour courses. 

You can boost a relatively low GPA by keeping a standard course load of three or four courses in a given semester. This will give you more time to study the materials and earn higher scores. Also, visit your academic advisor, professors, and school services for additional learning resources.

If you do fail a course and have to retake it, don’t wait. It’s best to retake courses right away while the materials are still fresh. You’ll want the better grade to cancel the lower one to increase your GPA. 

Interpret Your Transcript Like a Pro

A glance at your college transcript may confuse you at first, but reading through each section and understanding how the total credits determine your GPA will keep you on track toward exemplary academic performance.

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