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Policy on Awarding Credit

The Higher Learning Commission, Northwestern’s regional institutional accreditor, requires that the University articulate an institutional policy regarding the awarding of credit. Northwestern’s policy, which is in compliance with the federal definitions regarding the assignment of credit, reflects the current practices of the schools and programs. 

Federal Definitions and Regulations

Federal definitions and regulations regarding the assignment of credit hours appear as follows under Section 600.2 and 600.24(f) of the Higher Education Opportunity Act:

Credit hour: Except as provided in 34 CFR 668.8(k) and (l), a credit hour is an amount of work represented in intended learning outcomes and verified by evidence of student achievement that is an institutionally established equivalency that reasonably approximates not less than—

  1. One hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out of class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks for one semester or trimester hour of credit, or ten to twelve weeks for one quarter hour of credit, or the equivalent amount of work over a different amount of time; or
  2. At least an equivalent amount of work as required in paragraph (1) of this definition for other academic activities as established by the institution including laboratory work, internships, practica, studio work, and other academic work leading to the award of credit hours.

Northwestern University Credit

Northwestern University credit for undergraduate and graduate programs is awarded in units, rather than credit hours. Courses are most often assigned 1.0 unit of credit.

Quarter-long classes typically meet three hours per week on average (three 50-minute sessions per week or two 80-minute sessions) over a 10-week term. Students are generally expected to spend at least two hours outside of class preparing for each hour in class. Courses that meet for more or less time may bear proportionally more or less credit. For example, graduate courses that meet for three hours every week for five weeks rather than ten receive 0.5 units of credit.  The University’s standard meeting times illustrate meeting patterns that meet the requirement for direct faculty instruction each week, and faculty curriculum committees evaluate the expected student work per week at the time of course approval.

Teaching and learning at Northwestern take many forms.  A number of classes consist entirely of research and writing, performance rehearsal, work in a studio or lab, or other independent work.  Online and blended classes require a considerable amount of class time in the form of discussion board activities, synchronous webinars, or other online interactions. In such cases the University awards one unit of credit when at least nine full hours of work per week are expected of the student, irrespective of department, delivery format, or degree level. No separate policy is specified for online or blended courses as they are held to the same standard.

Semester-long classes conducted at Northwestern University in Qatar award 1.0 semester unit of credit and typically meet three to four hours per week on average over a 15-week term. Courses meeting more or less hours per week may carry proportionally more or less credit. Students are generally expected to spend at least two hours outside of class preparing for each hour in class. 

Northwestern does not typically offer conversions to other credit systems; however, institutions accepting Northwestern quarter credit in transfer can consider 1.0 Northwestern quarter unit to be approximately equal to 4.0 quarter hours, and 1.0 Northwestern semester unit equal to 4.00 semester hours [see Federal definition of quarter hour of credit and semester hour of credit above].

Northwestern University credit for law programs on the semester calendar is awarded in credit hours as outlined by the American Bar Association (ABA), their accrediting body.  The ABA credit policy to which Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law adheres is defined in Standard 310 of the “ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools” document.

Responsible Office: Office of the Provost

Who Needs to Know This Policy: All Northwestern faculty members

Contacts: If you have any questions about this policy, contact

Dated: June 29, 2022