All You Need to Know about the European Credit System ECTS

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ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) is an important element of the Bologna process, meant to help international students make the most of their study abroad experience. Initially, the ECTS was directed towards Erasmus students, as a tool for acknowledging courses and programmes they studied while abroad.

Today, the ECTS is widespread all over Europe

It is also used for recognising not just study exchange experiences, but full Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctorate degrees, as well. The only exception not included or accepted by the ECTS is the final degree certificate, the exam that you would normally take at the end of a degree.

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The European Credit Transfer System measures and compares learning achievements and helps students easily transfer credits from one institution to another.

What are ECTS credits good for?

The ECTS credit system makes degree programmes and student performance more transparent and comparable all across European Union countries. ECTS replaced or complemented the different local (national) standards within Europe.

Thanks to the ECTS credit system, students from EU-countries can go abroad and study a degree that will be universally accepted all throughout the European Union.

The top benefits of ECTS for students include:

  • You can study a Bachelor in an EU-country and a Master in another EU-country, as if you studied both in the same country 
  • Find work in any EU country you want, as your studies will be easily recognised 
  • If taking a joint-degree, studying a semester abroad, or an Erasmus study experience, it will be easy for your home university to keep track of the study hours, with the help of ‘credit transfers’ 
  • Simplified academic paperwork 
  • Easier to estimate the complexity of a study class, seminar, internship, thesis, etc., based on the number of credits it offers upon completion 
  • Less differentiation between local and international students in universities 
  • Even if you drop out of a programme, ECTS credits help you prove your academic achievements, so you don't have to take the same courses all over again 
  • Your degree will have the same number of credits, no matter what academic discipline you pursue 

Top international destinations using the ECTS credit system

You might also be interested to find out which are the most affordable EU-countries where you can study an international degree.

How do ECTS-credits work?

By completing a course, seminar, or module, you get awarded ECTS-credit points. Every ECTS credit point represents the amount of workload you accomplished in that period of time.

Some examples of ECTS credits assigned per degree type are:

  • 1 year of studies - 60 ECTS-credits 
  • 3-year Bachelor’s programme - 180 ECTS-credits 
  • 2-year Master’s programme - 120 ECTS-credits 
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Not all ECTS credits are created equal

This means that usually a module or course with 10 ECTS credits has approximately twice the workload of a course with 5 ECTS. But why just in theory? Depending on the country, one ECTS credit point can equal on average between 25 and 30 study hours. Examples include:

Study hours (also known as work hours) are estimates because you might spend much more time on a course you are not so familiar with and maybe way less on another course, which is exactly in your field of interest and expertise.

That means that one of your 5 ECTS courses might involve more work than a 10 ECTS course, even if it is on the same programme, and in the same university.

Understanding the ECTS grading scale

Besides the ECTS-credits, the European Commission defined an ECTS grading system, as well. Since there are nearly as many different grading systems as countries, its aim is to make grades more comparable to each other.

The ECTS grading system is not replacing the local grading systems, but it’s meant to be a supplement to local grades, for example, on a transcript of records.

Similar to the American grading scale, the ECTS is based on the class percentile. That means that the grade shows how a student performed compared to the other students in the same class.

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Before the evaluation, the results are divided into two subgroups: pass and fail. Therefore, the results are independent of the students who failed a course. The grading system is defined as follows:

  • A: Best 10%
  • B: Next 25%
  • C: Next 30%
  • D: Next 25%
  • E: Next 10%
  • FX: Fail (almost passing)
  • F: Fail

Due to its relative nature, the ECTS grading scale can just give an orientation about a student’s performance, since the grading depends on the group performance, which can vary, especially in smaller groups.

The same student can, therefore, achieve different grades within the same performance indicator, depending also on the class, in terms of how competitive it is. However, the ECTS grading system is way more transparent than many national grading systems and it helps compare your academic performance towards other students in Europe.

Find out about other academic credit systems worldwide.

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