The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is an important element of the Bologna Process, meant to help international students make the most out of their study abroad experience. Initially, the ECTS was directed towards Erasmus students, as a tool for acknowledging courses and programmes they studied abroad.
ECTS credits are used by universities all over Europe
ECTS is also used for recognising not just study exchange experiences, but full-time Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctorate (PhD) 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.
The European Credit Transfer System measures and compares learning achievements and helps students easily transfer credits from one higher education institution to another.
What are ECTS credits good for?
The ECTS credit system makes degree programmes and student performance more transparent and comparable across all countries that are members of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). ECTS replaced or complemented the different local (national) standards within Europe.
Thanks to the ECTS credit system, students from EHEA countries can go abroad and study a degree that will be universally accepted all throughout EHEA.
The top benefits of ECTS for students include:
- You can study a Bachelor's in one EHEA country and a Master's in another EHEA country, as if you studied both in the same country
- Find work in any EHEA country you want, as your studies will be easily recognised
- If you enrol in a joint-degree, studying a semester abroad, or an Erasmus Plus study experience, it will be easy for your home university to keep track of the study hours, with the help of ECTS credits
- 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 full year of academic studies: 60 ECTS credits
- 3-year Bachelor’s programme: 180 ECTS credits
- 4-year Bachelor's programme: 240 ECTS credits
- 1 or 2-year Master’s programme: 90 or 120 ECTS credits
ECTS credits may include different amounts of study hours
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 actual study hours. Examples include:
- Austria, Italy, and Spain: 1 ECTS = 25 study hours
- Finland: 1 ECTS = 27 study hours
- The Netherlands, Portugal: 1 ECTS = 28 study hours
- Germany, Belgium, Romania, and Hungary: 1 ECTS = 30 study hours
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 that 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 at the same university.
How the ECTS grading scale works
Besides the ECTS-credits, the European Commission also defined policies for ECTS grading systems. Since there are nearly as many different grading systems as countries, its aim is to make grades easily comparable.
The ECTS grading systems are not replacing the local grading systems, but they're 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.
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.
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 systems are way more transparent than many national grading systems and it helps compare your academic performance with that of other students in Europe.
Find out about other academic credit systems worldwide.
How to convert ECTS credits to U.S. credits?
If you have already studied in Europe and want to continue your studies in the U.S. you will need to have your credits converted into American credits.
Usually, the conversion rate from ECTS to American credits is 2:1, meaning 60 ECTS would convert into 30 American credits. However, this conversion rate varies, as some universities in the U.S. may use different credit systems. Learn more about academic credits in America.