Student classification in college is quite different from student classification in high school. In high school, you were a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior based on your number of years in school. In college, your classification is based on the number of credits you have. What are credits, and how does this system work?

College Credits

You earn college credit by taking college-level classes. Most of your college credits will be earned while actually enrolled in a college or university, but you can also earn credit by taking Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or dual enrollment courses in high school.

College credits count toward earning your college degree. Although the amount of college credits needed to graduate depends on your school and degree, you will typically need about 60 credits for an associate’s degree and 120 for a bachelor’s degree.

Most classes you will take in college are worth three credits. This means each time you complete and pass a class, you will earn three credits toward your degree (except in the case that your class is worth more or less credits). The number of credits each class is worth depends on the number of hours that class meets weekly. For example, a class that is worth three credits will meet for a total of three hours each week. To be considered a full-time student, you will need to take twelve credits per semester, which usually translates to four classes.

Your status as a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior is based on the number of credits you have earned toward your degree. In college, your classification indicates how close you are to graduation.


The exact number of credits for each classification varies slightly depending on the college or university. In general, you are considered a freshman if you have anywhere from zero to 29 credits.

Most students will start college as a freshman. However, depending on the classes you took and credits you earned during high school, it is possible to start college as a sophomore or even a junior.

During your freshman year, you will mostly be taking General Education (Gen Ed) courses. These are core classes focused on a wide variety of subjects like English, science, mathematics, history, and sociology.

If this sounds like high school, it’s not. You may be required to study these subjects, but colleges and universities offer a huge number of classes that can satisfy these requirements. For example, depending on the school you attend, your science requirement can be met with classes like Extreme Weather, Wildlife Issues, or Bugs and People. No matter the subject, colleges offer something for everyone.


On average, you are classified as a sophomore if you have between 30 and 59 credits.

During your sophomore year, you will finish up your General Education requirements and prepare to begin your specialized coursework. You will also make sure you are meeting the prerequisites you will need for your more advanced coursework. Prerequisites are requirements you must meet before you are allowed to enter higher level courses. For example, you might need to pass an introductory course in psychology before you can enroll in more specific psychology courses like Abnormal Psychology or Psychology of Personality.


The typical junior has between 60 and 89 credits.

Your junior year is when college gets really fascinating, because you can now enroll in more advanced courses that are specific to your degree and interests. At this point, you should have finished your general education requirements.

As you enter more advanced courses, class sizes will shrink drastically. While your general education classes may have been held in auditoriums filled with hundreds of students, your higher level classes will typically contain 15-30 people sitting in desks. Most of these classes will be largely discussion-based, and you will have the opportunity to talk about ideas and issues in the field you’re passionate about with like-minded individuals.


A senior is generally a student with 90 or more credits. Once you reach 90 credits, you are considered a senior until you graduate.

As a senior, you need to very carefully ensure that you have all the classes you will need to graduate. A certain number of credits is not the only requirement for earning a degree. For each degree, there are also specific classes you will be required to pass. This means that even if you meet the 120 credit requirement, you can’t graduate until you have passed all the courses required by your degree. Meet with your advisor and regularly consult your school’s course catalog to ensure you are on track to graduate. Most schools also have an area on their website that tells you which degree requirements you have satisfied and which you still need to complete.

Now you know the basics of college credits and classification. Instead of marking the number of years you have spent in school, college classification measures how close you are to earning your degree and entering the working world!

Author: Ashley Cullins