Skip to main content

Course Load - Advising FAQ

Students usually take 4 credits per semester.

What is a normal course load per semester?

4 academic courses, which is usually a total of 4.0 or 4.5 credits. Examples:

  • Four 1-credit courses
  • Three 1-credit courses and a 1.5 credit intensive language course
  • Two 1-credit courses and a 2-credit Honors seminar
Are students allowed to take 3 credits?

Yes. They need their advisor's permission, with the Carry Extra or Less form. The form describes important considerations like academic progress and financial aid eligibility. If a student takes 3 credits, it is important that they pass all three credits. Sometimes three credits can be wise, especially if a student is struggling with extenuating circumstances or with managing a 4-credit course load.

Are students allowed to take fewer than 3 credits?

No, unless a student has already completed 8 semesters of full-time enrollment. The full-time enrollment threshold at Swarthmore is 3.0 credits per semester, with part-time enrollment meaning enrolling in fewer than 3 credits in a semester. College policy does not allow part-time enrollment during a student's first eight semesters of enrollment (College Catalog 4.1). 

If a request for part-time enrollment is related to a documented disability or chronic medical condition, then a student could talk about a disability accommodations request and a related petition process with Student Disability Services staff and Dean Eric Jensen. Disability accommodations are not retroactive and that process takes time and coordination, so it would be important to make any requests as far in advance as possible.

Are students allowed to take 5 or more credits in a single semester?

Yes, but… Five credits can be overwhelming. It is allowed, but not recommended. Taking more than 5 credits is allowed, but is generally a bad idea. To take more than 5 credits, they need their advisor's permission with the Carry Extra or Less form. The form describes important considerations like extra tuition charged when a student exceeds 10 attempted credits in one academic year and some additional scenarios. 

Do Physical Education (PE) courses count as part of the course load?

PE does not count toward course load. PE is counted in units, not academic credits. Each half-semester PE course counts as one PE unit. PE is not recorded on the official transcript.

Do Dance technique and Music ensemble courses count as part of the course load?

Both kinds of courses can be taken for academic credit. And, both kinds of courses have a non-academic credit option. Music ensemble courses can be taken for 0.5 credit or 0.0 credit. Dance repertory/ensemble courses can be taken for 0.5 academic credit or 2 units of PE (Physical Education). Dance technique courses can be taken for 0.5 academic credit, 0 credit, or 2 units of PE. Examples of Music ensemble courses include Chorus, Orchestra and Gamelan. Examples of Dance technique courses include Ballet, Yoga and Taiko.

Does the course registration system have maximum credit caps?
  • During pre-registration, the cap is 4.5 credits. Students can also pre-register for PE units, which don’t count toward the credit cap.
  • During Add/Drop, there is no maximum cap. You’ll receive an automated daily email report on your advisees’ adds and drops. If you notice that your advisee is adding an excessive amount of courses, please discourage them from doing so. Encourage them to make Add/Drop decisions during week 1 of classes, so that they are not hoarding spaces in courses.

See general course load info on the Registrar's website.

Questions? Contact: