Placement, Credit, and Registration

Placement and Credit General Information

Credit and placement do not always go together. A student may receive advanced placement for work done before college enrollment, but not get credit, or vice versa.

For incoming first-year students, the first issue to be concerned with is placement rather than credit. It is more important to be enrolled in the right course than to settle the matter of how much credit will be received for previous work. The latter normally can and will be sorted out over a longer period (the first year).

Advanced placement and/or credit for work done before college enrollment can be based on one or more of the following grounds:

  1. CEEB Advanced Placement exams, or IB (International Baccalaureate) exams
  2. Swarthmore College departmental exams. Several departments offer such exams, including Math, Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Modern Languages and Literatures. (See the following sections for details.)
  3. College courses taken elsewhere. Placement may or may not be granted for such courses. Departments must be consulted. Departments set their own policies regarding any credit, but credit awards are rare and not to be expected. Students will not receive credit unless they formally apply to the Registrar and the department(s).
  4. Foreign secondary work considered the equivalent of work in the American higher education system (e.g., British A- Level work or other examinations): Credit and placement for foreign secondary school work is given by departments in consultation with the Registrar. Students should consult the Registrar for specific procedures. They will not receive credit unless they formally apply to the Registrar.

Credit will be granted by the Registrar only on receipt of (1) written credit validation from the relevant department and (2) an official copy of the academic record (transcript or certificate).

A record of credit awarded for work done elsewhere appears on each of the student's grade reports. If a student believes there is a discrepancy, the Registrar should be consulted.

Each department sets its own policy about awarding credit or advanced standing, and some departments require a placement examination or a course at Swarthmore to validate a student's previous work. As stated above, departments make a distinction between advanced standing and credit, and first-year students often need help understanding the various departmental nuances. Please refer to the Registrar's AP or IB Placement page for department policies.

Receiving Credit for Work Elsewhere

After matriculating at Swarthmore, students desiring to receive Swarthmore College credit for work at another school must obtain preliminary approval and after-the-fact validation by the chair of the Swarthmore department or program concerned. Preliminary approval depends upon adequate information about the content and instruction of the work to be undertaken. Preliminary approval is tentative. Please refer to the Registrar's Transfer Credit Policy page for details.

Final validation of the work is required to receive degree credit, and depends upon evaluation of the materials of the course, including syllabus transcript, written work, exams, indication of class hours, etc. Work in other programs, especially summer school programs, may sometimes be given less credit than work at Swarthmore, but this will depend upon the nature of the program and the work involved. Validation may include an examination, written or oral, administered at Swarthmore. All decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

An official transcript from the other school must be received by the Office of the Registrar before validated work can be recorded for credit. By College policy, in order for work done elsewhere to be granted Swarthmore College credit, the grade for that work must be the equivalent of a straight "C" or better, but a better than "C" grade does not in itself constitute Swarthmore accreditability.

Credit originating from elsewhere is recorded toward the Swarthmore degree as follows:

The course subject, number, and credit are Swarthmore's, reflecting the approval of the department validating the credit.
The course title and grade are recorded from the other school's transcript, although the other school's grade does not factor in to Swarthmore's graduation grade average requirement.

Requests for credit normally must be made within the semester following the term in which the work was done. Credit is lost if a student takes a course at Swarthmore that essentially repeats the work covered by the credit.

Receiving Credit for Study Abroad

Full information on all aspects of off-campus study, including credit, is available in the Off-Campus Study office, located in Cunningham House.

Below is an excerpt from the Off-Campus Study Faculty Handbook:

In recent years, approximately forty percent of our graduates have studied abroad or participated in other approved, credit-bearing Off-Campus Study programs.  A large majority of students participate for one semester, a small minority for two semesters.  Students can participate during the second semester of sophomore year, either semester of junior year, and—with permission of the major department—during the first semester of the senior year.

Students who wish to participate in the Off-Campus Study program must attend a general information session (normally offered one or more times each week when classes are in session). During these sessions they will learn about the application process, policies and procedures, and the credit approval process. Students are also required to have an advising session with one of the Off-Campus Study advisers and must complete an online Off-Campus Study application, specific to each program, available on the Off Campus Study website, in addition to any other applications and forms required by the program to which they choose to apply. The application deadlines are normally early October and early February, however some programs have deadlines that are even earlier than that and some programs operate on a rolling admissions basis, so that it benefits the student to apply early in the application cycle. Therefore, those students may come to you even earlier to discuss pre-estimation of credit. Most Swarthmore students are accepted by their first-choice program and therefore, the large majority of the outgoing group is certain of destination by mid-semester. Only a small number learn of their plans later in the semester.

To receive Swarthmore credit students must conform to the provisions of the Swarthmore Semester/Year Abroad Program. Students who wish to receive credit must, for the semester or year abroad, pay the full Swarthmore charges of tuition, room, and board (excluding the student activities fee). Financial aid is normally applicable to approved Off-Campus Study programs. Students may receive up to five (5) credits for a semester or ten (10) credits for the year from a Swarthmore Semester/Year Off-Campus Study program.

Since off-campus study is an officially recommended part of the College's degree program, specific procedures have been established to award Swarthmore credit for off-campus study, to reduce uncertainty both for students undertaking off-campus study and for the academic departments and credit granting programs of the College.

For students enrolled in the Swarthmore Semester/year Off-Campus Study Program, an equivalent full load of Swarthmore degree credits will be guaranteed in advance for successful completion of a normal full load in either a semester-long or academic year-long program by obtaining the U.S. equivalent of a straight C or better in each course. In cases where students complete less than a normal full load in the off-campus study program, they can only earn proportional credit at Swarthmore. It is the joint responsibility of the departmental/program faculty advisors, OCS, and students to do their utmost to avoid duplicating coursework done either here or while off-campus.

There are three kinds of credit that may be awarded for students in the Swarthmore Semester/Year Off-Campus Study Program: 

a) Departmental or program credits: These credits are determined normally before departure by departments and/or programs, when the course’s subject matter falls within the disciplinary purview of same. Course materials must be submitted according to departmental or program requirements. Departments and programs do not grade materials for these off-campus study courses. Grades earned must be the U.S. equivalent of straight C or better for credit at Swarthmore.These credits count toward the thirty-two credits required for graduation, toward completion of the major or minor, toward fulfillment of the twenty-course rule, and where appropriate toward fulfillment of the distribution requirement. The grades earned by the students in off-campus study programs will be entered upon their Swarthmore transcripts, with the four-letter department, program designation clearly noted. These grades are not computed in the Swarthmore GPA.

b) Off-Campus Study (OCST) credits: These credits are determined normally before departure by the Off-Campus Study office through the Faculty Adviser for Off-Campus Study for non-major/minor and non-distribution credit. These credits count toward the thirty-two credits required for graduation and toward fulfillment of the twenty-course rule. While this is intended for granting credit without specific designation to departments and/or programs, it may also be used to award work done in a foreign language when a student has less than two semesters equivalent or for interdisciplinary work that does not fall under the jurisdiction of one department and/or program. The grades earned by the students in off-campus study programs will be entered upon their Swarthmore transcripts, with the four-letter OCST designation and must be the the U.S. equivalent of a straight C or better for credit at Swarthmore. These grades are not computed in the Swarthmore GPA. OCST credit may be re-evaluated at the discretion of departments and/or programs as meeting the requirements for a major or minor after a student returns to campus, but the OCST designation will remain. Students may receive up to a total of 4 OCST credits per semester of off-campus study.

c) Swarthmore credits: These credits are determined normally before departure by departments and programs that manage Swarthmore off-campus study programs. In rare circumstances, credits may be supervised by Swarthmore faculty for other off-campus study programs. Departments and programs are required to grade these off-campus study courses. These grades are computed into the Swarthmore GPA. Course materials must be submitted according to departmental or program requirements. This credit counts toward the degree like any credits at Swarthmore.