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Course Evaluators

Students who study abroad during the academic year must request credit for their abroad courses from academic departments/programs at Swarthmore. The Global Engagement Office (GEO) submits each credit request to course evaluators in the department/program that the student has selected. Evaluators review requests via the online Abroad Credit Evaluation System (ACES). The process has two stages: Pre-estimation of Credit (a review of course syllabi/descriptions) and Final Credit Evaluation (a review of returned students' coursework). 

Who are the course evaluators in each department/program?

By default, GEO submits credit requests to the current chair/coordinator. However, a different faculty member in the department/program may serve as the course evaluator. Departments/programs sometimes designate this responsibility to multiple faculty members. 

The Administrative Assistant/Coordinator also receives credit requests (unless the department/program has requested otherwise). The department/program determines the AA/AC's role in the credit evaluation process (e.g., some AAs/ACs keep track of pending credit requests, forward course information to faculty, and submit faculty's approval decisions to ACES). 

If evaluators need to be added or removed from GEO's credit requests, the department/program should email GEO the name(s) of their current evaluator(s). 

What general credit policies are relevant to course evaluators?

Course load: Students are required to enroll in a full course load as defined by their study abroad program (which is often more or fewer than 4 courses). Their courses generally must be pre-approved in ACES for at least 4 total Swarthmore credits (students must request special permission to carry between 3 and 4 credits.) Students whose courses have been pre-approved for 4 credits and who meet grade requirements are guaranteed 4 overall credits for their semester abroad (though individual departments/programs are not bound to award the pre-approved number of credits).

Grade requirements: All courses must be taken for a grade and must receive a C or higher to be eligible for credit. If a student receives a C- or below, or takes a course pass/fail, the course is not eligible for credit (even if a department/program has approved the course). The Registrar's Office verifies grades on students' transcripts from their study abroad programs (and converts these grades if necessary). All credit-eligible courses and grades are added to students' Swarthmore transcripts and degree audits.

Remote/hybrid courses: Students are not permitted to take courses with a remote learning component.

How are departmental credit policies upheld?

Many departments/programs have their own credit policies. Examples of departmental policies include a maximum number of study abroad credits; an eligibility requirement for credit (e.g., only students who have taken an on-campus course with the department/program); and specific course requirements (related to hours of instruction, reading list, types of assignments, etc.).

Prior to the credit evaluation process, GEO instructs students to check the specific policies of all departments/programs from which they plan to request credit. We advise students to review information about study abroad credit on department/program websites or the College Bulletin, and/or contact the departments/programs. 

However, students who have not followed these instructions sometimes submit requests that violate departmental policies. GEO does not track every student's adherence to each departmental policy. Course evaluators are asked to check whether credit requests comply with their department/program's policies. For example: 

  • Evaluators can check students' academic records at Swarthmore to make sure they meet departmental eligibility requirements.
  • If a student's requested number of departmental credits exceeds the maximum number allowed, the evaluator(s) can contact the student to check how many of the submitted courses they plan to take (and remind them of the maximum). 
What types of credit can evaluators approve?

Students can choose whether to request "Major," "Minor," or "Departmental/Distributional" credit from departments/programs. Evaluators can decide whether or not to approve the type of credit that a student has selected, based on the student's academic profile and the departmental credit policies.

Major or Minor credit:  These types of credit count toward the student's major or minor requirements in the department/program that approves the course. Study abroad courses receive elective credit toward the major or minor unless the department/program indicates during the approval process that the course can fulfill a more specific major or minor requirement (e.g., as an equivalent of a certain Swarthmore course and/or as a course under a certain major or minor group).

Departmental/Distributional credit: This type of credit counts general credit from the department/program or as credit toward a distributional requirement. For a course to count as one of the three required courses per division:

  • The approving department needs to be considered part of the relevant division at Swarthmore.
  • The department needs to approve at least one full credit.
  • The student's other two credits in the same division need to be earned at Swarthmore.

Courses approved by any department/program outside the student's major can count toward the 20-course rule. Study abroad courses can never fulfill the Writing requirement.

What is OCST credit?

OCST credit is general study abroad credit awarded by Global Engagement. The faculty Executive Director of GEO reviews requests for OCST credit. OCST credit counts toward a student's total credits needed to graduate but NOT toward a major, minor, or distributional requirement. OCST credit is required for courses that do not fall under a department/program at Swarthmore (e.g., courses in languages not offered at Swarthmore). OCST credit is NOT associated with departments/programs except for GEO.

Permission from a student's major or minor department/program is required for them to receive OCST credit for a course that could fall under their major or minor. GEO must receive this permission in writing from a course evaluator, unless the department/program has informed us that OCST credit can be awarded to any majors or minors.

OCST credit is NOT available for economics, business, or finance courses.

What is Auto Credit?

Courses that evaluators approve for Auto Credit during the pre-estimation process do not need to go through the final credit evaluation process after the student's return.  The department/program only needs to review the course syllabus/descriptions and not the student's completed coursework. Every Auto Credit course that a student completes receives credit, provided the student earns a grade equivalent to C or higher. 

Can departments/programs access a list of courses they have approved in the past?

Departments/programs and students can view the Study Abroad Course Database, which includes approved courses that students completed. A list of courses approved for Auto Credit can be found on in the Auto Credit Course Database. Students are informed that prior approval of a course is not a guarantee of future credit, but these databases can give an indication of which programs offer courses in a student's areas of interest. GEO can also provide evaluators with a longer list of all courses that their department/program has pre-approved (which includes courses that students did not take); interested evaluators can contact GEO to request this list.

How are summer study abroad courses evaluated?

Unlike study abroad for a semester or year, GEO does not oversee summer study abroad. Students participate in summer programs independently and are not guaranteed credit, but they can receive Transfer Credit if a specific department/program approves a course. Summer courses are reviewed in the Transfer Credit Evaluation system, which is managed by the Registrar's Office. Evaluators can contact the Registrar's Office with any questions.

What information do students receive about credit evaluation?

Prior to departure, students are instructed to review our coursework and credit policies, as well as our instructions to submit courses to ACES


Abroad Credit Evaluation System (ACES)

All semester/year abroad courses must be approved in ACES to receive credit. Evaluators can access ACES via AppGarden ("Abroad Credit Evaluation" app). Following instructions in the ACES app, evaluators can view course information and submit approval decisions.

How are evaluators notified of ACES requests? Are notifications immediate?

During the academic year, evaluators receive a weekly automated email from GEO, which lists students who have submitted credits requests to their department/program. Evaluators receive this email on a weekly basis until their department/program has submitted approval decisions for all pending courses. Note: Each evaluator will only see themselves listed in notifications about the credit requests (even if other evaluators in their department/program have received the same emails). 

GEO reviews each student's ACES requests before we route courses to the selected departments/programs, which may take some time. Once GEO has passed on a request to a department/program, evaluators can immediately the course ACES, but they will not receive an email notification until the scheduled weekly time.

 What issues prevent access to an ACES request? 

​​​Incorrect system: Students who study abroad during the academic year submit courses to the Abroad Credit Evaluation System, NOT the Transfer Credit Evaluation System. Evaluators should make sure they are in the correct system. 

Incorrect tab: Students who have requested pre-estimation of credit show up in the "Pre-estimation of Credit" tab (which opens by default), wherease students who have requested final credit approval of a pre-estimated course show up in the "Final Credit Evaluation Tab" (to the right of the "Pre-estimation" tab).

Course has already been reviewed: A different evaluator in the department/program may have already reviewed the course, in which case the course should show up in the "Pre-estimation of Credit Complete" or "Final Credit Evaluation Complete" section (at the bottom of the relevant tab).

Reviewer is not a designated evaluator: Credit requests in ACES are not available to all members of a department/program, only to the designated course evaluator(s) that GEO has on file. If a different faculty member needs to review a specific course, they can ask their AA/AC or another designated course evaluator to provide them with course information and input decisions on their behalf. If the list of designated evaluators needs to be updated, the department/program should email GEO.

What issues prevent access to course documents?

Not connected to VPN: Evaluators who are working on campus need to be connected to VPN to view course documents. 

Document needs to be clicked again: The "Access Denied: You do not have permission to view this page" error message sometimes appears when evaluators click on document titles when using Chrome. When the issue occurs, close the window and try again. The document should appear on the second attempt. To avoid the issue altogether, try using another browser, e.g. Firefox, instead.

Pop-up blocker: You may need to disable your browser's pop-up blocker.

What issues prevent submission of approval decisions?

Incomplete fields: Evaluators should make sure to scroll right to complete all fields marked with an asterisk (*).

Responses not recorded: After selecting/entering decisions for a course, the evaluator must click the "Save" button and wait for the green "Success" message before they close the window or move on to another student.

Are students notified of decisions and comments?

Students are not notified of decisions and comments that evaluators leave in ACES. GEO instructs students to check approval decisions and comments in ACES every 2-4 weeks until all their courses have been reviewed, and to follow up with departments/programs or GEO as needed. However, not all students check ACES statuses regularly. If an evaluator believes that it's important to reach a student quickly about a decision, we recommend that they email the student.

Can evaluators review courses outside of ACES?

Yes. If technical issues prevent an evaluator from reviewing a course in ACES, they can complete the approval process via email. They can email GEO to request any course information they cannot access (e.g., course documents, number of recommended credits). Then, they can email GEO the information below (and any other relevent details). GEO will then input approval decisions into ACES on the evaluator's behalf.

  • For pre-estimation of credit: Number of pre-estimated credits; whether the course qualifies for Auto Credit; whether Extra/Work Credit is available and final work can be submitted electronically (non-Auto Credit course only); and equivalent Swarthmore course (if any)
  • For final credit evaluation: Number of credits given final approval


Pre-Estimation of Credit

"Pre-estimation" is a preliminary evaluation of a student's intended study abroad courses. During the pre-estimation process, evaluators review syllabi or descriptions of courses that students might take. Evaluators then indicate whether each course can be pre-approved (i.e., can receive credit if successfully completed) and provide an estimate of how many course they can likely grant. Pre-estimation decisions give students important information about which courses they should select, as well as the number and types of credits they can expect.

When can students submit pre-estimation requests?

Students are generally required to have been accepted and have committed to a specific study abroad program before they submit pre-estimation requests. Ideally, they should submit requests during the semester before their term abroad, and as far in advance of their program's registration period as possible. This way, they can know how much credit to expect for each course before they register. However, programs do not always provide an updated course list or syllabi/descriptions before the term abroad has started. Therefore, students often need to wait until their term abroad starts to receive course information to submit to ACES. GEO does not set a deadline to submit pre-estimation requests, but we inform students that credit cannot be guaranteed for any course until it has been pre-estimated.

When are pre-estimation decisions due?

Evaluators also are not given a specific deadline to review courses. Generally, it is appreciated when evaluators can submit decisions within 2-4 weeks of receiving credit requests. Students may reach out to evaluators to request that a course be reviewed in time for their registration period (evaluators can decide whether to accommodate these requests).

What course information should evaluators consider?

GEO requires students to upload a syllabus for each course they submit to ACES, or a course description if a full syllabus is not available. Evaluators can decide whether the syllabus/description contains enough information to pre-approve the course, or further course information is needed to reach a decision. Evaluators who need more information can leave a comment about the necessary details in ACES or email the student. 

Some programs do not provide full syllabi until courses are well underway (or ever). In cases when an evaluator needs course information that the program cannot provide, students may need to record information about courses themselves throughout their term abroad.

What if a syllabus/description is in another language?

If a student uploads a syllabus/description in a language that the evaluator does not read, the evaluator can contact the student to request a translated version. Students can sometimes ask their study abroad programs to translate course documents, but they often need to translate the text themselves. If a student cannot provide a translation or the evaluator would prefer not to review translated information, the department/program does not need to pre-approve the course (the course could instead receive OCST credit).

When should an equivalent Swarthmore course be entered?

If an evaluator feels that a study abroad course covers the same or similar content to a specific course at Swarthmore, they can indicate the code and number of the equivalent course in ACES. If the course receives final approval, it will appear on the student's Swarthmore transcript and degree audit with the course number of the equivalent course, and it will fulfill the same Swarthmore requirements.

If no equivalent course is entered in ACES, approved courses appear on the Swarthmore transcript with the departmental code but with no number (e.g., DEPT XXX). These courses receive elective credit unless the department/program informs GEO or the Registrar's Office that they can fulfill a specific requirement.

How does GEO calculate the equivalent number of Swarthmore credits?

In ACES, evaluators can view the number of equivalent Swarthmore credits recommended by GEO. We base this recommendation on the percentage of a full course load that this course constitutes (in the study abroad program's credits units). We determine how many Swarthmore credits would make up this percentage of a full course load at the College (i.e., 4 credits). In other words, GEO uses the following formula: (# of credits for this course in program's units) ÷ (# of credits the program defines as a full course load) × 4

Note that many study abroad programs have a different standard course load than Swarthmore. For example, many programs assign 3 semester credit hours to each course and define 15 credit hours as a full course load. This means that one course would be a fifth of a full course load, so GEO would recommend 0.8 Swarthmore credits per course.

Should evaluators accept the GEO-recommended number of credits?

Not necessarily. Evaluators may choose to pre-estimate a different number of credits than GEO recommends, based on their review of course content. 

GEO often recommends less than 1 credit for a course (e.g., 0.8 credits). If approved for partial credit, the course would not fulfill a major, minor, or distribution requirement. If an evaluator determines that the student can complete enough work to earn a full credit toward a requirement, they can override the GEO recommendation and pre-estimate 1 credit.

An evaluator may also decide that a course qualifies for less than the GEO-recommended number of credits. If a course is pre-estimated for less credit than recommended, students may fall behind on their total credits needed to graduate. If the evaluator is not opposed, GEO may approve supplemental for the course as OCST credit, so that the student can reach 4 credits for the semester abroad (see question above: "What is OCST credit?").

What does each pre-estimation decision mean?

Evaluators can select one of the following three decisions in ACES:

  • Yes Approved: Credit from the department/program is approved if the student passes this course (with a grade of C or higher) and meets requirements for final credit approval. If the student does not meet the department/program's requirements for final approval, they can receive the pre-estimated number of credits as OCST credit.
  • Waiting for Material: Additional course information is needed before the evaluator can reach a decision. When evaluators select this decision, GEO requests that they add a comment to ACES or email the student to indicate what information or materials the student should provide. Students need to email evaluators when they submit additional requested documents (evaluators are not notified automatically).
  • Not Approved: Either the evaluator cannot approve the course OR changes need to be made to course details such as credit type. If course information needs to be changed, leave a comment in ACES about the needed edits. GEO will update the course information accordingly and send the course back to the evaluator. If the evaluator cannot approve the course, GEO will reroute the to a different department/program or evaluate it for OCST credit. If an evaluator believes that a course should not qualify for any type of academic credit (including OCST credit), we request that they email GEO to provide more information.
When should Auto Credit be approved?

Departments/programs can decide whether and how often to approve Auto Credit (see question above: "What is Auto Credit?"). Some departments/programs always approve Auto Credit, while others never do. Some evaluators use specific criteria to determine whether a course can receive Auto Credit (e.g., the same course has been approved in the past; the syllabus/description contains a certain level of detail). 

An advantage of Auto Credit is that it simplifies the credit evaluation process for both evaluators and students by eliminating the final credit evaluation phase for the department/program. A disadvantage is that the evaluator will not receive information about the work that went into a course, which may influence their approval decision. 

What is Extra Work/Credit Added? Why is this an option?

"Extra Work/Credit Added" is an option for students to receive credit for a course than the evaluator's default estimate. For example, evaluators could agree to approve supplemental credit if a student complete an extra paper or project during or after their term abroad (related to the study abroad course). Evaluators can determine what kinds of extra work would allow consideration for extra credit. Students who seek this option should consult the department/program about extra work can count (if any).

Some departments/programs make this option available because students' courses abroad are often pre-approved for partial credit (e.g., 0.8 credits). "Extra Work/Credit Added" can help a student to reach 1 full Swarthmore credit and fulfill a requirement. 

However, we understand that not all departments/programs have faculty available to supervise extra work. Another option for students to fulfill requirements through partial-credit courses is to take multiple courses approved by the same department/program.

Courses approved for Auto Credit cannot be considered for "Extra Work/Credit Added."

When should coursework NOT be submitted electronically?

During the pre-estimation process, evaluators choose whether coursework can be submitted electronically during the final approval process (for non-Auto Credit courses). "Electronic" submission means document uploads in the ACES (the same document system used for syllabi/descriptions). Usually evaluators allow electronic submission of coursework.

However, an evaluator may decide that coursework should be reviewed outside ACES. For example, certain artwork, audio files, coding, or other work might be difficult or impossible to upload as a PDF. Also, evaluators may prefer to review work in a more organized format (e.g., a Google Drive or other folder) that would be better for a student to email them or present in person. When electronic submissions are not allowed, students should communicate with evaluators about the preferred format, then share their work outside ACES.

Do students take all courses that they submit for pre-estimation?

Not usually. Students often request pre-estimation for more courses than they will actually take, so that they can choose courses based on decisions. Also, students often learn of new course options and change their course selections once abroad. We advise students to only submit courses they have a high chance of taking (keeping in mind the work needed to review each course), but students often complete only a fraction of the courses they submit for pre-estimation.

Can a student take a different course if one of their courses is not approved?

Not always. Some students may select different courses if their original submissions are not approved. However, some study abroad programs preselect courses that students must take. Other programs require students to finalize their course schedules before they receive course syllabi/descriptions to submit to ACES. Evaluators are not required to pre-approve credit even if student are required to take the courses. When an evaluator cannot approve a course, we appreciate when they can support the student receiving credit outside their department/program (e.g., OCST credit).


Final Credit Evaluation

For course evaluators, Final Credit Evaluation is a review of coursework that students completed while abroad. Evaluators can assess course materials to make a final decision about how much credit a pre-estimated course can receive. The departmental Final Credit Evaluation process is only needed for courses NOT approved for Auto Credit during the pre-estimation phase.

When can students submit final approval requests?

In general, GEO does not route any final approval requests to evaluators until the start of the semester after a student's term abroad.* In addition, there are GEO requirements that returned students need to complete before we send any of their courses to evaluators (e.g., completion of a required Returned Student Evaluation). All GEO requirements are due by the end of students' first month back on campus, and GEO usually submits final approval requests to evaluators during that month.

*If an evaluator wishes to review a course over the summer break (e.g., to help students make decisions about course registrations), they should contact GEO to make special arrangements. 

When are final approval decisions due?

Evaluators are given until the end of the first semester back on campus to submit final approval decisions (for students who studied abroad as sophomores or juniors). Earlier decisions are appreciated so that students can adjust their academic plans based on these decisions. Students may contact evaluators to request expedited approval decisions for various reasons (e.g., graduate school applications), which evaluators can choose whether to grant.

For seniors, final approval decisions should be submitted as early as possible and no later than the April before their graduation. It not possible for the Registrar's Office to apply credits from elsewhere after the start of May.

What coursework should evaluators consider?

Departments/programs can decide what specific coursework, if any, they need to review in order to reach a decision. Examples of work that students can submit include papers, problem sets, projects, presentations, etc. 

Some materials are difficult for students to save. It can be difficult for students to bring physical copies of their work from abroad (work is usually saved in an electronic format). Students usually cannot save graded copies of all assignments. Students usually cannot save copies of tests and exams—evaluators who need to review exams are encouraged to ask students to submit notes on what the exams covered.

What if a student needs to complete extra work?

A department/program and a returned student may agree for the student to submit an extra assignment to either receive the pre-estimated amount of credit or supplement this credit (see question above: "What is Extra Work/Credit Added")? In collaboration with the faculty supervisor, a student can complete an assignment after their return. During their junior year or senior fall, students should submit this work in time for departments/programs to evaluate the courses by the end of the semester after their term abroad. Spring-semester seniors should submit all work by mid-semester so that it can be reviewed by April.

What if a course does NOT qualify for the pre-approved number of credits?

If a department/program cannot award as much final credit as they pre-approved, the student will receive supplemental OCST credit reach the number of pre-estimated credits for the course, unless this supplemental credit is not needed to reach 4 credits for the semester (see question above: "What is OCST credit?"). Supplemental OCST credit is not associated with the original department/program and does not count toward any requirements except a student's total credits needed to graduate.

Do evaluators need to consider course grades?

Grades are determined by professors of study abroad courses and appear as-is on students' Swarthmore transcripts (non-U.S. letter grades are converted to equivalent grades by the Registrar's Office). The Swarthmore evaluator does not determine a student's grade. However, if knowing a grade would be helpful for their approval decision, the evaluator can request this information from a student. Courses with grades equivalent to a C- or below on official program transcripts do not receive credit and do not appear on the Swarthmore transcript.

When do approved courses show up on a student's grade history?

After departments/programs have awarded final credit for courses, the Registrar's Office adds each course to students' Swarthmore transcript and Degree Audit. This process can take several weeks or months and is usually complete soon after the end of students' first semester back on campus.

What if a course does not show up correctly on a student's Degree Audit? 

Degree Audits do not always reflect the types of study abroad credit that evaluators would expect. If any changes are needed, the department/program chair or AA/AC should submit a Degree Audit Change Request or contact the Registrar's Office with any questions.