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Coursework and Credits

General Info on Credit​​​​​​

Can I receive Swarthmore credits for study abroad?

Yes! Global Engagement has an online Abroad Credit Evaluation System (ACES) that you will use to request pre-approval for your credits for your semester or year abroad. Provided the courses you take abroad receive pre-approval for at least 4 Swarthmore credits, and provided you pass each course*, Global Engagement guarantees that you will get at least 4 credits for your semester abroad.

*A passing grade for courses abroad is (the equivalent of) a straight "C" or above (i.e., not a C-).

Do academic departments/programs at Swarthmore award credit for courses abroad?

Yes! With approval from the relevant department/program, coursework that you do abroad can count toward completion of specific requirements (e.g. major, minor, distribution, twenty course rule), as well as toward the thirty-two credits needed to graduate. Keep in mind that each academic department or program at Swarthmore has its own policies concerning granting study abroad credit.

Can courses abroad count towards major/minor requirements at Swarthmore?

Yes, with approval from your major/minor departments/programs. In fact, we encourage students to find a program that allows them to take classes in their chosen field of study. It tends to be rewarding to study topics related to your major/minor in a new academic and geographical setting.

Note that your major/minor departments/programs decide whether the courses you take abroad can count toward their requirements. If you plan to take courses in your major/minor, it is important to check with the relevant departments about whether the courses you intend to take abroad will count for credit, will fulfill any major/minor requirements, etc.

Depending on the study abroad program, courses may transfer back as less than 1 credit per course.   A "partial-credit" course cannot fulfill a major or minor requirement on its own. 

In such cases, the department/program will usually work with students to approve "combining the credit" for classes in the same discipline in order to qualify as more than one credit toward a major/minor requirement.  Alternately, some departments/programs allow students to complete extra work after their return from abroad to increase credit for a partial-credit course.  Examples of "extra work" include a paper supervised by a Swarthmore faculty member after the program (related to a course taken abroad) or work completed through a related Swarthmore course during a subsequent semester.   This is a less common option only offered by certain departments.  If you know courses on your program receive less than 1 credit and wish to see if "extra work" is a possibility, you would need to contact your department/program for details.

Can courses abroad count towards distributional requirements at Swarthmore?

With planning, students may be able to use coursework abroad to count toward one of the required three courses per division at Swarthmore (Arts and Humanities, Natural Sciences and Engineering, and Social Sciences).   Remember that 2 courses per each division must be completed at Swarthmore.   If you have already 'counted' a summer class or AP course, the division will not also approve a study abroad course toward your distribution requirement.   

To count toward any division requirement, ALL courses must be pre-approved for at least 1 Swarthmore credit.  However, depending on the study abroad program, courses may transfer back as less than 1 credit per course. Unlike credits for majors/minors, a "partial-credit" course can NOT be combined to fulfill a distribution requirement. All courses within each division must be approved for at least one credit.  Divisions do not offer an "extra credit" option to meet distribution credits. 

This means there are certain programs/locations where the coursework is NOT compatible with meeting Division requirements for distribution credit.   If meeting a distribution requirement is important to you, this may impact program selection, and is something you should discuss with your study abroad advisor. 

Can I meet my writing requirement while abroad?

Unfortunately, no. Study abroad courses can never count toward the Writing requirement.

Can courses abroad count toward the 20-credit rule?

Study abroad courses can count toward the required 20 credits outside a student's major (provided the courses are not in the same discipline as the student's major). Both courses awarded departmental credit and courses awarded OCST credit can count toward this requirement.

How can I find out what courses past students have taken?

Consult the Study Abroad Course Database to see what courses Swarthmore students have taken before on study abroad programs you are interested in. You will be able to see the Swarthmore department/program that awarded credit for each course. (Note: this database takes some time to load. The search filters are located at the bottom of the page, which you can reach by pressing FN + End Key.) The courses on the database are not guaranteed approval by the same departments/programs that awarded credit in the past, but the database can give you a sense of what kinds of credit students can receive on various programs.

Can I receive credit for remote or hybrid courses abroad?

Students are NOT permitted to register for courses with a remote learning component. All courses taken abroad must be fully in-person. If you take a course that begins as an in-person course but becomes remote due to a change in circumstances in your study abroad location, please contact Global Engagement.


Grades and Grading Abroad

Can I take classes pass/fail?

Credit/No Credit grades are NOT permitted for study abroad courses - you must take all courses for a grade. Courses with CR/NC grades are not eligible for credit. 

What grade is required to receive credit?

To be eligible for evaluation for Swarthmore credit, a course done elsewhere must receive (the equivalent of) a grade of straight “C” or better. Courses that receive a C- or below will not receive credit and will not show up on your Swarthmore transcript.

Are study abroad grades part of my Swarthmore GPA?

Your grades earned abroad show up on your Swarthmore transcript but are NOT included in your Swarthmore GPA. However, when graduate programs or employers ask you to self-report your GPA, GEO recommends that you include both a "Swarthmore-only GPA" and an "all-courses GPA" for the sake of clarity.

How will I be evaluated?

Exams at foreign universities rarely involve short-answer or multiple choice questions and are more likely to require long essays. Independent research may be frequently required.    Grading may be less transparent and may be based largely or entirely on one or two large exams or projects.

Is it true that grading is "tougher" abroad?

As a broad statement, foreign universities tend to have stricter grading standards than do those in the United States.  While there is great variation between and within countries, it is generally expected that grades equivalent to an A are less common.

How will my grades be converted?

Some overseas programs are accredited by U.S. institutions and issue their transcripts using U.S. letter grades (for example SIT and SFS).  In other cases, official transcripts will be issued based on the foreign institution's grade scale. In these cases, the Swarthmore Registrar's Office uses conversion scales from 'Scholaro' which reflect best practices for international conversation standards.  Scholaro is an endorsed member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators (AICE) and provides credential evaluation services to hundreds of universities around the world.


Info for Specific Academic Tracks

Do any academic departments have specific credit-granting policies?

Yes. Before you request credit from a specific department or program, it is important to check their specific policies. Many policies can be found on this page, but you should also check detailed information that the department/program provides (search their website or contact them). Common departmental policies include:

  • Eligibility requirements to receive credit (e.g., only majors and/or minors, only students who have taken Swarthmore courses offered by the department/program)
  • A maximum number of study abroad credits the department/program can grant
  • Course requirements related to the hours of instruction, assignments, reading list, etc.
Can courses abroad count as equivalents of specific Swarthmore courses?

Most study abroad courses approved by departments/programs count as electives rather than equivalents of specific Swarthmore courses. Even if a study abroad course has a similar title or description to a Swarthmore course, Swarthmore departments/program may not consider the content to be equivalent. Students should not assume they can take the equivalent of a specific Swarthmore course while abroad.

However, departments/programs sometimes choose to approve a study abroad course as the equivalent of a Swarthmore course. In this case, students can usually fulfill the minor or minor requirements that the equivalent Swarthmore course would meet. Students who wish to pursue this option should be in close consultation with the relevant departments/programs.

How do I know if I'm ready to take content classes in another language?

In most cases, you will work with the appropriate Swarthmore language department or program. They can advise you on the process, from Swarthmore courses they recommend you take prior to your study abroad program, to any other details pertinent to your ability to take content classes in the target language. If you intend to take classes in a language that is not offered at Swarthmore, you will work directly with the study abroad program. Most programs have specific language requirements that they will communicate to you. They will sometimes ask you to do a placement test, or will conduct a Zoom/Skype interview to get a sense of your language skills.

What about my Honors program? 

With early and careful planning it’s possible to do an Honors program along with one semester abroad during junior or senior year. Some students have done an Honors preparation based on work done abroad. If you're interested in this, you'll work closely with the department/program, both before your program and after your return to Swarthmore. The chair of your major department/program will be the main advisor for this and will determine whether any work you complete abroad can count as an Honors preparation.

What if I am Pre-Med or Pre-Law?

If you are a pre-medical student, you should not take any of your required pre-med coursework abroad. For more information about scheduling required courses to free up a semester to make study abroad possible, consult the Health Science Office's Guide to Premedical Studies. Gigi Simeone, Health Sciences/Pre-law Advisor is available to chat if you have questions or concerns.

What if I am a STEM major or minor? 

Taking courses abroad as a STEM major or minor is often supported but may require careful planning with departments/programs. Some STEM subjects have specific course sequences that mean you need to spend a certain semester on-campus. It can be difficult to meet a lab requirement while abroad — many programs do not offer labs. If a program does offer a lab, it’s important to check with the Swarthmore department about whether the lab can meet a Swarthmore requirement.



I’ve heard I need to get my proposed courses pre-estimated for credit before departure; what does this mean?

To request credit pre-approval for the courses you plan to take abroad, you will use the online Abroad Credit Evaluation System (ACES). Departments/programs will "pre-estimate" your classes, giving you an idea of how many credits you can expect for each class and what your course load would look like to receive four Swarthmore credits. Pre-estimation occurs during the semester before you study abroad, after you have committed to a specific program. GEO will notify you when you should begin this process.

How should I prepare for the pre-estimation process?

As early as possible, begin to gather the information below, which you will need to submit your credit requests. Many programs provide course information on their websites. If there is any information you cannot find online, please contact your program. If you cannot reach your program, email GEO.

  • A list of courses offered by your program that you plan to take
  • A syllabus for each listed course (download and save syllabi)
  • Information about credit units and a full course load for your program (check this spreadsheet)
  • Number of credits that your program grants for each listed course

You may review further instructions to request pre-estimation for these courses, but please do not submit any requests until GEO has instructed you to do so.

Should I request pre-estimation if my program hasn't finalized my course schedule?

Yes, please request pre-estimation for tentative courses. If you're undecided between a few courses, you may submit more than a full course load, but we recommend that you limit your choices to probable courses. You can request credit for additional courses later if your schedule changes.

What if my program has not provided full syllabi?

If you cannot find a full syllabus for a course, you can use a shorter course description from the program website for the pre-estimation process. You should at least find course descriptions now, which will allow you to complete the pre-departure requirement to submit pre-estimation requests.

During the pre-estimation process, some departments/programs may let you know that they need additional course details before they can approve credit (e.g., hours of instructions, reading list, assignments, etc.). If this happens, you should contact your study abroad program to request the needed information. If information is not yet available, you can share additional details with departments/programs closer to the start of your program or after courses have started. Keep in mind that departmental credit cannot be guaranteed for courses that are waiting for materials, but you can usually receive OCST credit if these courses do not meet departmental requirements.

What if no course information is available for my term abroad?

If your program has not published course information for your term abroad, you should contact them ask if they can email information to you. If they cannot, you should use information from a prior term for your pre-estimation requests, until new information becomes available. Some departments/programs do not pre-approve courses from prior terms, but you will at least have met the GEO requirement to request pre-estimation before departure.

What if course information is not in English?

Many departments/programs can only evaluate pre-estimation documents that are in English. If an evaluator informs you that a translated version is necessary, check with your program whether they can provide the information in English. If they cannot, you may need to translate the document yourself (if the evaluator agrees to review a version you have translated).

What types of credit are available?

ACES allows you to request Major, Minor, or Departmental credit from academic departments and programs at Swarthmore. Make sure to review the department/program's policies before you request a specific type of credit. If you do not seek to fulfill a specific departmental requirement, you can often request OCST elective credit from Global Engagement.

What is OCST credit?

You can often receive a type of credit called OCST credit for courses that do not need to fulfill a departmental requirement. OCST credit is elective credit awarded by Global Engagement that counts toward your 32-credit graduation requirement but NOT toward a major, minor, or distributional requirement. Most study abroad courses offered by approved programs qualify for OCST credit.

OCST credit can often count toward the required 20 credits outside your major (if the course falls under a different discipline). OCST credit is required for courses that do not fall under a department/program at Swarthmore, including courses in languages not offered at Swarthmore.

Permission from your major or minor department/program is required to receive OCST credit for courses that could fall under that department/program. OCST credit is not available for economics, business, or finance courses.

How many credits can I expect for each course?

The Global Engagement Office converts the number of credits for each of your courses abroad to an equivalent number of Swarthmore credits. The conversion is based on what credit units your program uses, and how many credits the program considers a full course load. You can find this information on this spreadsheet or contact your program.

The conversion is based on the following formula (in the program's credit units): (number of course credits) ÷ (number of credits considered a full course load) × 4

GEO recommends the converted number of credits to the department/program that evaluates the course. However, the department/program ultimately decides about how many credits to pre-approve, based on their evaluation of course content. The department-approved number of credits may differ from the GEO-recommended number of credits.

What if a course is pre-estimated for less than 1 credit?

Courses are often pre-estimated for less than one Swarthmore credit, especially if a full course load for your program is greater than four courses. For example, many programs use standard semester credit hours and assign 3 credits to most courses (e.g., DIS, SIT, CIEE, etc.); these courses are usually pre-estimated for 0.75-0.8 Swarthmore credits. Courses approved for less than 1 credit can never fulfill a distributional requirement. Partial-credit courses usually cannot fulfill a major or minor requirement on their own. 

Students who seek at least one full credit under a certain department/program (for a course equivalent to less credit) can try one of the following options:

  • Take multiple courses pre-approved by the same department/program, for a total of more than 1 credit (if allowed by the department/program). This option could work only for major or minor requirements; ALL courses under each division need to be approved for at least 1 credit to meet the distributional requirement.
  • Check whether the department/program can consider an "Extra Credit/Work" option for a certain course. A few departments/programs allow students to complete extra work after return from abroad to reach a full credit. Examples of extra work include a paper supervised by a Swarthmore faculty member during or after the program (related to a course taken abroad) or work completed through a related Swarthmore course during a subsequent semester. You should communicate with the department/program about what kinds of extra work they can consider.

Individual departments/programs decide how much total credit they can award and whether they can consider extra credit.  A full credit toward a certain requirement cannot be guaranteed until the department/program has approved this amount of credit (either as Auto Credit or as final credit after your return).

What is Auto Credit?

If a course has been pre-approved for Auto Credit, you do not need to share any further course information with the department/program to receive final approval. You will receive credit for Auto Credit courses if you pass them with grades equivalent to C or higher and complete all requirements for returned students. In the Auto Credit Course Database, you can check which courses have previously received Auto Credit from Swarthmore departments/programs (note that past determinations are not binding). 

How is pre-estimation different from final approval when I return?

By College regulation, to receive credit for college-level work done elsewhere, it must be evaluated upon completion by the appropriate Swarthmore academic department(s) or program(s), so that they can make a final determination of how much Swarthmore credit it may receive. In cases where you are not enrolled in Auto Credit courses, you must save records of course content and your coursework while abroad/away to submit to departments/programs after you return. Examples of work that should be saved include papers, projects, exams, lab reports, problem sets, etc. If you have any questions about the requirements for final approval, check with the department/program as early as possible.

With proper planning, most Swarthmore students receive full credit for the work done abroad upon return to Swarthmore. If final credit is not approved by a department/program for a course that was pre-approved, the student can instead receive OCST credit for the course.  


During Program

How many courses should I register for?

Find out what credit units your program uses, and how many credits your program considers a full course load (consult this spreadsheet or contact your program). You will be required to register for a full course load as defined by your program. Often a program’s full course load is greater or less than four courses. You should also make sure that at least 4 total credits have been pre-estimated in ACES for the courses you select.

Can I change my course selections once abroad?

Depending on our program, it can sometimes be difficult to know what classes you will actually take until you are on site. It is common for students to change their courses once abroad. However, new courses MUST be pre-estimated in Swarthmore’s Abroad Credit Evaluation System (ACES) to be considered for credit. You should complete the pre-estimation process for new courses as soon as possible because if the course is not approved for credit, you will need to quickly enroll in another class!

Can I drop or withdraw from a course?

The Global Engagement Office does not recommend that students drop below a full course load (i.e., a course load equivalent to at least four Swarthmore credits). Dropping below full-time status (i.e. a course load equivalent to at least three Swarthmore credits) may impact students’ financial aid and ability to graduate on time. Therefore, it is never permitted to drop below three credits.

Even if a student drops or withdraws from a course and retains full-time status while abroad, the student will drop below full-time status if any of their remaining courses is not eligible for credit. A course is not eligible for credit if it receive a grade of C- or below, or does not receive final departmental approval. Therefore, the risk of not receiving the expected number of credits is higher while abroad than on campus.

In some cases, students may request to carry (the equivalent of) between three and four Swarthmore credits, if they accept the risks above and can stay on track with their academic plan. Students must receive approval from the Global Engagement Office, their academic advisor, the Division of Student Affairs, and their study abroad program before they can drop or withdraw from a course. For further information about this process, contact the Global Engagement Office.

What kinds of course records do I need to save while abroad? 

Course materials need to be saved for all courses that were NOT approved for Auto Credit. Ideally, the following records should be saved:

  • The syllabus: If the syllabus does not contain an organized and complete overview of the course (e.g., assigned readings, schedule of classes and topics treated, instructional format, written assignments), then, from your knowledge of the course, you can write out an accompaniment to the syllabus which contains all of this information. 
  • Copies of all assigned written work: Examples of relevant work include papers, projects, exams, lab reports, problem sets, etc. Students do NOT need graded copies, any copies will do. Whenever possible, students should save a copy of required written work before they submit it, in case their submitted copy is not returned to them. If you have any questions about what work needs to be saved, contact the department/program that pre-estimated the course.​​ 

After you have returned to Swarthmore, departments/programs will review these materials to determine the final number of approved credits.

What if there is coursework I cannot save?

Some types of work are difficult to save. In general, if there is work you cannot save for a non-Auto Credit course, it's best to take detailed notes about what the work involved. The sooner you do this, the more you will remember about the work! 

  • Exams: In many cases, exams will not be returned to you. If this happens, you should explain the situation to the Swarthmore department/program and check whether they need information about exams for the final credit evaluation process. If they do, write out the exam questions or topics and your responses to the best of your memory.
  • Oral reports: Write a brief summary of what the report consisted of and what you read in preparation for it.
  • Experiences outside the classroom: You may have participated in fieldwork, faculty-led excursions, or other experiences that your program has not required you to write about. If you believe these experiences are important for departments/programs to consider, write a report of the experiences and how they contributed to your learning.
What happens if any of my academic work abroad is incomplete?

Do not leave your study abroad location with unfinished academic work unless the program has explicitly stated that this is expected of you. Even in such cases, please notify your Global Engagement advisor, and let them know what the deadline is for completion. An important cause of academic failure by students who’ve studied abroad is non-compliance with academic deadlines for receipt of academic work or other program policies such as attendance.

If I'm abroad, how do I register for the classes that I need to take when I return?

You should register from abroad for classes for the following semester at Swarthmore during the pre-enrollment period. Details are available on the Registrar’s Office website.



Will my study abroad courses show up on my Swarthmore transcript?

The titles and grades of all credit-eligible courses will show up on your Swarthmore transcript. To be eligible for credit, courses must receive grades of C or higher and must be granted final credit approval. For details about Swarthmore's grading policies, refer to the "Grades and Grading Abroad" section above.

Do I need to request a transcript from my program?

It's your responsibility to ensure that Swarthmore receives your official program transcript. The Registrar cannot add your courses to your Swarthmore transcript without the official transcript from your study abroad program. Some programs automatically send transcripts to the Registrar's Office, while others require the student to request a transcript. If you have any questions about your responsibility concerning your transcript, please contact your program.

If you're required to request a transcript, note that your program must send transcripts directly to the Swarthmore Registrar's Office, not to you. The office does not consider transcripts received from the student to be official. Electronic transcripts must be sent to directly from the program or via a secured portal. If a paper copy is sent to you personally in the mail, DO NOT open the envelope; bring the envelope unopened to the Registrar’s office. 

Once the Registrar's Office has received a copy of your official transcript, the "Program Transcript" item will be marked as complete in your GEO portal. It usually takes a few weeks or months after the program end date for the transcript to arrive. You should complete next steps for returned students even if your transcript has not arrived.

What do I need to for my courses to receive final approval?

You must prepare all the courses you've taken for final credit evaluation in the Abroad Credit Evaluation System (ACES)—follow post-program instructions on GEO's How to Request Credit page. In addition, you must complete all post-program requirements for returned students in your GEO portal (e.g., program and course evaluations). Once both your ACES and GEO Portal requirements are complete, GEO will authorize the final credit evaluation of your courses. Note that departments/programs will not begin to receive final approval request until the start of your first semester back on campus.

How long will the final credit evaluation process take? 

The final credit evaluation process will begin the semester after your term abroad. Departments/programs are given until the end of that semester to evaluate your courses for final credit. The Registrar's Office adds all department-approved courses and Auto Credit courses to student's transcripts, sometimes a few weeks after the semester ends (seniors' approved credits are applied in time for graduation). If you have a specific reason you need your abroad courses to show up on your Swarthmore transcript earlier in the semester (e.g., graduate school application deadline), contact Global Engagement. Requests for expedited credit evaluation can be considered but cannot be guaranteed.

What if a department/program does not award final credit for a pre-approved course?

It is rare for a department/program not to grant final approval for a course they pre-approved (if you have provided all the course materials that they requested). If a department/program does not approve final credit for a course they pre-approved, or gives final approval for less than the pre-approved amount of credit, the course can receive supplemental OCST credit to reach the pre-approved amount of credit (if the student would otherwise be left with fewer than 4 credits from the semester abroad).