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Coursework and Credits

Photo credit: Johanna Lee '23 (SIT/IHP, fall 2022)

General Info on Credit​​​​​​

Can I receive Swarthmore credits for study abroad?

Yes. Global Engagement has an online credit system 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 the equivalent of 4 Swarthmore credits, and provided you pass each course*, Global Engagement guarantees that you will get at least 4 credits for your abroad semester.

*A passing grade for courses abroad is a C or above (courses with grades of C- and below do not receive Swarthmore credit).

Is it possible to use coursework completed abroad towards major/minor requirements at Swarthmore?

Absolutely! 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 very rewarding to study something related to your major/minor in a different 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.

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 (see question below: “Do any academic departments have specific credit-granting policies?”). Departmental credit for courses abroad is usually elective credit; it is often more difficult to find courses equivalent to specific courses at Swarthmore (and requires close consultation with the department/program).  

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 can give you a sense of what types 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 consult with the Global Engagement Office.


Grades and Grading Abroad

Can I take classes pass/fail?

Students must take all courses abroad for a grade; pass/fail grades are not permitted. To be eligible for evaluation for Swarthmore credit, a course done elsewhere must receive a grade of straight “C” or better (i.e., not a C-). The grades earned abroad will be entered on the Swarthmore transcript but will not be part of the Swarthmore GPA. The transcript from the program is the official record of the work completed on the program.

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 instiution's grade scale.  In these cases, the Swarthmore Registrar's Office uses conversion scales from 'Scholaro' which reflect best practices for international conversation standards.  If such a conversion is used for your program, the relevant table should be available on the program page of the GEO Portal. 


Info for Specific Academic Tracks

Do any academic departments have specific credit-granting policies?

Yes. When requesting credit from a specific department or program, it is important to check their specific policies. Policies are usually available on the department or program websites, or you can contact your academic advisor or department/program staff. Common policies include the following:

  • A maximum amount of credit that you can receive from a department/program for courses abroad
  • A requirement to take courses offered by a department/program at Swarthmore before that department/program gives you credit for courses abroad
  • A rule that only majors and/or minors can receive credit from a department/program
  • Specific guidelines on the hours of instructions, reading list, number of papers, or other aspects of the course structure or content
How do I know if I am 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, which can be an incredibly rewarding experience. If you're interested in this, you'll work closely with your academic department, both before your abroad experience and after your return to Swarthmore. The chair of your actual or prospective major department/program will be the main advisor for this.

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 sometime takes careful planning with your major/minor 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; if a lab is required for one of your courses abroad or your semester abroad, it’s important to check with the relevant department about whether the lab is possible during your intended program.


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

To get credit pre-approval for the courses you intend to take abroad, you will use the Student Credit Evaluation System. Please do not add courses to the Credit Evaluation System until the Global Engagement Office (GEO) instructs you to do so. This process allows departments/programs to "pre-estimate" your classes, to give you an idea of how many credits you can expect to receive for each class, and what your course load would look like to receive four Swarthmore credits. Pre-estimation occurs before you study abroad, while final approval occurs after your return.

What types of credit are available?

The credit evaluation system allows you to request major, minor, distributional, or general department credit from specific academic departments and programs at Swarthmore. Make sure to consult the department/program's website or reach out to the department/program if you are requesting specific departmental credit. If you do not need to fulfill a specific departmental requirement, you can often request OCST elective credit (see question below: “What is OCST credit?”). The approval process for OCST credit is often straightforward, and courses pre-approved for OCST credit usually receive Auto Credit (see question below: “What is Auto Credit”?).

Some credit requirements are difficult or impossible to meet abroad. Courses abroad cannot meet the Writing requirement. Of the three courses you’re required to take in each division at Swarthmore, two courses per division need to be taken on-campus to meet the distributional requirement.

What is OCST credit?

You can often receive a type of credit called OCST credit for courses taken abroad that do not need to fulfill a departmental requirement. OCST credit is general Swarthmore credit awarded by Global Engagement that counts toward your 32-credit graduation requirement but NOT toward a major, minor, or departmental/distributional requirement. OCST credit is often required for courses that do not fall under a specific department/program at Swarthmore, including courses in languages not offered at Swarthmore. Permission from your major/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.

What is Auto Credit?

Courses that were pre-approved for Auto Credit do not need to go through a separate final approval process.  This means the department/program doesn't need to review course materials (e.g., papers, projects, exams, lab reports, etc.) once you return from abroad. If you receive the equivalent of a C or better (i.e., not a C-), you will receive credit once you complete your standard post-return requirements. In the Auto Credit Course Database, you can see what courses Swarthmore students have taken before on study abroad programs that have been given Auto Credit. While past determinations are not binding, you can also see the Swarthmore department/program that awarded Auto Credit for each course. 

How much credit will be pre-estimated for each of my courses?

The Global Engagement Office converts the credit for each of your courses abroad to an equivalent amount of Swarthmore credit, based on your program’s credit units and how many credits your program considers a full course load. The conversion is based on the following formula (in the program's credit units):

  • (course credit amount) ÷ (full course load credit amount ) × 4

GEO recommends the converted amount of credit to the department/program that evaluates each course. However, the department/program that reviews the course ultimately decides about how much credit to pre-estimate, based on their evaluation of course content. The amount of credit pre-approved by the department/program may differ from the GEO-recommended amount of 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. One full Swarthmore credit is always required to fulfill a distributional requirement and is usually required to fulfill a major or minor requirement. 

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 credit granting program(s) to determine how much Swarthmore credit it may receive. In cases where you are not enrolled in ‘Auto Credit’ courses, you need to save your work from the course (for example: papers, projects, exams, lab reports, etc.) to submit to departments/ programs for final review when you return.  

With proper planning, most Swarthmore students get full credit for the work done abroad upon return from abroad. It's a good idea to check with departments/programs before leaving for your study abroad program what the department/program requirements are for final approval. If final credit is not approved by a department/program for a course that they pre-approved, the student can instead receive OCST credit for the course.  

While Abroad

How many study abroad courses should I register for?

You will need to research what credit units your program uses, and how many credits your program considers a full course load. 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 the total amount of that departments/programs pre-approved in Swarthmore’s credit evaluation system (for the courses you actually take) is at least four credits.    

Can I change my pre-estimated coursework 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 possible to change your courses from abroad. However, new courses MUST be pre-estimated in Swarthmore’s Credit Evaluation System to be considered for Swarthmore 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 (equivalent to four Swarthmore credits). Even if a student drops or withdraws from a course and retains full-time status while abroad (i.e. a course load equivalent to at least three Swarthmore credits), the student will drop below full-time status if any of their remaining courses receive a grade of C- or below or do not receive department/program approval. Dropping below full-time status may impact students’ financial aid and ability to graduate on time. Therefore, it is never permitted to drop below three credits.

In some cases, students may carry (the equivalent of) between three and four Swarthmore credits if they receive approval from the Global Engagement Office, their study abroad program, their academic advisor, and Swarthmore’s Division of Student Affairs. Students who wish to request this approval should contact the Global Engagement Office.

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

Your work from courses taken abroad needs to be saved for any courses that were NOT approved for Auto Credit (see question above: “What is Auto Credit”). This work will need to be submitted to the approving department/program for your courses to be evaluated for final approval. You will submit this work to departments/programs for final credit evaluation the semester after you return from abroad. 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, lab reports, etc. Students do NOT need graded copies, any copies will do. If students are required to do oral reports for one or more courses, they should provide a brief summary of what the report consisted of and what they read in preparation for it. 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. Some departments/programs will not review work that is not in English (please verify with departments/programs). 

If you have any questions about what work needs to be saved, contact the department/program that will review the course.​​

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.


After Return

Will my courses abroad show up on my Swarthmore transcript?

The titles and grades of your abroad courses will show up on your transcript after you have met all returning student requirements shared by Global Engagement, your courses have received final credit approval from departments/programs, and the Registrar’s Office has verified your courses and grades on your Swarthmore transcripts. Courses with grades of C- and below will not show up on your Swarthmore transcript and will not receive credit. If your program does not use a U.S. grading system, the Registrar's Office will convert your grades to U.S. letter grades.

What do I need to do to for my courses abroad to receive final credit?

The semester after you return from abroad, the Global Engagement Office will contact you to give step-by-step instructions to complete the final credit evaluation process. Requirements before you receive final credit will include completion of an evaluation of your program and submission of course materials to departments/programs that require it. Please wait to begin the final credit evaluation process until you receive instructions from GEO.

How long will the final credit evaluation process take? 

The final credit evaluation process will take place during the semester after you return from abroad. Note that departments/programs and the Registrar’s Office are given until the end of the semester after you return from abroad to evaluate your courses for final credit. It is sometimes not possible for your abroad courses to show up on your Swarthmore transcript earlier than the end of the semester after you return from abroad. If you have a specific reason you need your abroad courses to show up on your Swarthmore transcript earlier than the end of the semester (e.g., graduate school application deadline), please contact the Global Engagement.