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Evaluating Study Abroad Credit

All study abroad (semester/year) courses taken by Swarthmore students must be approved in ACES to receive credit.

Using ACES, evaluators can view course information and submit approval decisions on these submissions. Evaluators can access ACES via the "Abroad Credit Evaluation (ACES)" app in AppGarden.

Important Note: GEO does not oversee summer study abroad. Participation in summer programs is "independent" and is not guaranteed credit.  Summer students can work with Registrar's Office to receive "Transfer Credit" with the approval of a specific department/program. For more details contact registrar@swarthmore.edu .

The Role of the "Credit Evaluator"

What is a "Credit Evaluator"  

Students who study abroad for a semester or year must request credit for their abroad courses from academic departments/ programs at Swarthmore.  Each credit request is submitted to the appropriate contact identified by each department/program, who then reviews requests via the online Abroad Credit Evaluation System (ACES). 

Credit evaluators check whether credit requests comply with departmental policies.  Evaluators might review students' academic records to make sure they have taken all necessary Swarthmore courses to be eligible for study abroad credit. 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. 

Who are "Credit Evaluators" at Swarthmore?

Departments/programs sometimes designate this responsibility to multiple faculty members.  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.

The department/program determines the AA/AC's role in the credit evaluation process.  Unless a department has requested otherwise, by default, the Administrative Assistant/Coordinator also receives credit requests.  Specific roles may vary.  Some AAs/ACs keep track of pending credit requests, forward course information to faculty, or as a proxy submit faculty's approval decisions to ACES.

How can I change/update the contact(s) receiving credit approval requests? 

If evaluators need to be added or removed, the department/program should email this information to geo@swarthmore.edu.
(Note: when looking at an email notification, each evaluator will only see their own contact information listed, even when other evaluators have received the same emails.)

How/when will evaluators be notified of new requests in ACES?

GEO reviews each ACES request before routing courses to the selected departments/programs, which may take several days.

Once GEO has forwarded a request to a department/program, evaluators can immediately view the request in ACES, but they will not receive an email until the next weekly notification period.

Evaluators receive a weekly automated email from GEO, which lists students who have submitted credits requests to their department/program.  Notifications will be sent on a weekly basis until the department/program has submitted approval decisions for all pending courses. 

Do courses need to be evaluated twice??

The process has two stages: Pre-estimation of Credit (a review of course syllabi/descriptions) and Final Credit Evaluation (an optional review of students' completed coursework). 

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. 

Who decides the credit type?

It is the student who chooses whether to request "Major," "Minor," or "Departmental" credit from departments/programs.  However, an evaluator 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.

Do I need to notify students of my decision or comments?

Students are not notified of decisions and comments recorded in ACES. GEO instructs students to check approval decisions and comments in ACES every 2-4 weeks until all their courses have been reviewed.  However, not all students check ACES regularly. If it's important to reach a student quickly about a decision, we recommend that the evaluator email the student.

 

GEO's Role as a Partner

How does GEO advise students on credit approval?

During advising and pre-departure briefings, students are instructed to review the study abroad coursework and credit policies, and instructions to submit courses to ACES.

Many departments/programs have their own study abroad credit policies (e.g., a maximum number credits, an eligibility requirement for credit, or specific course requirements).   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 policies on department/program websites and/or contact the departments/programs.  We also share a consolidated summary of frequently referenced credit policies by department/program.

Additionally, some types of courses can never receive approval.  Study abroad courses can never fulfill the Writing requirement.   Students are not permitted to take courses with a remote learning component.

What study abroad (academic) policies should all evaluators be familiar with?
  • 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 the department/program that grants credit may change).
  • 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.
Can GEO share courses that have been approved by my department 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 subjects of interest. GEO can 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 does GEO calculate the equivalent number of Swarthmore credits?

In ACES, evaluators will see 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.

 

Pre-Estimation of Credit

What is 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 credits 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 do students submit pre-estimation requests?

Students must be accepted and "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 from evaluators?

Evaluators 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).

How much information can evaluators expect about courses?

For each course they submit to ACES, students are required to upload a syllabus.  Or, if a full syllabus is not available, to upload a course description. 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.

Should evaluators accept the number of credits "recommended by GEO" in ACES?

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.

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.  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 more 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 pre-select 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).

 

Trouble-Shooting Common Issues

 What issues might prevent access to a specific ACES request? 
  • ​​​Incorrect system?
    Students who study abroad for a semester or year must submit courses to the Abroad Credit Evaluation System (ACES).  These must NOT be submitted to the Transfer Credit Evaluation System. 
  • Incorrect tab?
    Pre-estimation requests show up in the "Pre-estimation of Credit" tab (which opens by default), while final approval requests show up in the "Final Credit Evaluation Tab" (to the right of the "Pre-estimation" tab).
  • Has the course already been reviewed?
    A different evaluator in the department/program may have already reviewed the course. In this case, 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).
  • Are you designated as the 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 evaluator to download course information for them to review and input decisions on their behalf. If the list of designated evaluators needs to be updated, the department/program should email geo@swarthmore.edu.
What issues might prevent access to course documents?
  • Are you connected to VPN? 
    Evaluators who are working on campus need to be connected to VPN to view course documents. 
  • Is your Chrome browser glitching?
    The "Access Denied: You do not have permission to view this page" error message often 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.
  • Do you use a pop-up blocker?​​​​​​
    You may need to disable your browser's pop-up blocker.
What issues might prevent submission of approval decisions?
  • Are any of the fields incomplete?
    Evaluators should make sure to scroll right to complete all fields marked with an asterisk (*).
  • Were your responses recorded?
    The evaluator must click the "Save" button and wait for the green "Success" message to make sure their decisions have been recorded.​​​​​​
What if you can't resolve technical issues?

If technical issues prevent an evaluator from reviewing a course in ACES, you can complete the approval process via email.  Email geo@swarthmore.edu to request any course information you cannot access (e.g., course documents, number of recommended credits). GEO will then attempt to collect the needed details to input approval decisions into ACES on the evaluator's behalf.

 

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 accommodate.

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.