One metric students use to compare colleges is the cost per credit hour, which can vary wildly between schools, even in the same state. With the cost of college increasing at  nearly twice the cost of inflation   each year, it is becoming increasingly more important for students to assess how much they are paying per class. 

What is a Credit Hour

Credit hours are the system a school uses to quantify the amount of time and work a student is expected to dedicate to a given class. To determine the cost per credit hour, the first thing a student need to do is determine whether the school is on a semester or a quarter schedule. Schools using the semester system typically have roughly 17 weeks per semester and two main semesters per year. In this system a credit hour correlates to the amount of time a  student spends in class per week . Schools on the quarter system, by contrast, typically have three 11 week quarters and each of those is worth approximately .67 semester hours. More information on the breakdown, as well as a useful calculator for converting semester to quarter hours and vice versa can be found at the Pacific Union College website.

Determining the Cost Per Credit Hour

The next thing the student should do is browse the pages of schools local to them. The easiest way to determine possible school choices in a state is simply to go to  Google maps , search for “colleges and universities,” type in an address and go. From there, the student would need to go to individual colleges to review their cost per credit hour. This is normally posted under “Tuition and Fees” on the college’s homepage. The student can then compare the cost per credit hour at each school they are interested in. Since most schools consider a full-time schedule to be 12 hours, to get a picture of the tuition costs for a school, multiply the cost per credit hour by 12.

Putting it all together

The cost per credit hour does give the student a picture of what the tuition costs at a given institution are, the total financial considerations are often considerably more than that. In addition to tuition, there are normally a number of fees which are required for attendance, as well as books and housing costs. It is for this reason that most college comparison tools, such as the one at  BigFuture.com  compare the overall cost of attendance, rather than the stated cost per credit hour. Comparing the total cost online will often give students a more realistic picture of their full cost of attendance. If the student wants to determine what the overall cost per credit hour is for a college as a whole, rather than just for tuition, all they need to do is divide the overall cost of attendance per semester (or quarter) by 12.

Comparing the cost of college credit hours for different schools in a given state can often seem intimidating at first, but it doesn’t have to be. All the student really needs to know is how to determine the system used by the college and then compare the cost per hour. It’s as easy as that!

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