European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS): Explanation of the credit system at university

Written by Kerstin Lakits, Sept 15, 2022

The university system with all its complicated acronyms such as ECTS, STEOP or SWS may seem intimidating, especially to freshmen. However, those are very simple concepts that help you in everyday university life. Today we explain the ECTS that you will come across during lectures, planning your semester and exchange semesters.

What is the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS)?

The ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) was developed during the Bologna process. A universal unit of measurement, ECTS points or credit points, were introduced to make study programmes in Europe comparable and more transparent.

This should ensure that…

  • Study and exam requirements are clearer.
  • The time for studies is reduced.
  • Students have a better overview of their study progress.
  • Planning your study programme is easier.
  • The workload of students is more transparent.
  • Students can plan their semesters more flexibly.
  • National and international mobility is easier for students.
  • The recognition of foreign study and exam performances is easier.

ECTS points are essential for the course catalogue, learning agreement and transcript of records. The ECTS points in the course catalogue help you with planning your semester. If you want to study at a foreign university, the ECTS points help you find equivalent courses. This will help with your Learning Agreement and Transcript of Records. If you are planning one or more semesters abroad, then you can find more information here!

ECTS points for Bachelor & Master programmes

A bachelor programme consists of 180 ECTS points that are split into 30 ECTS per semester in the minimum study duration. A master programme consists of 120 ECTS points that are split into 4 semesters à 30 ECTS in the minimum study duration.

The ECTS points for both programs include the following academic work:

  • Courses with continuous assessment and non-continuous assessment (lectures, seminars, courses, etc.)
  • Internships
  • Autonomous studying (research, studying, homework, preparation of presentations, etc.)
  • Exam preparation
  • Thesis (seminar paper, bachelor thesis, master thesis, etc.)
  • Final exams

STUWO Tip: When you are planning your semester and choosing your courses, take a look at the ECTS points. Calculate how many hours are dedicated to being present at lectures. The difference between attendance and ECTS is the approximate workload outside of university. This makes sure that you aren’t overwhelmed with homework, presentations and studying.

How many hours equal one ECTS?

In the past the attendance of students was calculated by hours per week (SWS); however, nowadays the real workload is calculated into ECTS points. One ECTS point equals 25 hours of work. The amount of ECTS indicated for courses is an estimation

Example: A lecture with 2 ECTS means that you should calculate 50 hours of work for completing the lecture. This includes attendance, mandatory literature, studying and the exam.

Grades & ECTS

Grades are given independent of ECTS. Sometimes the grade average includes the amount of ECTS. Meaning that grades from lectures with more ECTS have a bigger impact. This type of calculation is used fort he grade average for performance scholarships.

Example: When calculating the grade average an „A“ for a 5 ECTS lecture is more important than a „C“ for a 2 ECTS lecture.


How many ECTS do I have to receive?

Starting with the winter semester 2022/23, students in bachelor and diploma degrees have to make 4 ECTS per semester and prove that in the fourth semester by having received 16 ECTS.

What happens if I don’t get enough ECTS?

If bachelor or diploma students don’t get 16 ECTS in the first four semesters, you lose your admission to university and cannot continue your programme in the next two years.

How many ECTS do I need to receive family allowances?

To receive family allowance after the first year at university, you must prove that you have passed the study orientation and preparation phase (STEOP) made of 14 ECTS or lectures of 16 ECTS.

The ECTS points are first and foremost a helpful tool for planning your semester. This way you can estimate your workload and choose the right courses. Here is a checklist for a successful start into the semester!

We hope that this article gave you good insight into the ECTS and wish you a successful semester!


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