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Don Nickel - Counseling & Matriculation

College Units and Time Management

College units

A unit is a value that indicates the amount of college credit given to a course. In general, one hour of lecture a week equals one unit of credit.

What makes a full-time student?

There is a range for the amount of units considered to be a full-time student. For many students on their parent's insurance, tax or other purposes, 12 units is usually considered full-time.

How long will it take me to earn my A.A./A.S. degree or transfer to a College of University?

It takes 90 degree applicable units to earn an A.A./A.S. degree. It also takes 90 transferable units to transfer to the CSU or UC. A student working towards an Associate Degree (90 units required) would need to complete 15 units a quarter for six quarters or two years. The same is true for a student planning to transfer to a CSU or UC in which 90 transferable units are required. This model assumes that the student placed into college level English (or ESL) and math. If a student needs to take lower level English (or ESL) and math courses, then those units need to be added to the 90 units, thereby increasing the time to earn a degree or transfer. Some students will take one - two classes during a summer session to help towards the 90 units. Keep in mind that the summer session is only six weeks long (fall, winter and spring quarters are 12 weeks) so a student will spend twice the amount of time and have twice the amount of homework during a summer session.

How do I know which units are degree applicable or transferable?

You can look up any course in the college catalog to determine if the units are degree applicable. General Guidelines for courses numbered:

  • 1 - 49 transferable to the UC
  • 1 - 99 transferable to the CSU
  • 1 - 199 De Anza A.A./A.S. degree applicable
  • 200+ non-degree applicable

Deciding How Many Units to Take

Rather than focus on how many units you should take to stay on a two-year track, you should focus on how many units to take a quarter to earn the GPA you aspire to attain given your life situation. In order to determine how many units to take you need to consider your lifestyle factors such as:

  • If you work, how many hours a week do your work?
  • How much time do you need to devote to your other responsibilities like family and relationships?
  • How much time do you need for personal needs such as sleeping, eating, and traveling to and from school?
  • How much time do you need for housekeeping chores, socializing, recreation and other interests?

Sit down and create a daily and weekly schedule to see how much time you have left for school. Once you have an idea how many hours a week you can realistically allocate to school, figure out how many units you should take. The following is a recommended formula to determine the total time required for success in a class:

Formula = 2 hours of study time for each unit taken

This is just an approximation but a good reference point to start with. Your level of study skills, choice of classes and instructors will all be factors in how much time outside of class you will need.

Example 1: For a 4-unit class you could expect the following:

In-class time


  4 hrs per week (1 hr. for each unit)



+8 hrs per week (2 hrs. for each unit)

Total time


12 hrs. per week for one 4-unit class

Example 2: A student enrolled in 12 units in a quarter would need to budget 36 hours per week for school work. This includes 12 hours in class and 24 hours of study time. A student enrolled in 15 units would need to budget 45 hours a week for school work.

Managing Work and School:

The following are recommended combinations:

  • If you work 15 hours/week, then consider enrolling in no more than 12 - 15 units.
  • If you work 25 hours/week, then consider enrolling in no more than 9 - 12 units.
  • If you work 40 hours/week, then consider enrolling in no more than 4 - 8 units.



email Email: Don Nickel
Phone: 408.864.5423
Office: RSS 240




Last Updated: 11/24/09