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How Do I Obtain a Certificate or College Degree?

Just as you must satisfactorily complete a certain number of credits to earn a high school diploma or GED, technical certificates and college degrees are achieved by earning credits for classes taken. Each course you pass will add credits to your total; when you reach the required level, you will receive the certificate or degree you have earned.

Colorado's colleges, universities and occupational/technical schools offer several different types of certificates and degrees, sometimes called post-secondary credentials. Each requires completion of a certain number of credit hours as shown in the chart below. The listed times to complete are estimates. Many students, particularly those who are employed while going to college, may take longer to complete their degree, and those who go to school during the summer as well as during the fall and winter may take less time. Regardless of how many years it takes, once you achieve the credits required, you will receive your certificate or degree credential.

Generally speaking, taking 15 credit hours (usually about five courses) each semester, without attending summer session, is considered a "full load." (This is not to be confused with what is considered full-time enrollment for financial aid purposes. For financial aid, "full-time" is taking at least 12 credit hours per semester. Use the financial aid estimator to view the estimated costs and federal aid that may be available to you to attend various colleges in Colorado for 15 credit hours of enrollment.)

Type of Degree Credits Required to Obtain How Long to Complete?1
Technical Certificate 30 1 Year
Associate's Degree 60 2 Years
Bachelor's Degree 120 4 Years
Graduate and Professional Degrees Bachelor's degree plus additional courses - check each program
1Based on taking 15 credit hours per semester and no summer classes; some programs require more credits for graduation than listed

Each school and degree program will require you to successfully complete, as part of the total credits earned, a number of "general education" courses that meet certain core requirements. General education courses provide knowledge in essential subjects: English, mathematics, science, social studies; that every student must master in order to receive a degree.

As you begin to decide which community college, junior college, four-year college or university to attend, an important consideration is to ensure that credits you earn at each school you attend will transfer to other colleges and universities in the future, just in case you decide to change colleges or wish to pursue further education.

Colorado has built a system named "Guaranteed Transfer PathwaysNew window icon" (gtPATHWAYS) that helps eliminate the guesswork when transferring general education course credits from one college to another. gtPATHWAYS applies to all Colorado public institutions of higher education and if you begin at or transfer from a community college to a four-year institution, you may be entitled to additional guarantees.

Not all four-year colleges recognize credit earned in community colleges. While Colorado's public four-year colleges will honor gtPathways credit, it is recommended that you confirm individual articulation policies at private and out-of-state colleges.

Be sure to read about gtPATHWAYS with your parents and talk with your guidance counselor about this opportunity as you make your decision to attend college after high school graduation or GED attainment.

In some cases, depending on what classes you took in high school and/or placement test scores, you may be required to take certain classes, called remedial classes, before enrolling in college-level courses. These classes will generally not count toward the total credits required for a degree. Taking rigorous classes in high school will minimize the likelihood that you will be asked to take these remedial classes in college.

Be sure to double check both what is required to gain admission to different colleges and how many courses in total you will need to complete during college to achieve your degree or certificate. Use the College Admissions Tool to make your dream school a reality.