dictionary and thesaurus

Recently we defined the word "credit" in our ever-growing Glossary of Confusing Words as:

...units used to measure the contribution that an academic course makes towards attaining your degree.  Universities require you to take a certain number of credits to graduate, and a certain number of credits each semester to maintain your status as a full-time student.

Ricardo came back at us with a request to define the word "course" as well.  It's not the first time one of our definitions has led to even more questions, and we're happy to oblige!


A course is the same thing as a class.

Each course meets for a few hours a week, and can include lecture sessions, discussion sessions and/or lab sessions.  Of the courses you take each term, some will be required for completion of your major and some will be "elective" courses, meaning courses in subjects that are not your major.

So what's the difference between "course" and "credit" (you might be asking)?  Good question!

The value of any individual course towards earning your degree is measured in credits.  So each course is worth a certain number of credits, usually based on how many hours you are expected to spend on that course.

1 course = 1 or more credits

Here's an example of a conversation using the words "course" and "credit" in context:

"What courses are you taking this semester?"

"Psychology 101, creative writing, and statistics."

"How many credits is that?"

"Only 9. I need to find one more course that's worth 3 credits."

Just like with many words in English, "course" can have several other meanings as well. Those include: a path of travel ("Are we lost? I think we're off course."); part of a meal ("We're having chicken as the main course."); a progression ("She's accomplished a lot in the course of her career."); and an expression that something is expected or usual ("Of course I will come to your party.").

Have you come across a word related to education in the U.S. that you want to see defined in our Glossary of Confusing Words? Let us know in the comments or by using the form below.