Academic Credit and Limitations
Since the fall semester 1983, academic/artistic credit for work completed at CalArts has been awarded in terms of semester units. CalArts adheres to the standard definition of “semester unit” as described by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. For undergraduate students, one semester unit is assigned on the basis of 3 hours of work each week of a semester with a semester considered to be 15 weeks for a total of 30 weeks of instruction. Using this formula, 45 hours of study in one semester is equal to one semester unit.
Examples of the ways in which one undergraduate semester unit may be earned are as follows:
- Lecture Course: One contact hour plus two hours of out of class preparation.
- Studio Course: Two contact hours plus one hour of out of class preparation.
- Individual Lessons: One hour of contact with at least two hours of practice.
- Independent Study: At least three hours of work per week.
For students pursuing an MFA degree, MA degree, Advanced Certificate, or DMA degree, one semester unit is assigned on the basis of 4 hours of work each week of a semester with a semester considered to be 15 weeks for a total of 30 weeks of instruction. Using this formula, 60 hours of study in one semester is equal to one semester unit. More out–of–class preparation time is generally expected at the graduate level than at the undergraduate level.
The number of units established for any one class is based on minimum expectations. Quality is recognized by the awarding, not of units, but of grades (high pass, pass, low pass, etc.).
A full–time undergraduate student program is normally 14 to 16 units and not less than 12 units. At CalArts, a full–time MFA, MA or Advanced Certificate of Fine Arts student program is not less than 9 or 12 units depending on the program of study. A full–time DMA student program comprises not less than 10 units.
A 14 to 16 unit course load requires at least 42 to 48 hours of class related work per week while a 20 unit course load would require at least 60 hours of course related work per week. Considering this commitment of time, energy and resources, we limit student course loads to no more than 20 units per semester (excluding any Winter Session units).
We recognize that on occasion, a student may wish to exceed the 20 units per semester limitation due to unusual circumstances. In that case, the student will complete the Unit Overload Petition, which must be approved and signed in the following order by:
- the student’s mentor;
- the dean of the student’s School;
- the Provost or his/her designee; and
- the Registrar.
Only students who have not received an NC grade in the two semesters preceding the petition are eligible to request a unit overload. BFA–1 students may not petition for more than 20 units (excluding any Winter Session units).
Note: Financial aid is calculated on the minimum full–time course load (12 units for undergraduate students / nine units for graduate students). Units beyond the prescribed minimum are not calculated for additional financial aid.