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Off-Campus Study

Academic Credit

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Academic calendars

To put it simply, you should put in as much work on your program as you would at Bowdoin, over an equivalent period. It is vital to understand that other institutions' academic calendar is often different from, and in certain areas incompatible with, Bowdoin's semester system. In the program options list you will find the Bowdoin academic period for which each program offers an option of equivalent duration. Differences that you may find in specific regions are outlined below.

  • In some European countries university examinations for the fall semester are sometimes required in late January; attendance in the fall is impossible if the exams prevent return to Bowdoin in time for the spring semester.
  • Many British and Irish universities have now adopted a semester system, but it is important to check that your intended semester includes at least twelve teaching weeks and that you will be able to take all required exams. An exam period or short term is often held in January or May-June; Bowdoin does not generally accept alternative forms of assessment in lieu of examinations scheduled in those exam periods. A trimester calendar is still in use at some institutions (including Cambridge, LSE, Oxford, Sussex, and York). At such universities enrollment for less than the full year may not be permitted (e.g., LSE); or students have to attend for the two terms of the spring and summer or for the full academic year in order to earn sufficient credit (e.g., York). At Oxford and Cambridge, enrollment for only two of the three eight-week terms is not academically (or financially) advisable; it takes a while to adjust to the very different teaching system and college environment. Finally, some universities (University College Cork, Lancaster, Sussex) offer "pre-sessions" in August specifically to give visiting students enough weeks of courses for full credit at their home institutions. In reviewing the options list, be very careful in checking the possible periods of enrollment.
  • At universities in the southern hemisphere the academic year is usually the reverse of ours, with the first semester starting in February and the second in July. This should not present academic credit problems, but may be relevant to your financial planning, since it is not uncommon for payment to be expected by 1 July before the "fall" semester. Your summer employment plans may also be affected.

Transfer of credit

The issues here are not too complicated, and the system of preapproval used in Bowdoin's application process should help you, but there are a few potential traps to be aware of. Programs and universities use many different systems of measuring credit, and few are as straightforward as Bowdoin's. On most programs it is the number of credits earned that is significant, not the number of courses, since varying amounts of credits or points are awarded for different courses. In addition, in computing the number of credits you must earn, do not be misled by the fact that at some institutions you are regarded as a full-time student even if you are taking a reduced course-load, just as at Bowdoin you are considered to be a full-time enrolled student even if you have permission to take only three courses.

Students attending institutions on the semester hour system should complete 15-16 semester hours or credits per semester; it is common (though there are many variations) to take 5 courses a semester, each carrying 3 semester credits/hours. In the semester hour system, a normal full load of 4 courses at Bowdoin would be equivalent to 16 hours. Many programs will describe their full load as a range, often 12-18 credits; note, however, that a student taking less than 15 credits in this system is not taking the normal full load. The many institutions using this system include DIS, IES, NYU, and Temple University.

At institutions on the British three-term model or the quarter system, a single quarter or trimester is not of equivalent duration to a semester at Bowdoin. Students must complete either three terms over a full year for 8 Bowdoin credits; or, for 4 Bowdoin credits, either the two terms that run from January to June or an autumn term supplemented by a presession. The standard system in the UK awards 120 units of credit a year; so over two trimesters or one semester a minimum of 60 units must be taken.

Universities in Australia and New Zealand have their own systems: for full credit at Bowdoin the required semester load is 50 credits at Melbourne; 24 at Sydney; 12 at James Cook; and 60 at Otago. In South Africa, the University of Cape Town has recently adopted a system requiring 72 credits (NQFs) a semester.

In order to complete Bowdoin's OCS application properly, you must understand how many credits you need to earn in the system of your host institution. Establish early on how many courses you will need to take to earn those credits, and in which areas. But it is a very good idea to list more courses on your application than you would be able to take, in case any are ultimately not offered or do not fit your schedule. If you are confused by your program's system, please consult the OCS Office.

Keep in mind the difference between general or graduation credit at Bowdoin (the 32 course credits you need for the degree) and credit toward the major or minor, which is determined by each academic department. The final decision on graduation credit and distribution requirements is made by the Registrar and Recording Committee; the final decision on major or minor credit is made by the appropriate academic department.

Here are the most important rules to follow in order to transfer non-Bowdoin credits for a full semester (4 course credits) or year (8 course credits) on a program for which you have been approved:

  • Credit is transferable only for liberal arts courses similar to those in Bowdoin's curriculum. Courses with a professional focus such as accounting, business, marketing, communications, or journalism will not transfer unless you receive, in advance, the written approval of a Bowdoin department chair. Neither is credit transferred for distance-learning courses.
  • You should take a full course load, even if you have extra credit at Bowdoin and do not need full credit for your off-campus study. The number of courses in which you enroll each term must constitute the normal (not minimum) full-time load at that institution, and all the courses should be in liberal arts areas for which Bowdoin credit is transferable. (You are free to take an extra non-transferable course as an overload, if the program permits.)
  • Credit will not be awarded for courses that to a large extent cover ground that you have already covered at Bowdoin (for example, an introductory language course).
  • No courses may be taken pass/fail, unless they are offered only as such.
  • You must receive a minimum grade of C- (or the equivalent) in a course in order to transfer the credit.
  • All examinations should be taken, if they are required of host-country students and open to visiting students; alternative forms of assessment are not acceptable.
  • No extra credit is awarded for courses above the normal course load; a maximum of 4 credits per semester or 8 credits per year is transferable.
  • Bowdoin distribution/division requirements must be taken at Bowdoin, and should be taken in the first two years, before off-campus study. Distribution/division requirement credit will not be given in any circumstances for off-campus study courses.
  • Bring papers, syllabi, and other course materials back to Bowdoin for the evaluation of major credit by your academic department. (The materials may also be needed for evaluation of general credit by the registrar.) Approval for you to go on a program does not constitute automatic approval of program courses for either general or departmental credit.
  • If you want credit for a course in your major or minor, it is your responsibility to check with the department to determine whether the course satisfies departmental requirements. If you are unable to take a course for which the department has given provisional approval of credit at the time of application, you should email a course description of any proposed replacement course to the department, while it is still possible to make changes if necessary.
  • As a general rule, Bowdoin does not award credit for Independent Study courses, the exception being programs that require an independent study as part of the program. 
  • With very few exceptions, Bowdoin does not award credit for internships. Students who take an internship may take it as an overload (with the program's permission); in some cases the experience forms the foundation for an independent study at Bowdoin. Occasionally language students may be allowed to take a maximum of one internship for credit, provided that the work of the internship is in the foreign language and prior authorization is obtained from the appropriate language department at Bowdoin. Students who take the American University Washington Semester internship must upon return submit a substantial research paper to Professor Janet Martin for approval; failure to submit the research paper will result in no credit at all for the entire semester.

Since the nature of the curriculum can be very different in foreign universities, it is possible to end up taking a course that is too easy or too difficult for you, either of which will endanger your credit. Pitfalls include enrolling for a course that covers a substantial amount of ground already covered at Bowdoin; taking a course that requires experience in parts of the field with which you are unfamiliar; and assuming that a "third-year course" is at the same level as a course you would typically take as a junior at Bowdoin (in England, for example, most undergraduates take three-year degrees and reach university with a more specialized grounding than most American first-years).

Most foreign English-speaking universities expect students to work more independently than is customary in American colleges; many base a high proportion of the grade on a final exam. British and Australian students, for example, routinely underplay the amount of studying they do, and are also more experienced than Americans at writing polished examination answers in the allocated time. American students who misunderstand the system risk performing poorly in the exam, and failing the entire course as a result.

You are responsible for ensuring that at the end of your program the institution sends an official transcript to the Office of the Registrar at Bowdoin. (Many programs ask you to sign a transcript release as part of the application process.) The total of transferred credits will appear, with the name of the issuing institution, on your Bowdoin transcript. Off-campus study grades are not entered on the Bowdoin transcript, or calculated into the GPA.