Credits and Course Equivalencies
Below is an overview of the basics, but each case is unique, and it’s important to talk to an advisor at International Academic Programs or the academic office offering the program you’re interested in. Before you sign up for a program, ask about how the credits might count. The International Academic Programs Study Abroad Handbook also has useful information about credits.
What's an Equivalency?
When you study abroad as part of a program that offers academic credit, each course you take must be assigned a UW–Madison “equivalent” course in order for your grades and credits to be recorded on your UW–Madison transcript. The process of assigning an equivalency involves identifying the course at UW–Madison that’s the closest match to the course you took abroad and getting the department in which the UW–Madison course is offered to sign off and say that yes, the course you took abroad is equivalent to the UW–Madison course.
Sometimes the equivalent for a course is already pre-approved (or you may even be able to choose from more than one option), and sometimes you will have to find it. Sometimes a pre-approved equivalency isn’t the best one for your particular case, so you may want to request a different one. Sometimes you’ll be able to figure out the equivalent courses before you go, and sometimes you won’t have the information necessary to do that until you actually go abroad. If there is no UW–Madison course that really matches (no “direct equivalency”), the credits may be able to transfer in as an independent study or elective credits. Some departments have special “study abroad” course titles and numbers.
If you are accepted to a UW–Madison study abroad program, you will be assigned a MyStudyAbroad account and will be able to check on and request course equivalents electronically. If the program you are interested in is not a UW–Madison program, you can find out the process to use by asking the staff of the academic office through which the program is offered.
Tips to Make it Easier:
- Talk to an advisor at International Academic Programs or the academic office through which you are signing up for the international experience and ask about how the credits might transfer. Talk to an advisor again when you return. They can help you through the process of finding equivalencies.
- Try to get as much information about the courses ahead of time as you can—a syllabus and course description are essential, and it's great if you can get them ahead of time. Keep all the information about the course that you receive while you’re abroad as well. Find out how the institution calculates hours per credit (how many hours of study equals one credit). The more information you have, the easier the equivalencies will be to find.
- Avoid taking courses that are similar to a course you’ve already taken at UW–Madison. When the closest equivalency to your study abroad course is one you’ve already taken, you won’t be able to use that course to transfer your study abroad credits to UW–Madison. You’ll have to find another equivalent course, and that can be difficult, though not impossible.
- Remember your in-residence credit requirements. If you're signing up for an international experience in your senior year, make sure it's a UW–Madison program, or your graduation may be delayed. UW–Madison international programs count as in-residence credits, but non-UW–Madison programs do not.
- Don’t let it slide. Make sure that you’ve done everything you need to do to get the credits on your transcript correctly. You cannot graduate until ALL courses receive an equivalency, even if you don’t need the courses or credits for your degree. You’re the one responsible.
- Don’t panic. Even when a course abroad doesn’t end up counting for a course required by your degree program, it can still count towards your general education and other requirements.
- Don’t miss out. If an international experience will move you toward your goals, it may be well worth a bit of paperwork.
Don't Rule Out Non-Credit Experiences
An experience can be very valuable, both personally and professionally, even if you don't get academic credit for it. If it's an experience that could really help move you toward your goals, consider it. You can still graduate on time.
- Make an appointment to talk to an advisor about how the credits you earned abroad will transfer in and be translated into UW–Madison credits. Prepare for the appointment by gathering the following materials:
- Course syllabi, course descriptions, and other course information
- Institutional information (for example about how many hours of study equals one credit)
- A copy of your DARS report
- When you meet with your advisor, assess your situation and make a plan:
- See which courses already have a direct equivalency pre-approved and determine whether that equivalency will work for you.
- Determine which courses still need an equivalency.
- Discuss where the courses will be able to count in your curriculum (can they count toward your major requirements, general education requirements, or do they not count toward any requirements?).
- Check to see if you need an exception for any of the courses to count toward a requirement.
- Make a plan to get the equivalencies and exceptions you need. Figure out whom you need to talk to and what you need to get from them.
- Work the plan. Follow up on contacts as needed. Try to meet in person with people whenever possible.
- Keep your advisor updated on your progress. Advisors do not have access to MyStudyAbroad, so they depend on students to keep them informed.
- When you’ve submitted all the Course Equivalency Requests (CERs), check your DARS report and make sure things are getting onto your student record as planned. Make sure the courses have received equivalencies and that they are counting where you think they should be and for the number of credits you expected.
- Meet with a career advisor to discuss how best to incorporate your experience into a resume/CV, cover letters, and interviews.
Give some serious time to thinking about the insights you gained and how they might apply to the rest of your undergraduate study or your career plans. Do you want to explore any other options? Have your goals or values changed? Do you see the world or your field of study differently? Do you see yourself or your place in the field differently?
Reflect on the transferable skills you may have gained during your experience:
- Interpersonal Skills: leadership, teamwork, communication (oral and written), tact, courtesy
- Organizational Skills: planning, attention to detail, documentation
- Cognitive Skills: problem-solving, analytical ability, creativity, critical thinking, flexibility/adaptability
- Attitudes: work ethic, sense of humor, perseverance, self-confidence, initiative, entrepreneurial/risk-taking, independence
Meet with a career advisor to discuss how to incorporate your experience and the insights and skills you gained into a resume/CV, cover letter, or interview.
Share your experience with others, in person or through video or writing. This will give you practice talking about it and allow you to think about it and frame in different ways.
Keep in touch with contacts you made abroad, both fellow study-abroad students and residents of the country or countries you visited. Your efforts at maintaining those relationships are an investment in your professional network as well as your personal network.