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How Many Credit Hours Should First Semester Engineering Freshmen Take?

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.544.1 - 6.544.7

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Paper Authors

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Mary Cummings

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Tamara Knott

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2553

How Many Credit Hours Should First Semester Engineering Freshmen Take?

Mary L. Cummings, Tamara W. Knott Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


The first semester of a freshman engineering program is a difficult transition even for the best- prepared student. During orientation sessions, most freshmen receive guidance on the schedule needed to establish a solid foundation for the engineering curriculum. Due to differing student and advisor backgrounds, schedule recommendations vary widely. This study quantitatively examined the performance of first semester freshman engineers (N=1274) to determine who performed better: students with light loads (12-14 hours), medium loads (15-17 hours) or heavy loads (• 'Ãu‚ˆ…†ÃÃQrevious research at other large universities indicates that the students who take more hours have the best grade point averages (GPAs). However, these studies did not focus on engineering students, who arguably take a more rigorous series of classes than students in other majors. Also, previous research has not focused on the impact of GPAs and credit hour loads for students with below average SAT scores (i.e. the perceived “weaker” students who might need more time). Using a multiple regression model (SAS), this study showed that the credit hour load was a strong predictor of first semester GPA. This relationship also was true for those perceived “weaker” students with below average SAT scores. Previous research suggests that the student course load is an indicator of perception of ability, motivation, and commitment, and thus those students with more hours will be more dedicated towards successful completion. This study supports this theory.

I. Introduction

The freshman year college experience is arguably one of the most difficult transitions for a young man or woman in today’s fast-paced and competitive world. For most entering freshmen, college represents the departure from the nest, complete with new freedoms, but also unforeseen responsibilities. The Virginia Tech College of Engineering (COE) Fall 1999 class of freshmen boasted an average SAT score of 1224, an all-time high. However, after the first semester concluded, the average grade point average (GPA) was a 2.49. This is not a phenomenon particular to Virginia Tech though; the average freshman GPA is comparable for first year students enrolled in similar U.S. schools.1 Clearly many factors contribute to the failure of engineering freshmen to reach their potential. One area of debate, which this paper addresses, is the effect that the number of credit hours taken in the first semester of an engineering curriculum has on the students’ GPAs.

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Cummings, M., & Knott, T. (2001, June), How Many Credit Hours Should First Semester Engineering Freshmen Take? Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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