Secondary and higher education study results

In secondary and higher education, institutions use letter grades to assess results. The meaning of the letters used is as indicated below, unless specified otherwise in the notes to the transcript (there are many different variations).

In figures (GPA) Letter grade Description
4 A excellent/superior
3 B very good/above average
2 C average
1 D below average
0 F failure

Common abbreviations on transcripts, particularly in higher education, include:

Letter Description
P pass: no grade awarded
S satisfactory: no grade awarded
I incomplete: student did not satisfy all of the requirements by the end of the semester (the requirements must be met within the prescribed period)
W withdrawn: student has stopped taking a subject (with permission)
NC no credit: no credits have been awarded
R repeat: a subject being taken for the second time because the student did not pass the first time

Credit systems

There are a number of different credit systems, which are all based on the number of contact hours rather than on the study load as a whole. Below, we describe the most common systems in secondary and higher education.

Secondary education credit system

  • 1 credit for a subject that involves 5 hours of lessons per week over 1 academic year (of approximately 36 weeks).

Please note: the school sometimes awards 5 credits for this period rather than 1 credit. For example: if students take physics for 5 hours a week, they will be awarded 1 credit or 5 credits at the end of the school year, depending on the system used by the school.

Higher education credit system

  • Theory: 1 credit = approx. 1 hour of teaching + 2 hours of preparation time.
  • Practice: 1 credit = 2-3 hours of laboratory work, practical or work placement.

It is important to establish whether an institution divides the year into semesters or quarters. An academic year has:

  • 3 x 15-16 week semesters (‘fall’, spring and summer); or
  • 4 x 10-12 week quarters (‘fall’, winter, spring and summer).

How the year is divided affects the value of the number of credits. This value is usually clear from the transcript (or from the notes to the transcript):

  • 1 semester credit = 1 contact hour per week over the course of 15-16 weeks; a total of 120 semester credits for a bachelor’s degree (30 credits per year).
  • 1 quarter credit = 1 contact hour per week over the course of 10-12 weeks; a total of 180 quarter credits for a bachelor’s degree (45 credits per year).

Secondary and higher education documents

When evaluating an American diploma, the diploma alone is never sufficient. The related list of grades, which is known as an official transcript or academic record, is also required.

Official transcript

This official transcript:

  • indicates the level of both secondary and higher education;
  • provides information on the content of the study programme, grades, credits and the date of graduation;
  • must have been issued by the institution where the study took place.

Dutch educational institutions receive this official transcript in a sealed envelope or through a secure, electronic delivery service, so it is clear that the document is reliable. The College Board must also send the results of Advanced Placement examinations (high school), as well as the official transcript, directly to the Dutch institution.


In principle, having the official transcripts sent by the US institutions themselves ensures that the educational documentation is authentic. However, it is important to note that degree mills or diploma mills issue official transcripts that are not legitimate.

Diploma mills

Diploma mills are businesses posing as education institutions, which sell certificates from high school to PhD level without any (serious) education having been completed. The format and content of these documents often give the impression that the transcripts have been issued by recognised US institutions, which is not actually the case. It is a simple matter to check whether an institution exists and/or has been accredited via the CHEA website.

When in doubt, always contact us. In the Netherlands, we have created the Coordination Centre for Information (in Dutch) on Diploma Mills (Coördinatiepunt Informatieverstrekking Diploma Mills) together with the Education Executive Agency (Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs, DUO) to provide information on diploma mills.