While the process of transferring credits from one college to another can be complex, it is far from rare. In fact, one study has estimated that over a third of all undergraduates – and there are millions nationwide – will transfer colleges at least once*.
Why People Transfer College Credits
Whether it's because of a move, time off, or just a desire for a change of scenery, switching colleges doesn't always mean starting from scratch. In many cases, you can transfer college credits to your new school, giving yourself a great head start as you jump back into your education.
Transferring Credits from Community College to a University
One of the most common scenarios in which people transfer college credits is when transferring from a community college to a four-year institution. After completing studies at a local community college, a student may have earned enough credits for an associate degree and want to move to a university to pursue the bachelor’s degree of their choice. Many community colleges will have what are known as "articulation agreements" with other schools (typically public four-year institutions located in, for example, the same state) that describe the portability of credits from one school to the other, meaning that you know, up front, which credits will likely transfer to a certain school.
Transferring Credits from one College to Another
It's also common for a student to transfer from one four-year school to another. Many times this change is the result of a student moving locations, changing a major, needing to take time off from their studies, or deciding to pursue their degree online. While this move may not be as much of a streamlined process as that often laid out in an articulation agreement, that doesn't mean universities are unwilling to consider giving credit for classes taken elsewhere.
What it does mean, however, is that the rules can vary quite a bit from school to school. As you put together your wish list of schools to transfer to, be sure to look into things like transfer acceptance rate, credit expiration policies, minimum grade requirements, etc. Many schools will have information on their website describing the credit-transfer process, so it's in your best interest to do as much research as possible ahead of time. Remember that is up to the transferee institution—the school you are transferring to—to decide whether to accept any credits from your previous school.
Using Course Equivalency College Credits
Additionally, you may also be able to take advantage of non-traditional credits awarded for experience you've gained outside the classroom. Some schools may award non-traditional college credits for experience gained outside of the classroom, such as:
- Military Training and Experience (including the National Guard and Reserves)
- Work Training
- Professional Development
- Continued Education
- National Testing Programs (such as the Berlitz Language Evaluation, College Level Examination Program, and DANTES Subject Standardized Test)
If you believe you may qualify for non-traditional college credits, you should research whether a school that interests you allows for these types of non-traditional credits to count toward your continued education before enrolling.
How to Transfer College Credits
As you can tell from the above, transferring college credits isn’t always a consistent process. While an articulation agreement may help outline typical expectations in certain cases, each student’s situation is different, meaning the process will be as well. It’s also important to know that your new school won't officially review and verify which credits you'll get to transfer in until after you have applied and been accepted.
Additionally, individual states can - and do - specify their own rules on transferring credits, especially as it relates to public community colleges and four-year schools.
Yes, all of this information means that there is a bit of uncertainty with respect to what kind of head start to expect at your new school. But, by doing your research ahead of time, you’ll be prepared to find the right school for you, and your previously earned credits.
Steps to Transferring College Credits
As mentioned, each student’s experience will be different, but the following steps will help you organize the information you have available from previous studies, as well as be equipped for any requests from your new school.
- Make a list of schools you’re interested in applying to
This list will help you later as you determine which school’s transfer credit policies you want to learn more about.
- Check into the rules and requirements for transferring credits
Different rules set out by states and the colleges you may be interested in could impact the amount of your credits that are eligible to transfer. This research will help you set expectations of which credits may be accepted and therefore how many courses you have left to complete.
- See if your state has rules on transferring college credits that may impact you
- Check each of your desired schools’ websites to see if they have any information on their process for accepting transfer credits. Pay attention to items such as:
- Transfer acceptance rate
- General transfer admission requirements
- Credit expiration policies
- Minimum grade requirements
- Compile transcripts from your previous college(s)
If you don’t have them handy, you can often request them at a minimal fee from your previous school.
- Collect and organize course descriptions and syllabi for courses you’ve taken that may be applicable for transfer
To be able to transfer credits, a school needs to determine if they fulfill the course requirements. These documents can help speed up that process.
- Gather course descriptions and certifications of completion for any professional development courses you have completed
To take advantage of any non-traditional credits that may be available, having all available material prepared can help a school determine course applicability.
- Compile proof of passing any applicable national testing programs
For a school to accept transfer credits from a testing program, you’ll need to provide proof of passing.
- If you were in the military, find out how to request your Joint Services Transcript (JST)
Your JST outlines your military occupational experience and training along with corresponding college credit recommendations.
- Contact the Admissions Office at your desired schools to talk through their credit transfer policy and process
Once you have all your documents compiled, the Admissions Office of your desired school is there to help! Counselors can help walk you through what the process typically looks like and help you figure out next steps.
To keep you organized throughout the process of transferring your college credits, try these tips:
- Create a physical folder to hold all of the transcripts and paperwork you will gather
- Create a digital folder on your computer’s desktop to house a digital copy of all the paperwork you have – this archive will be helpful if you need to email something quickly to expedite the process
- Print this checklist to ensure you have all the right paperwork on hand, and to keep your notes handy!
How Long Are College Credits Good For?
The length of time credits remain eligible for transferring will depend on several factors including:
- Which school you are transferring to
- The courses you have credits for
- The major and degree you are pursuing
While some schools will transfer credits for core curriculum courses that may not change often, courses that are often updated because of new technologies may be more difficult to transfer after an extended period and may expire at some point. It’s best to list the courses you have taken and call your desired school’s Admissions Office to see what their credit transfer policies are. If you have college credits and want to go back to school, it’s more beneficial for you to find out sooner rather than later if they may transfer!
Entering a new school already armed with course credits can give you a head start toward obtaining your college degree. You can save time, money, and effort by not having to re-take classes or worry about prerequisites – and that's a win-win-win for any student.
Written by University Staff