Saturday, September 23, 2023

How to Transfer College Credits: 7 Steps to Graduate on Schedule

You’re ready to complete your studies at another university and need to know how to transfer your hard-earned college credits. Maybe you’ve decided you want to go to a better, more prestigious school. Perhaps you left school to start a family, and you want to go back and finish your degree at another institution.

Whatever your reason, you want to receive as much credit as possible for the work you have already done. Every class you can get credit for saves valuable time and money on the way to completing your degree.

Black student with bushy hair looking in his smart phone while eating sandwich and resting after preparation for classes
Don’t let all those study hours go to waste just because you’re transferring schools. Photo: WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock

Step-by-Step: How to Transfer Your College Credits

You can transfer your college credits in seven easy steps. This way, you can make sure you’re getting maximum credit for work you’ve already done as you work toward getting into that new school you’re dreaming of. Let’s jump in!

1. Look Into Transfer Policies at Your New College

Every college publishes its policies concerning the type of transfer credit it accepts. A school will typically accept anywhere between 15 and 90 credits from other institutions. Research the credit transfer policies at your new college to ensure that the courses you’ve already taken will satisfy their general education requirements and work toward your chosen major.

Investigating transfer credit policies is an essential consideration if you have your eye on more than one school, so you can opt for the college where you’ll get the most bang for your buck. Ideally, it’s a good idea to choose a school that’s “friendly” to transfers, offering generous transfer credit acceptance.

Granted, this might mean selecting something less than your “dream school.” However, is a school’s prestige your most important consideration? Or is it graduating on time and saving money? These are just a couple of the questions you’ll want to consider when it comes to transferring college credits.

READ MORE: These Are the Cheapest Colleges in the US

2. Request an Unofficial Transcript From Your Previous College

Next, you need to request an unofficial transcript from your current (or former) college. You can do so by going to the registrar’s office or by ordering it from the school website.

The unofficial transcript will serve as your guide to figuring out which credits your target school might accept. It will be sent directly to you, rather than your prospective college, and you can request it at any time. The transcript shows all the credits you’ve already earned, along with their course codes, which will come in handy when you move to the next step.

3. Know What to Expect by Comparing Course Equivalencies

To see how your credits will satisfy the new college’s degree requirements, you’ll need to compare the classes you’ve taken with those at the school you hope to attend. If you are transferring to a school with the same type of credit system as your previous school, you may luck out with a clear and simple transfer of credit hours — but often, it’s not quite this simple.

Here’s why: a class is worth three credit hours at most colleges, and you’ll need 120 hours or 40 courses to graduate. However, some colleges operate on a quarter system, with four-credit courses and 160 total credits required. In fact, you’ll come across classes worth a range of different credits at colleges throughout the country, so determining course equivalencies often requires some calculation.

Colleges use simple formulas for this to ensure you’re given the appropriate amount of credit for your previous work. For example, if switching from a quarter system to semesters, your previous four-credit class will now be worth 2.68 semester hours (a formula of 0.67 for every quarter-hour). Fortunately, for those who aren’t math majors, many schools have course equivalency calculators right on their websites.

4. Talk with Your New Admissions Advisor

The admissions advisor at your prospective school is there to answer any questions you have about how to transfer your college credits. Make an appointment with them and bring a list of specific questions about the school’s transfer policies with you. Does your new school accept courses taken in the military? AP courses from high school? You may even ask if the college offers credit for life or work experience. Your admissions advisor should have all the answers.

Teacher assisting student
Your admissions advisor can tell you which credits can be transferred to your new college. Photo: Kampus Production/Pexels

5. Have Your Official Transcripts Sent to Your New School

A necessary part of the application process will be to contact any colleges you’ve attended and have them send your official transcripts to your new school. In most cases, you can do this easily on the school’s website through the registrar’s office. There is usually a processing fee of between $3 and $10.

6. Be Patient

Now comes the hard part — waiting. It generally takes around four weeks for a school to assess transfer credits. Once the process is finished, you will get an email letting you know which credits have transferred. If it takes much more than that, it’s time to move on to the next step.

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Follow Up

If you encounter any problems, such as delays in assessing your credits or finding that far fewer credits transferred than you expected, feel free to contact your admissions advisor. You can make another appointment to go over your transcripts and talk about the problem. That’s what advisors are there for: to help you have the best experience transitioning to a new school.

Why Transferring College Credits Isn’t Always Straightforward

The process of transferring your college credits to another institution might seem confusing, inconsistent, or unfair. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that 70 percent of students who transferred to another college lost some credits. With today’s stratospheric educational costs, this could mean thousands of dollars wasted.

Why does this happen so frequently? Lost credits are primarily due to the lack of a coherent transfer policy among US universities. Every institution has its own set of policies and exercises sole discretion over how it transfers credits. Some of a college’s considerations regarding whether or not to accept your transfer credits include:

How Comparable Your Credits Are

Your Intro to Business class will probably have a direct equivalent at the college you are hoping to transfer to. The same goes for an Intro to Psychology class — these are universal core classes that stay mostly consistent throughout university curricula, so they’re likely to be accepted by your new school.

On the other hand, a metalworking class probably won’t transfer if your new university doesn’t offer something similar. Also, certain university-specific courses, such as Freshman Seminar, may not be accepted.

Where Your Credits Come From

Courses taken at a community college or technical school may not transfer to a four-year university unless the schools have a partnering transfer credit agreement (an arrangement in which a four-year college automatically accepts course credit from a two-year school).

If your two-year school doesn’t have a partnering agreement with the college you want to transfer to, you should check with your new school’s academic advisor or registrar to make sure they will accept your courses.

How Old Your Credits Are

Credits you’ve received for general education or core classes are likely to transfer, no matter how old they are. After all, if you took Intro to English Literature 15 years ago, the content is expected to be the same. However, courses like computer coding are “time-sensitive” and will be updated every few years.

School Accreditation

If you’ve previously taken courses at a non-accredited institution, your credits are unlikely to be accepted by an accredited school. Accredited universities have undergone a rigorous process to ensure that their instruction meets the highest educational standards. Accredited colleges do not trust courses taken at a non-accredited school to meet the same criteria.

READ MORE: College Accreditation Explained

Pro Tips: How to Get the Most Out of Your Credits When Transferring Schools

  • Find a “transfer-friendly” school. As we’ve touched on earlier, your best bet when transferring to a new school is to find one that is as flexible with credits as possible.
  • Ask about credit for professional and life experience. Many schools try to “sweeten the pot” for transfer students (especially older applicants) by offering extra credit for work and life experience. Often referred to as “credit for prior learning,” a job as, say, a volunteer counselor for at-risk youth or parental experience with a disabled child can translate into valuable credits toward your graduation.
  • Focus on taking general education and easily transferable courses in your major if you’ve decided in advance that you will later transfer to another school. This will ensure acceptance of all your hard work, saving you money and time.
  • Ask your new school whether they offer the option to test out of specific courses. For example, many universities accept credit for College-Level Examination Prep (CLEP) tests, which can save you additional time and money.
  • If you’re attending a community college, see what kind of reciprocity agreements it may have with four-year institutions. This will allow you to transfer the credits you have earned directly without any hassle.

Even as a transfer student, it’s perfectly possible to graduate on schedule. While it may seem tricky trying to figure out how to transfer college credits, it’s really just about following a few steps and staying on top of the process with your new advisor to make sure you’re getting the most credit possible for your previous hard work. Once it’s settled, you’re one giant step closer to earning your college degree at your new school of choice!

READ MORE: How to Transfer Colleges: All You Need to Know

If you’re stumped as to why some of your credits didn’t make the cut, ask yourself: was my grade lower than a B? Colleges won’t generally accept credits from another school with a low grade. 

The same applies to courses taken pass/fail. Credits from community colleges without a reciprocity agreement as well as non-accredited schools are often declined. Your target school may not think these previous courses provided enough “rigor” to meet its academic standards. 

The first stop for any questions about transferring your credits is the registrar’s office. If they don’t have the answers, your admissions advisor is the next best bet.

How can I tell if my college credits will transfer to my new school?

One way to ensure you won’t waste time applying to a school that won’t accept your credits is to book an appointment with an academic advisor at your new school. You can look over the courses listed on your unofficial transcript together to get a better idea of what will transfer.

Can I choose which college credits to transfer?

You can choose not to transfer certain credits — for example, because you didn’t do well in those classes. It’s ultimately your decision.

READ MORE | How to Get That A in College

When are college credits too old to transfer?

Many core classes are considered “evergreen,” and schools will often accept them even if taken many years ago. Think literature, history, philosophy, business math, or Psych 101. 

Other courses, such as those in STEM fields, are much more time-sensitive. As standards change, computer tech and medical sciences courses are likely to become outdated, and you will likely have to retake them.

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