Transferring College Credits

When you change schools, you probably don’t want to lose the credits you have already earned. Most institutions accept transfer credits, and the process of transferring is generally simple. But how does the process work? And how do transfer credits affect the overall cost and timeline of your degree?

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The Basics of Transfer Credits

Transferring your college credits between schools largely depends on age, course equivalencies, grades, and accreditation.

The age of your credits is an important factor when you transfer. Your credits may be a few years old if you are going back to school after an extended break. Some schools have a shelf life for transfer credits, especially when it comes to major requirements. For example, credits that are more than 10 years old might not be accepted. If your college credits are considered too old, you risk losing them and might have to retake those courses.

In addition, transfer students must usually meet minimum GPA requirements in order to be accepted into their new school. While transfer credits appear on your final college transcript when you graduate, those grades are not calculated into your overall GPA or class ranking.

The Importance of Accreditation

It is important that you earned your credits at an accredited institution. Most schools will not accept credits from unaccredited colleges. When a college or university is accredited, their programs have been evaluated to ensure they meet quality standards.

It is common for most schools to accept credits from other regionally accredited institutions, and some accept credits from schools that are nationally accredited or are accredited by other agencies.

How Credit Transfer Works

When transferring college credits, you should request that your previous schools send official copies of your transcripts to your new college. Transcripts list the courses you were enrolled in, the grades you earned, and how many credits each of the classes were worth. When your new institution receives your transcripts, its registrar evaluates the credits and determines how they will apply toward your online degree program. They will identify if the credits satisfy any program requirements or general education courses.

However, acceptance of credits is not always guaranteed. Some of the credits you have already earned may not apply to your program at all or may not be considered college-level coursework. They could also fail to meet the minimum grade requirement for the school or program. Generally, colleges accept credits that are a C- or higher (a 1.7 on a 4.0 GPA scale). If your credits aren’t accepted, it will likely take longer to earn your degree.

To find out if your college credits will transfer, many schools offer a transfer credit equivalency tool that allows you to input your previously earned credits, select your major, and see how they will apply toward your online degree program.

Generally, up to about 90 transfer credits are allowed for a bachelor’s degree program. These credits will likely apply toward the program’s general education requirements, which are the most common courses offered. However, many colleges and universities require that you complete the last 30+ credits of your program at their school in order to earn your degree. If you are pursuing an online master’s degree program, you may be able to transfer up to 10 credits.

Transferring from a Two-Year School to a Four-Year School

As community colleges are typically much less expensive than four-year universities, it is common for students to transfer their credits from an associate degree to their bachelor’s program. Generally, an associate degree is equivalent to about 60 credits, or the first two years of a bachelor’s degree program. This means that after transferring, you probably won’t have to take lower-level classes and can go straight into your major’s courses.

When you’re transferring credits from a two-year school, you might want to see if your community college has a partner agreement with the four-year university you’ll be attending. If so, your credits may be guaranteed, making a smoother transition between both schools.

Additionally, check to see if a transfer scholarship is available. While there are some private scholarships available, some four-year schools offer institutional scholarships if you transfer in your associate degree from a partner community college. Of course, you will probably have to meet certain criteria in order to receive the transfer scholarship, such as minimum cumulative GPA, demonstrated financial need, minimum number of transfer credits, and enrollment status.

Transferring Credits from Life Experiences

In some cases, you might not have credits from a college degree program, but you may be able to transfer credits based on your knowledge earned outside of the classroom. Through prior learning assessment (PLA), you can gain college credits from your work experiences, certifications, U.S. military service, volunteer and civic activities, or by creating a portfolio. A PLA evaluates your skills and knowledge against a set of standards, learning outcomes, or competencies. Keep in mind, however, that PLA credits are assessed differently by each school, but they typically can be applied to either undergraduate or graduate programs.


The practical knowledge you have acquired through your job might not make up for any of the theoretical knowledge you would normally gain in the classroom, but it can translate into college credits. For this to happen, your school or the American Council on Education (ACE) will evaluate your work training and determine the equivalent number of credits for it. If you have earned some certifications for your work, you may be able to earn credits for them, too. Because many national certifications adhere to professional and industry standards, having those certifications demonstrates that you have the proper knowledge of a particular area.

If you have served in the military, your military jobs and training may equate to college credits, too. Also evaluated by your school or the ACE, these credits are based on the knowledge, skills, and training you gained during your military service.

Without any employment, military, or volunteering or civic activity experience, you can create a portfolio to present to your school in order to acquire college credits. Detailing your college-level knowledge from your experiences, a portfolio assessment is a good idea if you have no formal training or certifications. Upon reviewing your portfolio, your school’s faculty members will determine how many credits can be applied toward your online degree program.

Earn Credits Through Exams

Another way to earn credits is through various exam programs, which award credits based on your knowledge of different college-level subject areas. The most common program is the College Level Exam Program (CLEP).

The CLEP’s five general exams focus on freshmen-level knowledge, including college mathematics, English composition, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. When you pass all five of the general exams, you can earn up to 30 college credits.

Accepted by most college institutions, Advanced Placement (AP) exams can help you skip introductory and general education courses. There are 38 AP exams offered, and each exam costs $94 and takes two to three hours.

Finally, you can earn credits through Dantes Subject Standardized Test (DSST). For $85 per exam plus any administration fees assessed by the testing location (a price much less expensive than the cost of a semester-long college course), each DSST exam takes less than 90 minutes and is worth three credits. These PLA exams cover material that is taught in baccalaureate courses. There are more than 30 exams available in different subject areas, such as business, humanities, mathematics, physical science, social sciences, and technology.

Is Transferring College Credits Worth It?

Your college credits and experience are valuable. If you have already completed coursework or have life experience, you should see if those credits can apply toward your online degree program. Transferring college credits can help you save money and earn your degree and reach your goals sooner.

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