Colleges and universities can be picky about which other schools they allow students to transfer credits in from. If you hope to shorten your degree completion program by using credits you earned in the past, you need to be very clear on the accreditation status of the school where you earned them.
There are two problems: First, a lot of schools nowadays make very vague claims about being accredited, but don’t really have the credibility you need to be able to transfer credits from them. Second, the highest-quality accreditation that goes to America’s top schools is actually based on system of regional agencies that is so old and confusing that many educators believe it should be scrapped and rebuilt from the ground up.
Click here for a list of Online colleges & universities that accept lots of transfer credits
There are four things to know about when you look into accreditation:
- Regional Accreditation from the seven major agencies
- Alternative but still fairly good quality accreditation from relatively newer national agencies
- Career-specific accreditation you may need from a professional group
- Scams and diploma mills that can sell you useless, non-accredited degrees
There are seven leading accreditation agencies that have been given the authority to accredit schools by the U.S. Department of Education. They cover mainly the more academic, non-profit schools in the U.S. It’s safe to say that, unless you received poor grades in your courses, you are very unlikely to have any problem transferring credits from a school that is accredited by:
- The New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Learning
- The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Higher Education
- The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission
- The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
- The Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Junior and Community Colleges
- The Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities
National Accreditation Groups
You should not feel comfortable about a school that simply claims it’s “nationally accredited” without giving specific information. There are several national accreditation agencies you are likely to encounter if you are getting a degree online from one of the larger for-profit schools. They are:
- The Distance Education & Training Council (DETC). The largest accrediting group that is 100% focused on online colleges and universities.
- The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). Authorized by the government to grant accredition to schools “designed to train and educate persons for professional, technical, or occupational careers.”
- The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT). Authorized to give accreditation to non-university colleges in the U.S.
- The Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET). Accredits career-training schools, primarily non-degree granting.
- The Council on Occupational Education (COE). Focuses on technical schools
The problem with national accreditation is that it is not always cut and dried. While it’s likely that you will be able to transfer credits on from schools accredited by these groups (particularly the top three, which focus on degree-granting schools), different schools have different attitudes towards them. The best advice is probably that if your online school doesn’t have accreditation from either one of the seven regional agencies or one of the national groups mentioned here, it’s probably questionable.
Career Specific Accreditation
This is an issue that arises not so much where transferring credit is concerned, but in specific professions where you are required to get a license. You may have difficulty getting a teacher’s license, for example, of your online degree is not from a school accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. It’s always a good idea to check the accreditation requirements for a degree if you want to get a license to practice law, nursing, engineering or other regulated professions.
Lastly, don’t even think about trying to transfer credits in from a school that gave you a degree without you having to take real classes and tests. The internet, in particular, is full of scams offering diplomas for no work or “life experience degrees” that have absolutely no value. Your common sense should tell you that if a degree takes no effort to earn, it probably has no value.
John O’Brien has been a writer, editor and consultant in higher education for over 14 years. His background includes writing for insidehighered.com and The Chronicle of Higher Education. As editor of College Degree Complete, he has advised hundreds of adult students on how to transfer colleges without wasting the credits they’ve already accumulated, to finish their degree programs in the fastest and most affordable way.