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With more people going back to college in their 30’s, 40’s and even beyond, colleges are being asked to accept more credits that were earned by students years or even decades ago. If you’re hoping to complete your college degree and need to transfer some very old credits, you may be able to do so. It will be easiest if the credits you earned in the past were in courses that fit into the major you will pursue at your new school.
Schools have lots of small variations in their policies on accepting credit transfer. But overall, there’s been a trend for several years now of colleges and universities trying to make it easier for “degree finishers” to use their old credits in transfer. That’s because adults going back to school represent a big pool of potential applicants, at a time when many colleges are struggling to keep their enrollment numbers up. A favorable credit transfer policy can be a magnet to fill their completion degree programs. You’ll find that major online schools, which are highly focused on older students, are particularly open to taking your old credits in transfer.
How Long Are College Credits Good For?
A look around various forums on the web turns up quite a few students saying that schools have accepted college credits they earned as far back as the 1970’s without any problem. Likewise, a review of our database of “transfer friendly” schools transfers shows that none of their websites make any explicit statement about not accepting older credits.
But you need to be aware that there are basic rules to know about how long college credits are good for, whether you got them 30 years ago or six months ago. Some keys to be aware of:
- “General education” credits in subjects like Math, History, Art and English, which form the foundation of most bachelor’s degrees, tend to be extremely transferrable no matter how old they are.
- Science credits can have a shorter usable life. Because scientific knowledge is always changing, it is possible that science credits that are older (many schools use a cutoff date of seven to ten years). Likewise, because professional practices in areas like nursing also change dramatically over time, science courses in a specialty like that may not be accepted in transfer if they were earned many years ago.
- Some schools may only be willing to apply your old credits as “elective” credits in your new degree program. While that may mean you have to study certain subjects again to fulfill core requirements in your major, it may still allow you to reduce your overall credit requirement by at least starting with some of your electives out of the way.
- Some schools may require you to undergo an evaluation or your knowledge in a particular subject before giving you credit for past study in it. This may include a review of the topics covered (including submission of a syllabus) in the course at your old school or a discussion with you about the course. Alternatively, you may be asked to take a placement test to determine how much you have already learned about a certain topic.
- If you feel you are transferring into a higher quality school with tougher standards than your old school, you may want to go ahead and re-take select classes in order to bring your skill level up. If you’re going to be studying in a science specialty that requires a lot of math, for example, and you don’t feel confident that your old school did a great job of teaching math, algebra, calculus and trigonometry, you may want to go ahead and re-take a course or courses in this specialty to prepare you to perform well in your new school.
- It’s always hard to transfer credits from a non-accredited institution. Make sure you know the accreditation status of the school where you took your old credits. Also, you may find that some more traditional campus-based schools are a bit resistant to accepting credits from an online school. This is certainly fading as more state universities and even ivy-league schools offer courses online, but you may need to be prepared to make a very complete case about the quality of your credits at an online school. You may wonder if credits from schools that are known mainly for online degrees like AIU or Colorado Technical University are useless. But in fact, both these schools are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, a respected body that accredits most top schools. As such, the credits you earn at these schools may transfer to a new school successfully.
When do college credits expire?
You may, in truth, be a little more challenged in getting full credit transfer for courses you took 20 or more years ago. It’s possible that a school may give you less than one-for-one credit transfer on extremely old credits. But you should certainly not go in with an attitude that these credits are worthless. Most advisers will tell you that on average, college credits last 5 – 10 years for transfer.
Step By Step Guide On Transferring Your Credits
- Take a good look at your own situation: Look at your own transcript and get a clear picture of how well you’ve performed in terms of grades and course completion. Also, make sure you know the accreditation status of the school where you have studied up to now. They will all have an effect on how high quality a school will accept you as a transfer student.
- Do the research to find a transfer-friendly school: You don’t want to go through an application process if a school has such a restrictive transfer policy that you’re unlikely to be accepted. But your research may also show that a particular school has a special transfer offer depending on how recently you did your coursework, your military service or some other factor.
- Submit your transcript: This is a basic requirement for most transfers, and can often be handled online (transcripts are generally good for your use permanently). But don’t stop there. You want to talk to an adviser at the school where you’re applying to get the most credits accepted. Without direct contact, your new school may not understand enough about what you’ve already studied to give you the best deal.
- A placement or other type of test: Many colleges offer an option of taking a placement test, CLEP or DANTE assessment to confirm that you should get credit for previously taken courses. Some schools will even offer an option of competency tests that can get you credit for the knowledge you’ve gained through work or life experiences.
- Military experience: Be aware that if you’ve served, you may be able to get credit for work experience or for any certificates you may have earned. Non-military professional certificates can also be accepted for credit by some schools.
- Transferring from an online school: Many students fear they won’t be able to use the credits they earned at one of the 100% online schools if they want to transfer. The important thing in most cases, however, is not whether your schoolwork was online, but what kind of accreditation the school has, and whether or not it matches the accreditation of the school you’re trying to transfer credits into.
Talk to the actual department head – not only the admissions adviser. It’s very important to speak to an academic advisor and perhaps even the head of the department you are planning to study with before actually signing up for a program. That way, you can draw up the best possible plan to save time and money by transferring as many of your old credits as possible towards your new degree. Discuss your previous schoolwork on a course by courses basis if possible. Taking a close look like this can, at times, open up the possibility of getting more transfer credits.
If I drop out of college will I lose my credits?
“Drop out” is a term that means far less than it used to, because it’s become so common for students to take a break in the middle of a bachelor degree program to take care of family issues or go and and earn some money to finance the rest of their education. Essentially, as long as you are not asked to leave any college, the fact that you interrupted your education should not raise many eyebrows. Be awawre, however, that you will probably not be able to transfer credits from any course you did not complete and get a final grade for to any other school. That’s why it’s a good idea to finish whatever term your in before stopping school for any reason.
Here’s more on keys to transferring credits successfully to a new school.