By Susan Ott
If you’re about to begin studying for a new and different major, perhaps after a long break from your college studies, you may wonder if you can transfer your old credits toward your new degree program. It’s true that you might not be able to use all the credits you once earned, especially if new major is totally different than the one you declared years ago. But you should be able to transfer at least some of the credits from your previous program into your new college program, even if your studies are now heading in a totally different direction. Transferring old credits is often the single best way to save time and money on a degree program. Here are some tips on how to do it, even as you change majors.
Compare Your Majors
- When you begin the credit transfer process, start by getting a copy of your old transcripts, which show all coursework you completed. Do this by contacting the office of the Registrar at your old school and following their procedures for getting your official transcript. Some schools will mail it to you, others will also send it directly to your new school; if possible, get your own copy apart from what you send to your new school so that you can see your records and do some research on your own.
- Compare this list to the program of studies for your new major, and highlight all courses which overlap or are even related. For instance, most students take basic freshman courses such as English, general math, a type of history course, etc. While each school is different in its credit transfer policies, most schools accept credit transfers for basic classes, provided you earned a C or higher. Though more specific classes related to your old major may not transfer (for instance, a business management class probably won’t transfer to an elementary education program), basic classes that almost all college students take should be eligible.
- Don’t be afraid to show your old list to your academic supervisor, department head or admissions counselor; you may be surprised at what you can currently get credit for.
Check Your Electives
Beyond looking at basic academic courses for transfer, don’t overlook electives. Many schools, particularly liberal arts institutions, want you to have a well-rounded academic experience. Not all your electives may need to be directly related to your major. Elective classes can be anything from a physical education requirement to a foreign language, communications or debate credit. Some programs have a narrow list of electives from which to choose; others allow a wide range of options to fulfill a certain percentage of credit hours. Even if your past electives seem too unrelated to your current major to matter, check them anyway; they may count for some type of credit. More here on exactly which courses can you transfer successfully?
Life & Work Experience
Rather than worrying about the gap in your college experience, you may want to focus on the fact that many schools may award college credits for life and work experiences you’ve had since leaving school the first time. Whether you have taken tests, earned certifications, been trained in a specific field or become an expert in your line of work, you may be able to transfer college credit for the work you’ve done. Check with your new school’s policies, then gather any documentation you may need to show what you have accomplished since being out of school. The amount of credit given may vary, but any credit you can earn for work you’ve already completed will be well worth the effort.
If you’re already going back to school amidst a career, family obligations and more, anything you can do to shorten the process of earning your degree is a huge positive. Plus, by transferring credits, you cut down on the redundancy of studying topics you may already know about. It makes sense to make your best effort to be rewarded for the work – both inside and outside of school – that you’ve already done. Here’s some additional info on why adult students should take the time to transfer college credits.
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.