If you have a choice of staying on to finish a degree at your current school (which you may not be satisfied with) or moving on to a new college or university, you’ll naturally be concerned about getting the benefit of all the schoolwork you’ve already put in.
Will you lose your credits if you change schools, and will have to start over with your studies? There’s no blanket answer, but transferring colleges is, in many cases, a lot easier than students expect. Schools, particularly online colleges that cater largely to adults, want your business, so most are willing to work with you to transfer as many credits as possible to help you succeed. Below are some key factors that may affect your ability to apply the credits you’ve got to a new degree program.
Click here for a list of online colleges and universities that accept large credit transfers
Years Between Enrollment
The longer you’ve been out of school, the more potential there is to have to take certain courses over again. Some schools have general policy of not accepting credits which are 10 years old or older. The good news is that you can often petition a school and get them to accept credits that they initially turned down.
The other side of the coin is that in many majors, the basic information that’s being taught has evolved and changed over time. This is particularly true in engineering and technology-based majors, where things can change drastically in just a few years. It’s also true, however, that knowledge changes in other course areas from business to education, and that even in these non-science majors, you may find that credits for at least some of you old classes may not be accepted in transfer if you have been out of school for a decade. More classic humanities classes like English literature or American history don’t change as much, and you’ll probably find it easier to transfer credits in those types of subjects, no matter how long ago you took them. The bottom line is that, no matter how long ago you went to school, you should make your best effort to transfer as many credits as possible from your old school. More on how to do that successfully here
Choice of Major
If the major for your new degree choice is different than your original major, you may not be able to transfer quite as many credits. General education classes that almost all students take, as well as many basic electives, should transfer in most cases. But core courses related to your old major probably won’t count toward a degree in a new subject area. For example, if you were a biology major and you’re now switching to accounting, credits for your old math courses should count toward your new degree. Your old science courses, however, may not (this would hold true even if you’re changing majors within the school you’re at now). A new course of study requires new knowledge and skills, so some previous coursework just may not be useful.
Past Academic Performance
Many adults transferring colleges worry about the grades and test scores they earned in the past. But your old academic record may be less important that you think. While solid high school grades and SAT or ACT scores may be needed to get you into a good college the first time around, your new school may pay little or no attention to these scores, depending on how long ago you graduated high school. Colleges that accept adult students tend to base credit transfer decisions more on the grades you earned in specific college courses and the work experience you’ve gained while out of school.
If a course is relevant to your new school and major, you need only have earned a C or higher for that credit to transfer at many schools (though you want to check this one – there are schools out there that only accept credit transfer where you earned a B). Generally speaking, the overall grade average you had at our old school is not viewed as terribly important. Schools look more at individual course grades when it comes to credit transfer.
Additionally, once you’re accepted into your new school, you start your GPA with a clean slate — your previous grades don’t follow you. If your GPA was less than you’d hoped the first time around, you get a second chance to build the academic record you’ve always wanted.
Losing a couple of credits in the transfer process isn’t great, but it pales in comparison to the pain of staying on to finish a degree program that’s either in the wrong category for you, or at a school you don’t like. Fortunately, nowadays many students find the process of transferring colleges to be easier than expected. Schools are frequently willing to work with students to make the process as smooth, and to transfer in as many credits as possible.
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.