Getting Full Credit

by Connie Myers

As you prepare to return to college, you may wonder about those old classes that appear on your transcript. Courses and requirements change, even if you are attending the same university as you did years ago. And what if you want to attend a different school? Students and advisement counselors alike are often puzzled by how to apply these old credits.

I wondered about my old classes, too. But I learned that with a little homework, those old classes went a long way toward fulfilling my degree requirements.

When I returned to college after a ten year absence, I started slowly. I began with just one night class each semester at the local university extension office. I took just three or four classes a year, slowly improving both my grade point average and my general education fulfillment rate.

After three years, I’d completed all the university’s general education requirements at the extension and raised my GPA to a respectable level. I’d done all I could at the university extension; it was time to enroll at the university.

And then we moved.

Our new home was very close to another university. I enrolled and set up an appointment with my new advisement counselor. She examined my transcript, which detailed classes dating back to 1977. She was not very encouraging. In fact, she told me that all those completed general education courses would apply as elective credit only. I still had 27 hours of general education requirements to fulfill at my new university.

I left her office in shock. Twenty-seven credit hours was a full year of full-time classes. The time, effort, and expense involved was disheartening.

I knew there had to be a better way.

I sat down with my new university’s manual and read it cover to cover. I found that courses could be challenged under the right circumstances. I figured out how to apply those circumstances to me, and had 25 of those 27 credit hours waived. I trimmed a year off my degree requirements and enrolled directly in classes required for my major.

If you are willing to do a little extra homework, you can achieve similar results. No one is as interested in your college career as you are; don’t trust your counselor to do your work for you.

Following are some guidelines for achieving the best possible results for transfer credits.

The admissions office isn’t always right. Universities have agreements about which classes they will accept from each other. When you enroll, the university admissions office evaluates your transcript using current university agreements. But these agreements change from year to year as course numbers change. Current agreements may have no relevance to the classes you took ten or twenty years ago; your course numbers will likely not even appear in the current evaluation agreement. If you think the admission office hasn’t given you all the credit you deserve, you can petition your case – but you will need to provide evidence to back up your claims.

Do your homework. Sit down with your new university’s course catalog and read the course descriptions. Get a clear understanding of the general education requirements, elective options, and major course requirements. Read the course descriptions of the classes that satisfy those requirements. Which descriptions sound like classes you have already taken? Take detailed notes as you read. Think about your completed courses. How can you best apply those old courses to the new requirements?

Your old course catalog is your best friend. University course numbers and descriptions change all the time. If you attended school back in the dark ages, as I did, the current catalog will probably not list the classes you completed in your younger days. In fact, your old course numbers may have been reassigned to entirely different classes. Pull your dusty course catalog from the shelf and copy the pages containing your completed courses. This will help you evaluate how to apply your old courses to new requirements, and will provide evidence essential to your claims.

Your old university library is your second best friend. If you didn’t save the course catalog from twenty years ago, don’t despair. Your old university will have one – somewhere. You just have to track it down. Be prepared with a list of the classes you took and the year you took them; a copy of your transcript would serve this purpose. Start your catalog search with your former university’s library. Also try campus guidance counselors, the career center, the admissions or re-admissions office, and the graduation office. Make these people your friends, as you are creating extra work for them. You will probably not be able to obtain an entire course catalog so will need to rely on photocopies of the relevant pages. Does the page include a header listing the catalog’s origin and year? If not, ask the kind person helping you to fax the pages to you with a cover sheet explaining what they are. The fax and cover sheet will document the source of your course descriptions.

Who’s in charge? At your new university, who has the authority to approve your course substitutions? My advisement counselor couldn’t do it; I had to approach the Dean of Admissions. You may have to work your way up to the correct person at your university. As you go, be polite to everyone you deal with; but if you feel you are right, don’t accept ‘No’ as a final answer.

Prepare separate requests. I wrote up a formal memorandum for each class substitution I requested. Each memo included:

  1. The old course name, number, and description quoted from the old catalog.
  2. The date I completed the course and the grade I received for the course.
  3. The name, number, and description of the new university’s course for which I was requesting credit, as well as the general education requirement that the course would fill.
  4. A written paragraph explaining why I thought the credit was appropriate. I included information like what I’d learned from the class and how the old course and the new university’s course coincided in information and requirements.
  5. A signature line for the administrator to approve the request.

Copy all approved requests before submission to the Registrar or Admissions Office. Need I say more?

Hand deliver approved requests to the Registrar. Write down the name of the person who accepts the memo from you. Be friendly with them so they will want to help you. Check back in a week to see if the approval has been processed. Ask for them by name.

When the dust cleared, I had cut out 25 of the 27 credit hours my counselor told me I needed. I saved an entire year of course work by doing my homework.

And since my memo system was working so well, I went on to design my own minor, using classes I’d taken at my former university. The department chair approved my proposal without any problem.

The moral of my story is threefold. No one cares as much about your education, time, and efforts as you do. No one will go out on a limb for you unless you are willing to climb out there first.

And doing your homework can really pay off. Connie Myers graduated Summa Cum Laude from BYU-Hawaii in 1997. At the commencement ceremony, her husband and their five children cheered.

bluearrow-8882219See also Roll the Credits.