Roll the Credits

How to ensure a trouble-free transfer

by Gregory Lloyd

Like many other adults, you may have accumulated many college credits but never finished your degree. Or you may currently be attending a community college, vocational school, or technical school and wish to transfer to a four-year school. If so, there are a number of steps to follow to ensure your credits will be accepted for your degree at the new school.

First, call the student affairs office at the four-year college you’ve chosen (contact more than one school, if possible) and schedule an appointment with a pre-admissions advisor to find out which credits transfer. Do this as soon as possible. If you’re currently attending another school, it is important that you work with your current college advisor and a pre-admissions advisor from the four-year school at the same time to ensure there are no surprises. Many programs at four-year schools have specific classes you must take before you can be accepted.

Also, many four-year schools are still biased against two-year schools and may not accept as many credits as you would hope. This is because of the variety of accrediting organizations. Some schools are accredited regionally, others nationally, and others both regionally and nationally. Regionally accredited schools—the traditional four-year institutions—tend not to accept credits from nationally accredited schools, such as nursing schools, religious schools, and culinary arts schools.

If you’re not yet ready to transfer, a pre-admissions advisor will help make sure the classes you take at the community college are the ones you need. They will also let you know if the required prerequisite classes change. Generally, courses transfer as one of three types of credits:

Elective Credits. These are courses that are not accepted as part of your major or as part of your general education requirements but still count towards your degree.

General Education Credits. These courses—-basic liberal arts courses such as English, history, science, and math—are similar at many colleges and meet the general education requirements for many degrees.

Courses in Your Major Field of Study. These are courses that may not meet the requirements of your major at your new college. Prerequisites to courses in your major field of study usually can be transferred. Coursework for advanced classes varies from school to school and is often rejected when transferring credits.

If you are transferring fewer than 40 college credits, most colleges require SAT or ACT scores. Some colleges require SAT or ACT scores from all transfer students. If you have already completed an associate’s degree, you may not have to provide these scores.

Here are some questions you should ask of your pre-admissions advisor:

  1. What is the maximum number of college credits the new college will accept?
  2. Will a course transfer as a credit towards a major or as an elective credit?
  3. What is the minimum grade the new college will accept for transfer courses?
  4. Do grade point averages transfer, or only credits?
  5. Do credits earned by examination or through placement testing transfer?
  6. Will the college accept scores from standardized tests such as CLEP and DANTES?
  7. Will the college accept credits earned from training through the military or the workplace?
  8. Does the college or university give credit for work or life experience?
  9. If you took a general education course as a freshman at a community college, and the new college requires a similar course to be taken by juniors and seniors, will the new college accept the credit or will you have to repeat the course?
  10. How many courses does the new college or university require to take at the school to graduate?
  11. Are any of your credits too old to transfer? Credits earned more than seven years ago may not qualify for transfer.
  12. If your credits won’t transfer as part of your new general education requirements, or as part of your major field of study courses, will the college accept them as electives?
  13. If you have an associate’s degree from a community college, a vocational school, or a technical school, will all of the credits you earned transfer?
  14. Does the college or university accept grades and/or credit for work done through distance learning (correspondence courses, internet courses, courses taken through extension programs)?

Your pre-admissions advisor can also provide necessary information about the application process and deadline. If you want to be considered for campus-based scholarships, it is wise to apply a year ahead of the date you want to enter the college. It is also important to pay attention to a college’s financial aid deadline in order to insure your request is processed before you begin attending and that you get the maximum amount of money for which you are eligible. Also the earlier you apply for admission and complete your financial aid application or renewal, the sooner you will receive your award letter and know how much financial aid you are able to receive.

After you’ve met with your advisor and provided all the information the college requires from transfer students, the admissions committee or transfer committee, made up of admissions officers and faculty members, will decide which of your credits will transfer and into which category your transferable credits will fall. If the committee chooses not to transfer credits for a particular course, you may be able to protest the decision by appealing to the head of the degree program in which you are enrolling.

If the colleges you select accept too few of your credits for transfer—and you do not wish to take those courses again to meet the degree requirements—there are other alternatives to consider. For example, careers such as real estate, cosmetology, and substance abuse counseling offer exciting opportunities and rewards. Yet, they may require only that you get licensed by passing one or a series of state exams. Of course, the more education you have, the less experience you’ll need to qualify to take the exams. Other careers, such as dietetics and computer programming, require both a degree and certification because of the specialization involved.

Remember: Your best route is to make a plan and stick with it. Resist the urge to take shortcuts. A college education is well worth it no matter which path you take to get it.

Gregory Lloyd is a financial writer and freelance business writer.