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Insider's Guide to Transferring College Credits

If you're debating whether to change schools while working toward a bachelor's degree or another program of study, one of the most important considerations is whether you can transfer credits. Transferring college or university credits to another school is a routine task for admissions offices, but to you it may seem like a confusing and complex process. Your current school's assessment of your completed courses can make a big difference in the number of semesters or years -- and the amount of money -- you need to spend at your new college or university.

Transfer Credits: The Dilemma

Some schools make it easy to transfer, but for the most part you can expect long waits in admissions lines and over the phone, along with the occasional bureaucratic obstacle as you attempt to change schools.

Despite the potential hassles, it's important to make sure you receive full credit for your previous coursework, because it can save you tens of thousands of dollars by not repeating courses.

What makes it so difficult to keep credits when transferring?

  • Different course referencing systems at various institutions can mean that a similar class may have a different name, description, or course weight.
  • Course requirements and prerequisites may differ from one school to the next.
  • Credit weight varies from 1 credit per year at some schools, to 4 credits per year, to 24 credits for a full-year course.
  • Only courses with a C grade or above are acceptable for transfer credit at most schools.
  • Even students with excellent grades may not receive letter or number grades associated with their transfer credits -- only a note that the course was passed.

Whether you're applying credits from a foreign university, bringing course credits with you from another U.S. college, or transferring credits from an online school, the following guidelines can help streamline the process.

How to Keep Credits When Transferring

Certain colleges and universities have no trouble transferring credits between them with very little input from students. Generally, schools in the same state or on the same course equivalence system can interchange credits. Other schools may require additional information, such as an independent assessment of the value of the course if it was completed through an online school or a foreign university.

For most colleges willing to accept credits from another American school, you'll need to:

  1. Submit complete transcripts when you apply to the new college or university. These transcripts must be requested from the college you're leaving, and are usually easy to get. The admissions department can automatically transfer any applicable credits.
  2. Check the status of your transfers by contacting the admissions office after acceptance. You may also be able to find this information online through your student accounts. Transfer credits are usually posted to your files within two to three weeks after acceptance.
  3. Discuss any discrepancies with your admissions officer, academic advisor, or department head. If credits were not transferred properly, it's relatively easy to correct mistakes by contacting the right departments. An academic advisor can also suggest ways to compensate for any credits that could not be included in your course equivalencies.

Keep in mind that the successful transfer of your credits often depends on the policies of your new school. It may also be based on the number of key degree credits that can be completed at another institution--a set residence requirement for all U.S. schools that typically can't be waived.

Some students may find that it's necessary to repeat one course or even several, no matter how thorough they are during the transfer process. This depends on your specific degree requirements and how many credits you are attempting to apply to a program at a new educational institution.

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