The Challenge of Transferring College Credits

Each school has its own criteria, meaning not all credits are viewed equally.

By Anne Vaccaro Brady

I recently spoke with a mom whose daughter was finishing up her associate’s degree at a community college and getting ready to transfer to a four-year public college in the fall to earn her bachelor’s degree. She was about to put down her deposit on one of two state schools, then received transfer credit reports from each institution. Neither was accepting all her credits, but her top choice said they’d accept even less. She was confused and upset since the four-year schools and the community college are all part of the same state public university system.

Unfortunately, too many students who transfer from a community college, and even a four-year school, find themselves in a similar situation.

So how does a college student navigate this process and take the maximum available credits with them to their new school? It’s not easy. Here’s what I’ve learned.

OSU building 2

Every college is different In most cases, schools set their own standards. They review your son or daughter’s transcript, looking for equivalent courses, comparing credit hours, determining rigors of the coursework, and sometimes taking note of class size.

Grades do matter. Most colleges want at least a C in a course to accept the credit, although, in some cases, a D will transfer, too. In addition, academic departments independently determine acceptable grades for credits to be applied to specific majors.

Colleges set a maximum number of credits that can transfer, 90 seems to be the norm. But what is accepted can depend on where those credits come from— a two- or four-year college, liberal or non-liberal arts courses, etc.

Keep in mind, grades don’t transfer, only credits. That stellar GPA your child earned over the past two years won’t travel with them to their new university.

Transferring can be costly In both time and dollars. Generally, transfer students are not given priority for financial aid. Plus, if the new school doesn’t accept all your child’s credits, they could be looking at extra semesters to earn their bachelor’s degree. Community college students feel the impact when a college limits the number of transfer credits from a two-year institution, changing their financial plan dramatically. The savings they worked toward wiped out by the additional courses they’ll need to take.

Websites for transfer students Transferology and CollegeTransfer.Net are free websites for students that provide information on which course credits transfer between the current institution and a prospective college. These can be done generally, by institution name, and/or specifically, by courses or areas of study. The sites also provide information on transfer articulation agreements between colleges (see below).

The importance of transfer articulation agreements Community college students, in particular, should find out which schools have set up transfer articulation agreements with their institution. These agreements guarantee the acceptance of a maximum number of credits. I worked for a four-year public college that set up transfer agreements with six community colleges in specific academic areas. Those students could seamlessly transfer to our college once they completed their associate’s degree, enabling them to graduate with a bachelor’s degree two years later.

Verifying which credits are most likely to transfer When your son or daughter has created their list of prospective colleges and checked one of the sites mentioned above, they should contact admissions at each school to discuss their transcript. Some schools have admissions officers and advisers specifically for transfer students. Being proactive can save a lot of confusion and money later on.

Guaranteed transfer of credits within a state Florida is one of the states that requires all their public institutions to accept 60 credits from students who’ve earned their associate’s degree from an in-state community college. Courses are categorized and numbered the same at all state institutions, making it easy to verify equivalency of credits. Find out if your state college system has a similar policy.

The appeal process Colleges allow a student to appeal a decision on which credits will be accepted. Visit the institution’s “Transfer Student” section on their website to learn how to challenge a decision and download the appeal form.

What have you learned from your child’s college transfer experience? Share your advice and insight in the comments section below.

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5 Responses to The Challenge of Transferring College Credits

  1. Great advice. I would also recommend students have a transfer school in mind before they finish their associate’s degree. This way, they can take the core curriculum and degree prerequisites from that school to their adviser at the CC. Students and advisers often find this helpful to make sure they don’t take unnecessary classes.

  2. Good point, @dearoldvarsity. Always smartest to be prepared and know what’s expected from the transfer school.

  3. Les Holcomb says:

    In CT the community college students can contact the state school or schools and get “advice” about which courses can transfer to the 4-year programs, but that option lapses after they have taken a full semester or, I think, 18 credits. If students entering the state’s community college system think they are interested in pre-med, they should “declare” themselves as such before entering the community college system to make sure that the science requirements they will need are sufficient to meet the state standard for its medical school (UConn in Farmington). It’s a good thing to do regardless of where they end up applying for medical school. It may be wise also to check out the sciences with the most popular extended bachelors degree/masters health science programs such as physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, or pharmacy Pharm D. programs in the state.

    In MA there are also UMass programs that don’t accept grades from each other even at the Bachelors Degree Level. For instance UMass Amherst won’t accept grades from UMass Dartmouth, only pass/fails. (In CT there may still be some fracturing between UConn in Storrs and the regional “CSU” campus system.)

    You’re right! Someone, student or other household member, has to become an “articulation agreement/ course grade/credit wonk” to save money and not waste precious time and avoid loans during the higher-priced years of education.

    We are familiar with a Katrina refugee student from UNO spent a year at Yale (her home school campus was out of commission and some buildings under 15 feet of water) and when she went back to UNO they questioned the acceptability of some of her major area courses taken at Yale that had the same names. It became quicker and less expensive for her to graduate by completing her degree at another University who understood her situation.
    In past years, one just marched through the years in lock-step and made it or not, or had enough money to complete it or not. Now most, short of trust-funders, have to manage this process.

    You’ve listed some solid references. Some are ready for it, some aren’t, but the community colleges are a great place to start.

  4. Pingback: News on College Admissions and College Life, Late Fall Edition | Parents' Guide to the College Puzzle

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