Transferring College Credits: How to Make the Switch

There are plenty of reasons you may need to transfer to another school. Many students drop out before completing, then decide to go back at a later date. Others save money by starting off their college careers at community colleges or online degree programs, then transferring to more prestigious private schools. Life-changing events like a death in the family, a necessary move, a job change and other factors can all make it difficult for students to stay where they are.

But if you were midway through your degree program before the switch, do you have to start over again at another school?

This answer is different depending on the student, the school and the situation. But in most cases, you shouldn’t have to start over completely. Most schools won’t allow you to count every credit you’ve already earned toward an advanced degree, however. And since some schools charge hundreds of dollars per course, every credit counts. The more your school allows you to transfer, the more money you save on tuition—and the more time you save earning your degree.

Why Your Credits Might Not Transfer

There are plenty of reasons why you might not be able to transfer all of your previously-earned credits to a new school. One of the most common is that the new school simply doesn’t have an equivalent course that matches one or more of your old classes. If your old class list doesn’t match their current offerings, they will probably not be willing to grant you transfer credits.

Another common problem arises from a discrepancy in credit hours—if your old school offered two-credit-hour courses and your new school offers courses worth three credit-hours each, your new school may not agree to a transfer. Check the credit-hours per class at possible new schools before signing up, and be aware that you might have difficulty transferring some or all of your credits if you decide to attend.

Low grades in certain classes may also be a factor. Some schools only accept transfer credits if you earned a C or above. In some cases, schools will factor your grade into their transfer decision for classes in your major, but not for electives and general requirements.

If you took remedial classes at your old school, those credits are unlikely to count toward a degree. Some schools accept transfer credits only for your general course load, meaning you’ll have to take all classes related to your major over again. Others allow you to transfer only the credits you earned toward your major.

What to Do About It

The best solution to the transfer dilemma is to plan for it well before you transfer. If you’re entering a two-year school, online program or community college with the intention of transferring later, you can choose a first and second school that are likely to be a good fit in terms of transferring credit.

However, many students have to transfer due to sudden events such as the loss of a loved one, a move or job change, or a change in financial circumstances. If you find yourself in that position, here are a few options you have.

Get a credit evaluation at your current school. Talk to a transfer counselor as soon as you’re sure you’ll have to transfer. Your counselor will help you figure out which credits are most likely to transfer, what conflicts you might experience, and whether or not your school has a “feeder” relationship with another school that will make the transfer process easier. If you’ll be at your old school for an additional semester, your counselor can also help you plan your next semester’s courses.

Investigate your new school. There’s usually a good and bad time to transfer. Some schools look more favorably on students who have earned a certain number of transferable credits—so if you’ve got another semester at your old school, plan accordingly. Others have a deadline for transfer credit considerations—be sure you get all the information you need.

Talk to a counselor at your new school. When you narrow down your choices for a new college, talk to a credit counselor at each school. Ask about their basic transfer requirements; which credits on your transcript they may or may not accept; and whether or not they recommend you take certain classes before transferring. Be sure you know what documents they need to review your case, as well as the deadline for applying. After your conversation you should have a general idea of how easy or difficult your transfer process will be with them, and this should play a factor in deciding which schools to apply to.

Dispute if possible. Most schools have a disputation process that will allow you to contest a school’s decision with regard to your transfer credits. If you think you might have a case, check their student policy handbook. It should outline the process of documenting and submitting your claim.

It’s not always easy to switch schools—and it’s unrealistic to expect all your credits to transfer smoothly. But you should be able to gain credits at your new school for many of the classes at your old school. Do some research ahead of time, talk to credit counselors at your old and new colleges, and be sure to know your new school’s transfer policies going in. If you do, you’ll be able to choose a school that will allow you to transfer the most credits possible.