If it’s been a while since you were in school, you might be asking, “Do college credits expire?” It’s a valid question because unexpired credits could move you toward earning a degree sooner.
By transferring earned credits into a program, you might find that you’re closer to accomplishing your college goals than you’d thought.
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Knowing the ins and outs of how long credits last and how to transfer them to another school can help you work this to your advantage.
Do College Credits Expire?
Many college credits last for years and years. So if you have a lot of college credits but no degree, you may be able to transfer some of these credits from classes you took more than a decade ago. A school subject like English composition doesn’t change much from one year to the next. That’s an example of a college course that can hold its value for years to come.
On the other hand, engineering is a field that rapidly changes. The lessons you learned a few years ago may no longer be relevant. For that reason, courses in science, engineering, technology, and healthcare may not keep their transfer value over the long term.
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Colleges also set their own policies about accepting transfer credits. One college may accept older credits than another. Some schools scrutinize the subject matter more closely, and some limit how many credits you can bring into a program.
If you’re interested in transferring credits for college, factors to consider include:
- Age of the credits
- Field of study you plan to pursue
- Number of credits you have
- Topics of courses you took
- Transfer policies at your new school
You may end up receiving transfer credits for only some of your classes. The bottom line, though, is that it never hurts to ask for transfer credit!
How Long Are College Credits Good For?
College credits don’t come stamped with an expiration date. Many — especially those from core or general education courses — last indefinitely. Years after taking a class on medieval history or British literature, you may be able to transfer it to another school for credit.
That’s not to say that all credits are forever useful. Depending on what type of classes you took, some of them could lose their transfer power after a few years.
Here are some exceptions that might affect how many transfer credits you can receive:
- STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Courses: These fields develop rapidly, and the lessons you were taught a while back may no longer be relevant. For that reason, most STEM credits expire after about 10 years.
- Graduate Courses: Graduate programs emphasize research and professional methodologies. While that’s valuable for advanced career preparation, it also means that most graduate credits are only good for about 7 years.
- Life Experience: While time off from school may cost you college credits, it could also give you the chance to earn transfer credits in a different way. Some colleges allow students to receive credit for professional experience in their fields of study. You may need to take an exam or present a portfolio to demonstrate what you know.
Ultimately, the decision to grant transfer credits belongs to your new school.
Factors That Determine Whether or Not Credits Will Transfer
Some college credits are more likely to transfer than others. Each school sets its own policies, but the decision-making process may be based on the following factors.
- Accreditation: Typically, regionally accredited universities accept transfer credits only from other regionally accredited schools. Nationally accredited colleges may take credits from institutions with regional or national accreditation.
- Program level: In general, undergraduate courses retain their value longer than graduate-level classes.
- Subject Matter: General education courses usually offer the most transfer value for students since they’re required for nearly all undergraduate degree programs. Also, subjects like English and history don’t change much over the years, so the content is less likely to become outdated.
- Relevance: Even if a subject hasn’t changed much since you took the course, some classes may not contribute toward your new degree plan. For example, multiple art history courses probably won’t help you progress toward a computer science degree. A few credits may transfer in as electives, but you need only a limited number of those for most degrees.
- Time: Recent credits are more likely to transfer than old ones. That’s particularly true when it comes to science and technology classes. Those credits may lose their value after about 10 years. Graduate courses often become outdated after 7 years.
Transfer decisions are usually made on a case-by-case basis and are done at your new school’s discretion. Some colleges have a limit to how many credits can be transferred toward a degree, so that may influence the process as well.
How to Find Out How Many College Credits You Have
Usually, the easiest way to figure out how many credits you have is to consult your previous school. The registrar’s office can provide a copy of your transcript. This document will outline what classes you took and how many credits you earned from them.
You may be able to request a digital or paper copy of your transcript. Many schools have an online portal for this, but you may also be able to call and ask for a transcript. If you’ve attended more than one college, you’ll need to get transcripts from each. That way, you’ll have a complete picture of your studies so far.
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For additional help, you can contact the college registrar’s office. The staff can walk you through your transcript to explain the details. The registrar’s office can also lend a hand if you think your transcript contains discrepancies.
Although requesting transcripts is the official way to learn how many credits you have, you may be able to get your answer more quickly by browsing your college catalog. You can check the credit value of each class you’ve taken and add up the total.
How to Transfer Credits
The process for how to transfer your credits can depend on where you are transferring them from and where you are transferring them to.
Transferring College Credits
Choosing a college with a generous transfer policy can help you get the most value from your previous college credits.
You can ask your past schools to send your official transcripts to the new college you’ve chosen to attend. For many schools, you can go online and fill out a request form. There may be a small fee involved.
If you’ve been to multiple colleges, you’ll need to provide transcripts from each so you don’t miss out on any potential transfer credits. Even your high school transcripts may be valuable!
Speaking with an admissions counselor can help you make sure that you have all of your bases covered. You could also inquire about earning additional credits by taking placement tests or having your professional experience evaluated.
Transferring Credits from Abroad
Courses that you took in another country may be transferrable, but there will probably be some extra steps involved.
For one thing, in addition to providing a transcript, you may also need to submit an English translation. Colleges usually want additional documentation as well. You may need to turn in a course description or a syllabus from each class to show what you learned.
Also, the school may ask for a report from a credential evaluation service. These organizations compare overseas coursework to U.S. college standards. They may even translate your international scores into GPA format.
Transferring Credits to and from an Online Degree
Regionally accredited online colleges generally receive the same treatment as other accredited colleges. You may be able to receive transfer credit at another online school or an on-campus program.
Credits can be carried into many online programs too. In fact, online colleges often focus on helping working adults complete their college degrees. For that reason, they sometimes have the most flexible transfer programs. Some online schools will let you transfer in up to 75% of the credits needed for your degree.
Transferring Credits between Nationally and Regionally Accredited Schools
In general, regional accreditation is considered more academically stringent than national accreditation. For that reason, regionally accredited institutions usually accept transfer credits only from other schools with regional accreditation.
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Nationally accredited colleges, though, may take credits from schools with regional or national accreditation.
Do College Credits Expire After 10 Years?
No, there’s not a rule that says college credits must expire after 10 years. In fact, many undergraduate credits remain useful for well over a decade. General education classes, in particular, are likely to retain their value for many years.
Courses in some fields don’t have the same longevity though. Progress in technology and computing never stops, so the material can become outdated quickly. After 10 years, STEM credits may no longer be transferrable. Graduate credits may expire even sooner. They’re often good for about 7 years.
Can You Transfer Credits from a Completed Degree?
Maybe you earned many credits to graduate college the first time through, and now you want to get another undergraduate degree.
To save yourself time and money, you may be able to apply some of your original general education courses toward your new associate or bachelor’s degree. Of course, the final decision will be up to your new college.
To learn more about your school’s policies regarding transfer credits from a completed degree, you can speak to an admissions advisor.
Which Credits Are Least Likely to Transfer?
STEM is an acronym that refers to the study of science, technology, engineering, and math. Upper-level STEM courses are some of the least likely undergraduate credits to transfer.
Change happens quickly in these fields. What’s cutting-edge today may be old news tomorrow. For that reason, these courses often have a short shelf life. If you took a STEM class more than 10 years ago, you may receive no credit for it at your new school.
Even for more recent coursework, you may need to turn in a class syllabus to verify that the curriculum matches your new school’s standards.
Getting Your College Degree Online
Many college credits keep their value for years. Transferring previous coursework into a new program could help you shave time off the length of a degree program. It might also save you money on tuition.
Online colleges often have generous transfer policies so that you can carry many credits into a new program. Plus, online studies are usually suitable for professionals who need to balance work, school, and home life.
Taking a look at accredited online schools with generous transfer policies can help you find a program that will let you finish your college degree on your timetable. With transfer credits on your side, graduating from college may be even closer than you realized!