I Have a Lot of College Credits But No Degree [2021 Guide]

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Like many other working adults, you may be able to say, “I have a lot of college credits but no degree.”

College Credits But No Degree

This statement is sometimes made with a touch of regret because having a completed bachelors degree can lead to increased pay and more job opportunities.

“Some college no degree” doesn’t have to be your mantra forever, though. College programs for working adults can provide the opportunity for you to turn previous coursework and other life experiences into a respected bachelor’s degree.

How to Turn Your College Credits into a Bachelor’s Degree

College Credits into a Bachelor’s Degree

You worked hard to complete one or more college classes, but then something may have happened in your life to derail your plans of graduating. Especially if it’s been several years since you last took a class, it might feel like your efforts and tuition money went to waste.

Fortunately, that doesn’t have to be the case. Previous college experience often holds its value for years, so you might be able to apply some of your credits toward the pursuit of a new degree.

Coupling your academic achievements with professional training or experience may help you begin the degree process with even more credits under your belt.

In other words, a bachelors degree may not be as far off as it seems, especially if you know how to go about the enrollment process in a way that values what you’ve already accomplished.

Transfer Credits

College Transfer credits

If you have already taken multiple college classes, then one of your top methods for getting ahead in a bachelors degree program may involve transferring credits into your new program. The more credits you can transfer in, the fewer classes you’ll need to take before graduating.

Different colleges have different policies on transfer credits, and it’s always done at the school’s discretion. To determine how many credits you’ll receive, the school will review your past transcripts. Factors that go into the decision may include:

  • Accreditation status of your previous school
  • Grade you earned in the class
  • How well the course curriculum aligns with topics covered in your new program
  • Whether the field has advanced significantly since you took the class

You can receive no credit, partial credit, or full credit for previous classes.

Turn Work or Life Experience into College Credits

Professional certification programs

If you’ve invested time and effort into your career, some colleges will reward you for it. There are a few different ways that you can try to demonstrate how your professional experiences have provided knowledge similar to what you could have learned in a college classroom.

Professional certification programs are one option. If you’ve gone through a training program and taken a qualifying exam, colleges may be willing to waive related course requirements.

Another option is to assemble a portfolio of your work. It can include writing samples or project examples that demonstrate what knowledge you hold and how you’ve applied it.

Reverse Transfer

College Reverse Transfer

If you’ve spent time at both a 2 year college and a 4 year college but don’t have a degree from either, you may be able to take advantage of reverse transfer.

With this arrangement, coursework from the bachelors program is transferred back to the 2 year college. Altogether, you could have enough credits to be granted an associate degree. This could be the fastest way to get 60 college credits, the number typically needed for this degree.

Holding an associate degree can be advantageous in several ways. For one thing, you might receive more credit overall if you transfer in an entire degree rather than individual classes. In addition, you may automatically qualify for a salary boost just for completing your associate degree.

Proficiency Examinations

College Level Exam Program

Some companies offer exams that are designed to show how much college-level knowledge you hold on a topic. One common organization is the College Level Exam Program (CLEP).

You can take tests on one or more subject areas, and your college may award you credits for passing these exams.

Competency-Based Education

You might have a decent amount of knowledge on a particular topic but not enough to skip entire classes.

At some colleges, the coursework is broken down into smaller units. This allows you to place out of sections in which you already have proficiency. You can then complete the other required sections that you don’t test out of. This competency-based program option is a personalized approach to earning a degree.

Requirements for a Bachelors Degree

Bachelors Degree General Education

Graduating with a bachelor’s degree typically requires earning 120 college credits, which is around 40 courses. You’ll take several different types of classes while working toward your degree.

General Education

Earning a bachelor’s degree isn’t just about becoming an expert in one particular field of study. It’s also about gaining a thorough, well-rounded education that addresses a variety of topics.

The general education component of your bachelor’s degree studies may include classes related to:

  • English composition
  • Humanities, such as literature, philosophy, and history
  • Mathematics, including college algebra or calculus
  • Natural sciences, such as biology and chemistry courses with lab components

General education courses are some of the college credit hours that are most likely to transfer from one school to another.

Free Electives

Bachelors Degree Electives

Your college will prescribe certain courses that you have to take in order to earn a degree, but not every class will be laid out for you. There will likely be opportunities for you to take electives—courses of your own choosing—as well.

Depending on your interests, you might want to take electives related to:

  • Artistic pursuits, such as pottery, creative writing, or drama
  • Foreign languages, like Spanish or American Sign Language
  • Social justice issues, like race or gender studies
  • Technology topics, such as coding or web design

You can decide to take electives that you think will have value for your career plans, or you can choose electives simply because you’re interested in those topics.

College Major Requirements

College Major Requirements

Many of your classes, especially once you’ve wrapped up your first year or two of your studies, will center around your major area.

What courses you take for this portion of your studies will be highly dependent on what type of degree you’re earning. For example, as a business major, you might enroll in classes like:

  • Accounting and Bookkeeping Principles
  • Business Law and Ethics
  • Introduction to Human Resources
  • Understanding Supply Chain and Logistics

Of course, in a different program, you’d take very different classes. In a computer programming major, you’d typically take classes about the fundamentals of information technology and object-oriented programming. For a nursing degree, you’d take courses about the American healthcare system as well as human anatomy and physiology.

Concentration Requirements

College Concentration Requirements

In some cases, you’ll have the opportunity to choose a concentration area for your major. This lets you perform in-depth study on one aspect of your field. You’ll take a handful of classes focused on that topic. Course examples include:

  • Addictions Counseling (for psychology majors)
  • Health Informatics (for healthcare administration majors)
  • Human Resources (for business majors)
  • Software Development (for computer science majors)

If you choose not to enroll in a concentration track—or concentrations aren’t offered for your degree—you may get to choose a few major-related electives instead.

What Are College Credits?

College Credits

College credits are the way that universities track how much academic progress you’ve made toward a degree. Many college courses are worth 3 credit hours each.

For an on-campus class, that typically means that you’ll be expected to spend about 3 hours in the classroom per week and about 6 hours on completing assignments. Of course, that’s not a hard-and-fast rule, and online colleges may approach it differently.

Each time you complete a course with a passing grade, the corresponding credits are added to the record of your progress. Over time, you may accumulate four years of college credit!

Do College Credits Expire If You Don’t Graduate?

Your previous college credits can stay beneficial for years to come. Many credits don’t expire, especially in fields that don’t change from one year to the next. For example, your principles of public speaking and college composition courses might transfer to another school years after you earned the credits.

The exception to this general rule involves fields that are constantly changing. For example, a class on computer programming from 10 years ago won’t be especially relevant for today’s workforce. The registrar’s office of your new college can advise you on which classes may transfer and which won’t.

How Many Credits Equal a Bachelor’s Degree?

Bachelor's degree credits

The completion of about 120 college credits is needed for a bachelors degree. Most classes are worth 3 credits each, so you’ll probably take around 40 classes to complete your degree program. Traditionally, credits for bachelor’s degree programs can be completed in about 4 years when enrolled full-time.

There are ways to shorten that timeframe, though. One of the best options is to try and transfer in credits from classes that you’ve taken in the past. Another option is to look into whether you can receive credit for your professional experience.

How Many Credits Do You Need to Graduate College with a Bachelor Degree?

bachelor's degree programs

Most bachelor’s degree programs include 120 credits worth of coursework. The coursework typically includes general education classes, a core set of courses for your major, and some elective classes as well.

Many colleges allow you to transfer in credits from classes taken elsewhere. The number of credits that you can bring in to your program will depend on the institution’s policies.

Some schools will only let you transfer in 20 or 30 credits, but others may allow you to transfer up to half of your needed bachelor’s degree credits if they meet the school’s requirements.

How Long Do College Credits Last Without a Degree?

College Credits Without Degree

In theory, your college credits can last indefinitely. In reality, though, some courses will probably age out over time.

Courses in STEM fields, such as technology and engineering, are the most likely to expire. Since these areas are always progressing, concepts you learned just a few years ago might be obsolete now. Such classes typically retain their transfer value for no more than 10 years.

Other classes, though, may be transferrable long after you first earned them. You may still pursue transfer credits even if it’s been years since you last stepped foot in a classroom.

Getting Your Bachelor’s Degree Online

Getting Your Bachelor’s Degree Online

Your previous coursework or life experience might have you well on your way to earning a bachelor’s degree.

By transferring your past credits into a new bachelor’s program, you can launch yourself toward a completed degree. You might even be able to transform your professional certifications or work experiences into credits for a bachelor degree.

Accredited online colleges for working professionals often boast generous transfer policies. Through online classes, you can complete your bachelors degree and open the door to new career opportunities and higher earnings.

Jordan Meeks
WRITTEN BY
Jordan Meeks
Jordan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and earned her Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management and her Bachelor's in Business Administration. Jordan's research focuses on adults returning to college and online degree programs.