Transferring Schools? Here’s How to Transfer Your Credits to a Different College

Renee Layberry
May 4, 2021

One of the most common questions admissions counselors get from transfer students is whether or not their credits will transfer. The answer to that question is complicated; so much depends on the schools, their requirements, and their agreements with other schools.   If you are thinking about transferring, it’s always best to ask questions about transfer credits before you take the classes.   The same goes for online credits. If you’ve taken some online classes and are thinking of transferring to a traditional college where you attend most classes in person, you’ll need to find out if those credits are transferable.  

Are all credits transferable?

Unfortunately, not all credits are transferable. That’s why it’s always best to find out if your credits will transfer to another institution before making the move. But we get it: Sometimes you’re not sure if or when you’ll be transferring or you don’t know where you want to go.   In general, though, transferable credits are those that meet the following criteria:
  • They are from general or introductory courses.
  • The credits are from courses common across other public or private colleges in your state (and those schools have created transfer agreements).
  • They are from classes in which you earned a C or better.
  • The credits were earned as part of a completed Associate’s Degree.
  • They were offered by schools with full accreditation.
  • The credits were not earned via Advanced Placement (AP) or College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests.
  Photo by Anastasia Gepp

What is the process for transferring credits?

When you are looking at schools to transfer to, make sure to ask your admissions counselor if your credits will transfer. They probably won’t be able to give you a definitive answer, but may be able to give you some general information.    For example, some schools never accept transfer credits from for-profit or nonprofit schools that have minimal accreditation. In other cases, your admissions rep might tell you that all lower-division courses from the school up the road will be accepted.   If you want to talk specifics, you’ll probably have to wait until you apply for the school of your choice and are accepted. Once you have your letter of acceptance, you can ask your assigned academic advisor to help you get started with your credit transfers. They’ll need to see your transcripts first. Then they’ll do three things:  

1. Check their database for course equivalencies

The database may be online and available for you to check on your own.  

2. Check with the faculty for approval

In some cases, faculty who teach an equivalent to the course you want to transfer will review your transcript. The faculty member may ask to see a copy of the syllabus from your previous class.  

3. Articulate your credits

Once some or all of your credits are approved, your school will transcribe – or articulate – your transferred classes onto your transcript. You won’t be able to see that transcript, however, until the end of your first semester, so make sure you get an articulation agreement. That agreement is usually in the form of a letter sent to you by the Registrar’s Office.   When you get your transcript, you may see individual courses listed with the grade you received, or you may see a note indicating that you have a certain number of credits that count for corresponding classes.   Photo by Nikolay Georgiev

What if courses are worth different amounts?

Transferring credits gets sticky when courses are worth different amounts of credits. For instance, if you took 'Introduction to Geology' for three credits, but the school you are transferring to requires four credits for that same course, you are short a credit.   Don’t panic. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to retake the class.   Some schools will give you the three credits and count it toward 'Introduction to Geology', but then require you to pick up an additional credit in some other class. The school may offer one-credit electives, or you may need to take a different four-credit course. That’s still a win for you because it means you don’t have to retake a class that’s fundamentally the same as the one you’ve already completed.   If you are transferring credits from a school on the quarter-system to one on the semester-system (or vice versa), you’ll need to work closely with an academic advisor. They’ll help you create some kind of articulation agreement that fits within their framework.  

How many credits can I transfer?

It's important to ask if the college you’re transferring to has a limit on the number of transfer credits they accept. Most institutions require that you take a minimum number of credits at their college in order to earn a degree from that school.   Transfer-friendly schools tend to be those with low-residency requirements. That means they require a low number of classes to be taken at their institution. High-residency schools may cap transfer credits at just one or two classes. Others will allow up to 51% of your courses to come from another institution.   If you have completed an Associate’s Degree at a 2-year college, you’ll generally find it much easier to transfer those credits directly to a 4-year school, especially if both schools are in the same state.   You’ll get a sense of how transfer-friendly your school is if you ask your admissions counselor what percentage of the student body are transfers. A high number indicates that the school is probably easy to work with when it comes to transferring your previous credits.   Photo by NESA by Makers

How will transfer credits affect my GPA?

In general, you won’t be able to transfer courses for which you earned a C grade or lower. But your GPA from your transfer credits will probably not be included in your current GPA. So if you are transferring, say, 12 credits with a 4.0 GPA, you’ll be starting from zero with your first semester at your new school.   When you apply for graduate schools, fellowships, or jobs that require transcripts, they’ll ask for transcripts from every school you attended. Your GPA from your previous schools even if you transferred those credits – will be visible to anyone who sees the transcript.   You’ll just have more than one GPA when you put the transcripts together.  

Is a Prior Learning Assessment a good idea?

Some schools offer Prior Learning Assessment (PLA). This means if you can demonstrate your knowledge or ability in some area, they’ll give you credit for it. In most cases, you’ll be asked to create a portfolio that will be evaluated by faculty using an assessment rubric. Depending on the score you receive, you may get credits that will allow you to move through a degree program at an accelerated pace.   A PLA is a great idea if you want to shorten your degree time. However, if you plan to transfer to another school, a PLA may be a waste of time and money because many schools will not accept that credit.   Taking an AP or CLEP test is a form of prior learning assessment. If you get a certain score, you get credit for specified classes. If you transfer, though, you may not be able to carry that credit with you. For example, some 2-year schools accept a score of three on the AP exam, but most 4-year schools require a four.    Again, if you complete an Associate’s Degree, your AP credits should not be a problem, but if you want to transfer a few classes, competency tests and alternative assessments may not be helpful to you.   Photo by Tamarcus Brown

What do I do if my credits don’t transfer?

So let’s say that you have courses you were hoping to transfer, but your school won’t accept any of them. That doesn’t mean those classes were worthless. There are two other ways that your prior courses can be helpful to you even if you don’t get articulated credit:  

1. Your school may accept the credits, but not apply them toward a particular class

For example, let’s say you took History of Animation for three credits at your previous school. Your new school may not apply those credits toward any required classes for their general education or degree requirements, but they may apply them toward your elective credits.  

2. Your school may waive a prerequisite because of your previous courses

In this example, say you took Algebra I online at a community college. Your new school may not give you a credit for that class, but will instead waive the requirement that you take the prerequisite class for Algebra II.   The bottom line is that the easiest and most successful method for transferring credits is to ask a lot of questions and plan ahead based on your academic goals and professional goals.