Do College Credits Expire? Your Guide to Transfer Credits

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You might be wondering: do college credits expire? We have some tips for you on transferring your old credits.


Today, the average college student no longer falls into the 18-to-22 age group. Did you know that right now there are 7.6 million students in America that are 25 years old and over? 2 million college students drop out each year before finishing their degrees. And many more students are going to school later in life and therefore aren’t completing their degree within the common 4-year timeframe. This raises the valid question: “Do college credits expire?”


The simplest answer is no, credits never expire. They will always be on your educational record. But the more relevant question may be: “Can I use my old college credits towards my next program?” or “Can I transfer my old college credits?”



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You might be one of the many individuals that have already started a degree, but had to stop studying for a bunch of reasons, such as needing to work full-time or starting to raise a family.


But now that you want to return to school and finish a degree or start a new one, the best thing would be to use your old college credits towards your next degree. Why? Well, it could save you money and time by not having to retake courses that you might have already taken or have knowledge of.


So let’s look at what you need to know about transferring previous college credits.



What does it depend on?

There are a couple things to consider about your previous credits and what will determine whether or not you can use your old credits towards your new major. These are some things to look into.





Firstly, do your old credits qualify as “core curriculum”? Core curriculum courses are common subjects that are required among undergraduates and considered necessary general education. Courses such as math, science, and English are core classes and are likely to be qualified for transfer credits.


Secondly, are your old credits relevant to the new major you’re going to study? This is going to be specific to your transcript and your program of interest. You will need to speak with the admissions office and see which of your credits are relevant.





This is a question of how recent your previous courses are. Do they fit in the 5-10 year rule of thumb? Some schools have “use by” dates for transfer credits. There is a general “shelf life” for many courses.

  • STEM courses (science, technology, engineering, and math) have a general 10-year shelf life because they are fields that tend to evolve throughout the years and are updated as they go. So, if your STEM courses were taken within 10 years, you’re probably in the green.
  • Graduate courses have a shelf life of 5 to 7 years. These are also subject to new developments and new methodologies. As a result, older course curriculum may not be relevant today.
  • Work/life experience can qualify. If you have relevant experience in the field that you are looking to study, you might be qualified to receive credits. Again, it’s best to speak with the admissions office.





Your old college credits need to be from an accredited school, otherwise they won’t transfer. This is a must!



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How to transfer credits

Okay, so let’s say you know your situation and you have courses that are eligible for transfer credits. What do you do next?



Researching your targeted college


Find out about the program and the admissions requirements. You’re going to eventually speak with an advisor, but looking online can give you a general idea of what they accept or don’t accept.



Sending in your transcript


When you choose a school you want to attend, part of the application process for transferring credits involves sending in your transcripts. You should ask to speak with an advisor from the school to discuss your credits. You can likely send the transcripts online, but you should have a conversation with someone about your specific situation.



Placement tests


Some colleges will have you complete a placement test. This is to see what your current level of knowledge is. The results could mean that you either do or don’t need to retake a course.



Other things you can do

If you have eligible credits that you can transfer, that’s great! Although it may not work out for everyone so easily. But it’s okay, there are other things you can try.



Choose a transfer-friendly college


While most colleges have policies on transfer credits with their own standards, there are some schools that have a reputation of being consistently “transfer-friendly.” They admit a high percentage of transfer applicants.


As a general standard, if you earned great grades in your first or second undergraduate year, and you can effectively explain your reasons for ending your studies, your chances of transferring to a new program is relatively high.


If you’re curious as to which schools are likely to accept your transfer credits, US News has a list of the most transfer students. Franklin University, as an example, offers as 3+1 Program, in which you could be eligible to transfer your first three years of classes or associate degree from one of their partner community colleges. This means you can potentially finish your bachelor’s degree with no repeat classes and no unnecessary expenses. Sounds like a great plan!



Send in all your transcripts


We already discussed sending in your undergraduate transcripts when applying to your new program. But sometimes your high school credits are overlooked and they may have some worth. Maybe you took an advanced placement course, for instance.


Apart from high school, you may have taken other extra curricular courses that might be of value. Again, speak to your advisor!



Speak with an admissions advisor


You should absolutely speak with an advisor in all cases. But even if you think that your courses don’t qualify, or if you think they’re irrelevant, don’t guess. Just ask! They may be more helpful than you think.



Testing your way out of re-taking courses


Sometimes, it’s not just credits that qualify you. You can take tests to prove your knowledge of a prerequisite course. There are nationally recognized testing companies, like CLEP and DSST that test you on a number of subjects. The exams cost money but it’s going to be a lot less than paying for the course itself.



Professional experience/military service


Another thing to consider is your personal experience. Let’s say you took a course for your job and earned a certificate, or if you served in the military. These things might qualify you for transfer credits and are definitely worth asking about with an advisor.



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Transferring credits from abroad

Many students choose to go to college in the US or Canada from abroad. It is absolutely possible to do so, but there are standards and procedures specific to each college. Most schools will need a few things from your previous college record. Such as:

  • Official academic transcripts
  • Formal English translation of your transcripts
  • Credit evaluation report
  • Official syllabus or curriculum of your previous courses


Transferology is a free resource that helps you figure out if your credits will transfer, whether you’re American or an international student. With an easy interface on their website, it can make a rather confusing and frustrating process a lot easier for you.



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Transfering credits to and from an online degree

We at University of the People aim to accept students from all over the world and will consider previous credits taken from accredited US and non-US institutions. This includes universities as well as advanced placement tests. You can transfer 50-75% of your credits towards your next degree.


To see a full explanation on transferring credits to become one of our students, look here.


You might also be coming from an online degree and want to move to a campus setting. The same rules apply. The school must be accredited and you’ll need to go through all the same steps.



The bottom line: Speak to an advisor

Whether you’re coming from abroad, going abroad, will be attending an online program or on campus, the process of transferring credits can potentially be worrisome and frustrating. But it doesn’t need to be.


The most important thing to do is contact the school you’re interested in and see what options you have. If you manage to transfer credits successfully, then congrats! And if not, then worst-case scenario is you will have to take some courses again which you’ll probably end up getting a great grade in, since you already know your stuff. Good luck!