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Do college credits expire?

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At a glance

  • College credits earned and listed on a transcript do not expire; however, application of credits toward degree requirements based on the age of the credits will vary based on the institution and its policies.
  • Credits may transfer between institutions, but this also depends on the receiving institution’s requirements.
  • If you’re looking to return to college, it’s important to request your transcripts and send them to your new institution so they can determine which credits are transferable and how the credits apply toward your new degree program.
  • Learn more about transferring credits at University of Phoenix!

For many college students, the thought of hard-earned academic credits expiring is demoralizing. But if you’ve taken a few years off since graduating, or are considering returning to school after being away for a long time, the question looms: Will your college credits still be valid?

You may want to complete a degree, gain more professional skills to enhance your career or simply receive gratification because of a love of learning. Whatever the reason, returning to college can prepare you for new opportunities — but it can also feel challenging.

College credit that you earned at an institution will not expire and be removed from your transcript, so from a qualitative perspective a student will always have credits they earned. However, where and how your credit may apply toward a degree program may differ depending on how long you have been out of school.

For example, the requirements for your degree program may have changed so that the content from your older courses doesn’t match up with the content to earn the new degree. In these instances, your credit still has an earned value but may not apply to your selected degree program because the needs for your discipline may have evolved while you were away. Therefore, it’s not always guaranteed your credits will apply the same way when you reenroll at your institution after a hiatus.  

Take a shorter path to graduation. Apply eligible transfer credits toward the degree of your choice. 


Do college credits have an expiration date?

The short answer is no — college credits do not expire. That said, the time they remain applicable toward a degree program or be accepted in transfer can vary from one program or institution to another. Credits you earn from an institution will always remain on your transcript as earned units; however, certain factors can impact the application or acceptance of college credits.

For example, suppose you earned a degree in an area with rapidly evolving technology or science-based content. In that case, your credits might not apply after a relatively short absence away from your program if new information has rendered the content of your previously completed courses obsolete. Additionally, schools sometimes change their policies over time; something that was acceptable and applied when you enrolled may cease to be valid because of changing conditions.

Other factors may include:

  • An institution’s accreditation status: If the college or university loses accreditation, the credits you earned after the accreditation status is lost may no longer be accepted in transfer.
  • The relevance of the course content: If class material is outdated, it may not be accepted for transfer credit toward degree requirements. Standards and time frames for assessing recency and relevancy of content vary between institutions — and in some cases between degree programs and disciplines within the same institution.
  • The level of the credits you completed: If you earned credits at the lower division level (first and second years of study) these may not apply toward upper division level (third and fourth years of study) course content
  • How long ago the course was completed: As an example, credits earned more than 10 years ago may not be accepted in transfer toward certain degree requirements. As mentioned, standards and time frames for assessing recency of content vary between institutions and sometimes between degree programs and disciplines within the same institution.
  • An institution’s specific transfer policies: Institutions have the latitude to set their own transfer policies and can do so at a very granular level. For example, some schools do not accept credits from other universities or only do so on a limited basis.

It’s essential to research the specifics of your situation carefully and contact a college representative if you have questions regarding how your courses may apply toward that specific institution’s degree requirements.

Do college credits transfer?

Institutions have the right to set their own policies, and so each student’s transfer situation and outcome can be unique. Sometimes the application of credits in transfer can be impacted because credits must fully match up with a new school’s degree requirements, which can be difficult to make work. This is especially true if you’re transferring between educational institutions with different accreditation types or program goals. 

If you’ve been out of class for a while, it’s also important to consider that course content may have changed since you took classes or that some classes don’t count toward current degree requirements.

Additionally, an academic program’s types of degree requirements may affect transfer credit application. For example, many undergraduate degree programs have three components: major course of study, general education credits and elective credits.  So, a degree’s structure can also impact transfer credit acceptance. 

For example, elective credit areas are generally very open and accept many types of transfer credit regardless of content and age of the credits. General education courses — typically math, science, literature and language arts, and liberal arts-related subjects — may have more transfer restrictions than electives. However, such credits transfer more easily than major course of study classes given that general education needs are consistent across many institutions in the United States. Research your specific institution’s policies in advance, so you know which classes do and do not transfer.

When transferring college credits, contact a college representative if you have questions or concerns. Knowing the receiving institution’s requirements, and the age of your course material, will help you and the receiving institution determine if your credits are applicable.

How to transfer college credits

To transfer your college credits, the process typically involves obtaining official transcripts from the institution where you earned them and sending them to the school where you want to enroll. Be sure to do this well before your desired course start date, as transcripts take time to process.

The receiving institution will evaluate each course on your transcript for applicability toward its degree requirements. If there are differences between the credits you completed as compared to the degree program and discipline you are entering, then it’s likely that not all of your credits will be applied in transfer.

It’s also possible that some courses may not fit into the new school’s transfer policies and acceptance criteria because of minimum grade requirements, course complete date or institutional accreditation type. If you encounter roadblocks during this process, contact a college representative at the receiving institution to understand your options.

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How to research credit transfer policies

The best way to learn more about a school’s specific credit transfer policies is to research in advance. Check the college or university’s website for relevant information. Specifically, look for the institution’s academic catalog as this will contain the institution’s transfer policies, course descriptions and degree requirements. If you still have questions, contact the institution’s admissions and registrar’s office directly.

It can be helpful to look at the descriptions of courses you took earlier, if such information is available, and compare them with those at the institution you plan on transferring to. This can give you an idea of the alignment between courses and how much of a gap may exist in order to have the credits apply in transfer. Additionally, it’s essential to pay attention to the type of degree each institution offers and whether you’re pursuing a degree or certificate, as this can sometimes affect the application of transfer credits.

How long do colleges keep transcripts?

Depending on local laws and individual school policies, transcripts can be held for a variety of time periods. Unique circumstances may exist that make obtaining transcripts more difficult.

In some cases, record retention for students who attended decades ago may not be as good as it is today. This could be due to limited storage space or other considerations. If you anticipate obstacles, it’s best to contact the college directly to give them lead time to gather your records.

If you need access to your transcripts and aren’t sure where to find them, you can request them directly from the registrar’s office at the school you attended. The process typically involves filling out paperwork and paying a fee; in some cases, you can order an official copy online. Again, be sure to check with the institution for specific instructions on how to make a transcript request.

Steps for returning to college

If you’re looking to return to college, there are a few key steps you should take:

  1. First, explore the types of courses and degrees you want to pursue.
  2. Next, contact your target school to inquire about their admissions and transfer credit process.
  3. Next, gather necessary documents, such as transcripts, test scores or references.
  4. Find out how your transfer credits will apply to the new institution.
  5. Then, submit your application and wait for a decision from the college or university.
  6. If you’re accepted, contact the relevant offices at the school (such as student services, the financial aid office, etc.) as soon as possible so they can help plan your program of study and other related matters.

Depending on the type of school and the courses you plan to take, you may encounter variations in this process. For example, if you plan to enroll in an online certificate program or take individual courses, additional steps might be needed before enrollment.

Regardless of your education path, you can always consult with an advisor to help you make the right choices and get the most out of your college experience.

Transfer credits at University of Phoenix

Transferring credits can save money on tuition and allow students to graduate sooner. At University of Phoenix (UOPX), students can apply for eligible transfer credits from an institutionally accredited university or college toward the degree of their choice. UOPX also accepts certain life and work experience for college credit.

UOPX will request transcripts on a student’s behalf. Enrollment representatives are available to address transfer questions and related inquiries about the application process. Visit the University of Phoenix website to learn more.


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