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- The relevance of the course content: If class material is outdated, it may not be accepted for transfer credit toward degree requirements.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.