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What are transfer credits and how do they work?

At a glance

  • Transferring credits from a community college or another university to a different school can save students considerable time on their degree.
  • Transfer credits are typically used by students pursuing an undergraduate degree.
  • Before you enroll in a degree program, check to see how many, if any, of your previously earned credits can be transferred.
  • Sometimes it’s possible to successfully appeal an unfavorable decision regarding your transfer credits if you can demonstrate knowledge of key subject matter.
  • University of Phoenix accepts college credits from more than 5,000 accredited institutions. Learn more about how you can save!

There are many reasons why you might change your school of choice after enrollment. The desire to transfer could stem from wanting a four-year degree after community college, evolving career interests or deciding to pursue a different type of degree within your chosen field.

It can be daunting to consider a change, especially if you’ve already invested time and money in successfully earning college credit at one institution. One factor that can smooth that transition? Transfer credits.

Transfer students can apply to have credit earned at one school transferred to the next school, saving themselves considerable time and money along the way. Who wants to do the same coursework twice, after all?

Take a shorter path to graduation. 

Apply eligible transfer credits toward the degree of your choice.

How transfer credits work

Every school is different when it comes to accepting transfer credits. Some admissions offices may request your records from your old school for you, while others require you to get the ball rolling. And while college credits rarely “expire,” you do generally have to have earned a passing grade in order for them to count toward a different degree program.

Your old school may provide a syllabus or course design guide for your target school to review before approving your credit transfer. An articulation agreement between two schools spells out how earned credit transfers between schools.

At times, a student or working professional may only need to take a few courses to complete a graduation requirement. Some fields readily lend themselves to transfer credits because required courses among different schools are so similar, such as in general education. General education courses like English or math are easily transferrable and more likely to align with the core curriculum requirements of your school of choice.

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How transfer credits can help

One reason transfer credits are so attractive is they offer the potential to save time on your degree, and sometimes this translates to financial savings. At University of Phoenix (UOPX), for example, students saved between $6,368 and $21,494* in 2022 by using transfer credits.

“Those with prior college experience don’t have to start over,” explains Devin Andrews, the vice president of the office of admissions and evaluations at UOPX. “Transfer credits provide a pathway to degree completion that saves students time and money.”

Every institution is different, but the idea is the same: Applying credits you’ve already earned means you don’t have to pay to earn them again at a different school. And sometimes, earning those credits at a community college means you pay less to earn them while also being able to take advantage of special programs that encourage students to transfer from a two-year program to a four-year degree program.

How to tell if your credits will transfer

When thinking about a future transfer, being able to successfully transfer credits is arguably just as important a financial consideration as your overall tuition costs. But problems can arise when the destination school does not accept credits from the old school or lacks a transfer agreement with it.

For example, it may be difficult to obtain transfer credits at your new school if your old school was not accredited. That’s because an accredited school is held to higher standards that ensure course materials meet acceptable levels of quality. The accreditation system is overseen by the U.S. Department of Education through various accrediting agencies.

Each college or university can decide for itself which transfer credits it will accept. And even when both the original school and the destination school both possess accreditation from the same agency, a credit transfer is never guaranteed. In addition, there may be an upper limit to how many credits your destination school accepts, as well as residency requirements.

Getting credit for your education

If by this point you’re wondering, “Will my credits transfer?,” there are steps you can take to give you the best chance of success.

Plan ahead and do your research

Once you know which school you want to transfer to, you should research its transfer credit policies, its minimum grade requirements and so on. Prerequisites differ by school, so you’ll need to investigate what your target school requires.

You can start by looking for basic information on the school’s website. Some schools also make available an online transfer tool to help students identify the college transfer credits equivalency of various courses.

If you still have questions, you can reach out to the registrar at your new school, who typically oversees transfer credit programs. You can also rely on your target school’s admissions office for helpful advice.

Submit all your transcripts

Don’t neglect to submit certain transcripts because your grades were mediocre. Depending on your target school, your credits may still be accepted. You should also forward transcripts even if they seem dated, because degree requirements often remain relatively unchanged over the years and may only be deemed irrelevant if they are truly no longer pertinent to your field of study.

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Do college credits expire?

Don’t despair if the initial answer is no

If you’ve submitted all your paperwork but your transfer request is rejected, you may be able to appeal the decision.

You can speak to the relevant department at your target school since department faculty are often responsible for deciding which courses they will or won’t accept. Be prepared to speak about the grades you earned in these courses and your mastery of the subject matter. They may agree to have you demonstrate your subject matter expertise in some other fashion, such as taking an assessment.

In the end, investing in the appeal process may well be worth it. Considering how much time and money each class demands, it makes sense to get credit for what you’ve already invested.

Transfer credits made easy at University of Phoenix

UOPX makes transferring credits as easy as possible in a number of ways. For example:

  • The University offers a free evaluation of which credits will likely transfer toward a degree program using unofficial transcripts.
  • UOPX can request a student’s transcripts, often at no cost to the student.
  • Similarly, the University will request for military service members and veterans a Joint Services Transcript and evaluate experience for credit recommendations from the American Council on Education.
  • Transferring credits to UOPX is free.
  • The 3+1 transfer pathway invites students to earn three years of general course requirements at a community college and then complete a bachelor’s degree in just over a year at UOPX.

University of Phoenix accepts credits from more than 5,000 accredited institutions. Discover how you can save on your degree using the Savings Explorer™ tool!


*Based on the 25th and 75th percentile of credits awarded to eligible students in 2022 for each respective opportunity. The 25th–75th percentile range represents the middle 50%, which is a common way to represent a range of student savings.


Dawn Handschuh has been putting pen to paper for more than 30 years, writing widely on topics related to student lending, personal finances, everyday money management and retirement planning. She makes her home in Connecticut with her husband and two energetic German shepherds.


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