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7 Big College Transfer Credit Questions You Must Ask

If you’re going back to school while balancing a career and family, chances are strong that you’re looking for ways to fast-track your education. One significant way this can happen is through transferring in previous credit or experience.

But what can you get transfer credit for? And, how much can you get?

Those answers vary wildly by institution. In most cases, there are no black-and-white answers that apply universally. That can actually be good news—if you’re struggling to choose between programs, finding the program with the most generous (and credible) transfer policies could prove to be a differentiator.

Here are the most important questions to ask your target schools.

Question 1: Can I get credit for work I’ve already completed toward a master’s or doctoral degree at another school?

Answer: It depends.

Many traditional graduate institutions do not award transfer credit to students who have partially completed their degrees elsewhere. They often cite academic rigor and institutional standards as their reasoning.

However, there are innovative programs that will accept previous graduate work and award transfer credit. At these programs, they often look for credit relevancy – how much of your completed work has direct application or significant relevance to the courses you would take within their program.

That means even if your coursework may not be an exact 1:1 match to the courses at the program you’re applying to, you may still be awarded transfer credit if your coursework has a high relevancy score.

Question 2: Can I get credit for coursework I completed at a nationally accredited institution?

Answer: Maybe.

Many regionally accredited programs will not accept credits from work completed at nationally accredited institutions. This is because regional accreditation often requires more stringent academic rigor to achieve. Programs that are nationally accredited lean more toward technical, vocational or distance-learning models—which can be viewed as non-transferable by academic-focused institutions.

However, some regionally accredited programs understand that the experience gained in these programs is valuable and may be portable to their programs. These programs will review the course descriptions and syllabi to determine how much relevance the experience has toward the applicant’s program.

This process may require additional time, so be prepared if this applies to you.

Question 3: Can I get transfer credit for a course I had a “D” in?

Answer: It depends.

The answer is likely determined by the regional or national governing body of the institution. Currently, there are several governing bodies adopting the transfer of D grades.

For example, The Ohio Department of Higher Education and Transfer Advisory Council issued a policy on the Transfer of D Grades in 2005. That policy states that “as of Fall 2005, Ohio public institutions of higher education are to accept and apply all transfer coursework with a letter grade of D or higher as the institution would for a native student under the business rules an academic policies of the receiving institution. These business rules and policies may include, but are not limited to, such areas as effective course dates, age of coursework, requirements of a particular major or program, and eligibility” (Ohio Department of Higher Education, Appendix D).

However, there are still holdouts. Where your program is located, the governing body they are held accountable to, and the institution’s own standards may all play a role.

Question 4: Can I get credit for training I completed during my military experience, even if I am no longer in active service?

Answer: Sometimes.

Many schools seek to honor the many sacrifices made by service members through generous transfer credit opportunities. It’s possible your training and military certifications will have transfer portability into college degree programs. For example, Franklin accepts military training toward bachelor’s degrees. To figure out what the requirements might be, simply ask the registrar at your preferred institution for details.

Question 5: Can I appeal a transfer decision that’s been made?

Answer: Yes.

Most schools have a Transfer Council or Board—a group of individuals who work together to review transfer credit decisions. If you feel that your previous experience or coursework should transfer, but the judgement didn’t fall your way, you may be able to issue an appeal through the registrar’s office.

Most times, this process is initiated through a written appeal to either the board or the student affairs office. Often, the school has a specific amount of time (in most cases, 30 days) to validate or overturn the decision. If the decision is validated, a student may be able to appeal at a higher level.

The moral of the story? If your transfer credit isn’t accepted, take action to validate the decision.

Question 6: Can I transfer STEM credits that are older than 10 years?

Answer: No.

Subjects in which there are frequent developments in coursework/course requirements, such as STEM classes or computer science, might not be easily transferable—especially if they are dated. For later-in-life students looking to go back to school, there’s a high chance you’ll need to take these types of classes again to earn your degree.

However, general education credits, such as humanities classes, will usually transfer, as these courses could be deemed as “evergreen” and tend to be equivalent across schools.

Question 7: Who evaluates credit transfers, and how do they do it?

Answer: The office of the registrar handles credit transfer decisions. They typically evaluate previous coursework via an algorithm, formula, or scoring sheet to determine if transfer credit should be awarded.

How does it work? Typically, an applying student will submit their transcripts and course syllabi from previous graduate work to the registrar’s office. The registrar will carefully review the documents to gauge the relevance of the coursework to the program the student is applying for, and determine the success of the student within those courses.

Although the credit transfer process is somewhat complicated, asking yourself – and others – the right questions will help you find the right-fit program for you. Establish a relationship with the admissions staff at your target school as early as possible, get as many answers as you can, and be persistent.

Remember: it’s in your best interest to transfer as many credits as you can, so you can save money, and graduate as quickly as possible.