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Do Master's and Graduate Credits Transfer?

So, you’ve completed some of your graduate work toward your master’s degree but you haven’t finished it for one reason or another.

Maybe you started and then a major life event knocked you off track. Or, your career picked up and you had to put the degree aside. Or, your priorities shifted to your family.

Regardless of the reason, you may be wondering if your graduate credit hours will transfer with you now that you’re ready to finish that degree.

Knowing what will transfer from one grad program to the next isn’t black and white. Every university will have their own unique policies. By understanding your options, you can maximize the number of credit hours that come with you—and reduce your chances of starting from ground zero.

Take this opportunity to understand the transfer process, consider some important questions, and ask your list of schools for their answers.

Will My Work from One Graduate Program Transfer to a Different Program?

The simple answer: maybe.

Transfer policies varies so much from one grad program to the other. It’s not like transferring undergraduate course credits. At an undergraduate level, some schools have active, partnering relationships that accept each other’s credits. Coursework for a 4-year degree is more broad in scope and is geared toward providing knowledge.

The standards in the graduate environment are much different.

In a graduate environment, coursework is focused on applying knowledge. The goal is to inspire students toward creatively using information and toward higher-level thinking and leadership. As a result, graduate work is more complex and varies much more from one school to the next.

That’s why graduate schools face a dilemma when considering credits from a different master’s program. It can be difficult to prove a student’s mastery in a subject when the two schools might define the subject differently.

What one school deems as important, or worthy of transfer credit, another school may dismiss as unqualified.

Let’s take a look at how that credit is evaluated to see how subjective the process can be.


Accelerate your completion time and lower your total tuition cost at every academic level. Download this free guide for tips on maximizing your transfer credit.


How is Master's Credit Evaluated for Transfer Potential?

Evaluating credit potential is in the hands of the faculty members at the school where you transfer.

This may be one person or a small group that evaluates your old coursework. It’s not as easy as matching class names up. According to Dr. Alex Heckman, Franklin University department chair of public administration and health programs, “Institutions differ in their willingness to transfer graduate-level credit. As faculty evaluate your previous coursework, they’ll primarily be looking at the content and the learning outcomes.” In the review, faculty members will ask some specific questions of each credit.

graphic describes the complexity of scoring a graduate transfer credit

Overall, the review panel will be looking for course content and standards that match the rigor of their own program; they’ll want to see a signature of quality standards, coursework and instruction. They’ll hope to see a similar breadth and depth of content as their own coursework.

What transfers exactly? Transfer credits, if accepted, will be brought to the new school without a designation of grade. It’s simply the hours that come over. So your GPA in your old program (even if it was a 4.0) will not affect the GPA in your new school.

TIP: Be organized. Before talking with your admissions officer, have as much information about your previous coursework as you can find. The course syllabus is particularly valuable. If you don’t have the syllabus, then bring everything you can find: the course description, the learning objectives and outcomes, the reading list, assignments, group projects, and maybe even the instructors and their qualifications.

Is There an Expiration Date on My Graduate Credits?

If your graduate-level coursework is more than 10 years old, it may not transfer.

It’s important for new master’s graduates to be ready to hit the ground running in today’s business world. When you graduate, your new program will want you to be a shining example of current standards in business, human resources or whatever your chosen field is. Keep in mind that some courses have content with a long-lasting shelf life, while other coursework must be frequently updated to meet new, current standards of knowledge. According to Dr. Heckman, “Some coursework becomes outdated quickly. For example, an 8-year-old computer programming course is unlikely to transfer, as much of the information has become outdated.”

TIP: If your previous graduate coursework is deemed too old to transfer, try this: ask if you can try to test out of any grad coursework either by an external testing company or by an internal review or test. If you get the green light, do some research, brush up on the subject and current trends, and test your way into those credits.

The testing service may cost you a fee, but it’s likely much less than paying tuition to re-take the subject

Are There Other Ways to Earn Credit for My Graduate Degree?

You didn’t get to be a graduate student by limiting your thinking—so don’t start now!

If you dig around, you will find a few other ways you can earn graduate credit without actually taking the course. Some schools will be open-minded on the subject; many will not. But you’ll never know unless you ask. Talk with your admissions advisor to see if the grad program of your choice will accept the following as transfer or earned credit:

  • Professional Training and Certifications. During the course of your career, you may have received job-related training or certification. It may have been computer certification, HR training, or other technical-related coursework you needed to stay current on the job. A certification such as a Certified Public Accountant might provide a student with credit for a course in budget planning and administration. If training courses you took were large enough in scope, these instructional gems just might turn the heads of an admissions advisor who is helping you plan your remaining master’s degree coursework. To earn credit, according to Heckman, a training course will have to be of very high quality and with a verifiable measurement of whether the material was mastered or not. Short training courses of just a few hours will not qualify; a general rule of thumb is that a course credit should involve about 40 contact hours. “There will be a higher bar set for training or certification courses because they were conducted outside the standards of a graduate school.”
  • Work Experience. After spending some time working, those years of career experience can really add up to a lot of practical knowledge. It isn’t unusual to think that 3 or 4 years of making in-person client presentations for a company might meet the criteria for a course in public speaking. All you have to do is find a school that’s open to the idea of offering credits for work experience. Seek out a graduate program that is willing to look at you as a whole person, and if you do, then be ready to demonstrate the specifics of how your work experience is the equivalent of taking the course at hand.

TIP: Master’s degree programs can vary considerably, so there’s really no one answer to transfer credit questions. You’ll get the best results if you actively partner with your top schools’ advisors and ask for details on their policies.

What Other Elements Should I Consider as I Choose a Transfer Program?

If you haven’t yet chosen the school where you’ll finish your master’s degree, then you have a powerful opportunity at hand.

For those schools on your short list, you can evaluate and ask about much more than just their transfer credit policies. By doing so, you’ll be more likely to find the best fit to make your master’s experience everything you want it to be.

graphic describes 5 key areas to consider when choosing a graduate program

Transfer Graduate Credits: The Solution

Accepting credits from just anywhere could dilute the strength of their program. As such, some graduate schools won’t accept any credits from other graduate schools. It’s just their policy. If you don’t want to or can’t afford to start from square one in your new school, you must take control of your situation and expand your options.

The most important thing you can do is to inform yourself and work with your school.

It’s not a simple process. The further you get with your education, the more specialized your coursework becomes. And, at the graduate level, it can be a challenge to transfer credits simply and quickly. However, with the kind of thinking expected from a talented graduate student, you can maximize transfer credits toward the completion of your degree.

Free Guide:
Maximizing Your College Transfer Credit
Learn the five things you need to know, at every academic level, to make the most of your transfer credit – including credits from technical/community college and military training.