Community college course credit can save you a lot of money, but understanding how your credit will transfer to a four-year school can be confusing. Learn all about the process and some steps you can take to help insure you get the most credit for your hard work!
An increasing number of students choose community college as a cost-effective first step towards a bachelor's degree, completing anywhere from a few courses over the summer up to two years' worth of classes. In fact, according to a study conducted by the National Student Clearing House and Inside Higher Ed, 45% of the graduates completing their bachelor's degree in 2010-2011 had taken one or more community college courses at some point during their academic career!
But what happens when it's time to transfer to another institution? How do you find out if your hard-earned credits will transfer?
What Is Transfer Credit?
Before we go any further, let's talk more about transfer credit. Technically, transfer credit is the submission of prior learning (classes or credits) from one institution and acceptance for credit by another institution. In this case, credits taken at community college could be worth credits towards comparable classes at the new institution. Your credits will remain at the community college forever, but the new school will add classes to your transcript from their school. In theory, you could transfer your community college credits to any number of different schools, should you find yourself moving around.
The Facts about Transfer Credit
The first question you may be asking is, What? Of course they'll transfer! I passed the classes! Good for you! Unfortunately, the first thing to understand is that transfer credit is complicated. There are no set rules and there are no easy answers. And unless the two schools have an articulation agreement (an established agreement between the schools specifying admission and transfer details), the school may or may not accept your credits. And even if they do, the transfer credit you receive may not be exactly what you expected.
Transfer credits are usually only granted for formal course work that could lead toward a degree.
In other words, remedial classes (those needed to get your skills up to par before taking an entry-level class) and courses designed specifically for continuing education credits (CEUs) are typically not eligible for transfer. Also, while your community college may have given you class credit for College-Level Examination Program (CLEP), Advanced Placement (AP), or International Baccalaureate (IB) testing, your four year school may or may not accept those for transfer credit.
Every school evaluates, accepts, and declines credits according to their own rules. And things get even trickier when the two schools involved work on different schedules (trimesters vs. semesters) or when one school is on a 4-credit system vs. a 3-credit system. Classes have different names and content at each institution, so while the names of two courses may be similar, the content may be very different. It's easy to see why this becomes so complicated!
So then, how exactly does this work?
The Credit Transfer Process
The best way to begin the process is to ask before registering for classes. There are certain classes (usually 100 and 200 level general education classes in English, math, history, and psychology for example) that have common content and expectations, so they are more likely to transfer.
Remember, you don't have to wait until you are accepted to have your transfer credits evaluated - it may be a critical part of your school selection process. Complete the necessary paperwork at your perspective school and have your community college send transcripts. Transfer credit review is typically done by the Registrar, and their office makes the final decision, although it may vary from school to school.
Once you have applied and been accepted to your new school, you will finalize the process. When it is time to actually transfer your credit, the most important step is to realize that you must petition to have your credits transferred to your new college! Unless the two schools have an articulation agreement and you are part of the program, you must initiate the process yourself.
The Review Process
Here are the basics steps a school will follow when evaluating a class for transfer credit. Keep in mind, all schools do this a little differently and have their own evaluation criteria.
They may ask the following questions:
- What school is the credit coming from? What is their accreditation? Is there an articulation agreement in place between the schools?
- Is this a course, CLEP, AP, or IAB? (Each school evaluates and accepts them differently)
- What level is course? (Lower level courses are more likely to transfer)
- Based on the course content and level, is there a comparable course offered? (General education courses are much more likely to transfer than specialized subjects)
- What grade did the student earn in the course? (Different schools require different levels of performance to earn transfer credit - most require a C)
- How many credits were awarded?
A decision will be rendered: no credit, equivalent hourly credit (with adjustment made for differences in credit structure between schools), credit as a prerequisite or as a waiver of requirement but no hourly credit issued. Sometimes a school will waive a required class due to transfer credit, but you will not actually receive hours towards graduation.
Typically, only the course and credit will transfer - not the grade you earned. So, transfer credits have no effect on your grade point average (GPA) - good or bad. The details of the transferred class (date completed and grade earned) may stay in your student record, but it will only be for reference.
Steps to Success
There are two important things you can do to help maximize your credit transfer. The first is to plan ahead!
The earlier you can make choices about both community colleges and four-year schools you might attend, the more time you have to ask questions. Sometimes the answers you receive to these questions directly impact your final choices for schools. After all, no one wants to spend all the time and money to take classes that don't transfer!
The second is to ask questions. Never assume anything - especially with the credit transfer process. It is more complex than it may appear. It's always better to send an email or make a phone call to verify information than to be unpleasantly surprised after it is too late.
Here are some other steps you can take to maximize your credit transfer:
- Plan Ahead! (Just want to make sure you got it!)
- Choose and contact both community colleges and transfer schools before making decisions and selecting classes. Some schools are known for accepting transfer students: U.S. News & World Report publishes a list.
- Find out what transfer agreements your prospective schools have - and make sure you understand the steps to become part of the program (Sometimes you must sign-up to participate)
- Develop a relationship with either the Transfer Adviser (if your school has one) or the admissions department at both schools you plan to attend
- Choose a major as early as possible to ensure you are taking classes you can use down the road
- Consider completing an Associate's degree before transferring. It can often make the transition easier if you already have a degree!
- Look to the web for help. There are sites specifically designed to help navigate the transfer process. Check out transferology.com and collegetransfer.net. Both sites offer great resources on credit transfer.
Community colleges are great resources, and more and more students are utilizing them to complete courses, earn credit, and save money. By planning ahead and following a few simple steps, you can help insure your hard-earned credits will transfer.