Do My Old College Credits Expire?

Do My Old College Credits Expire?
Beth Dumbauld

Do college credits expire? The short answer is, "It depends." The  real answer requires greater detail to completely explain. In general, the types of courses you took all those years ago determines transfer eligibility.

Those general education or core curriculum courses you took and passed as far back as the 70s are more likely to transfer with little or no trouble. Core curriculum classes include English, History, Art, Humanities, Science and basic Math classes. The basics usually don’t change much. The course outcomes—what you learn or are expected to know by the end of the class—are generally the same from school to school.

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Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses are a little trickier. In general, if your STEM classes are older than 10 years, they might not transfer. Here are some specific reasons why:

  • Technology keeps advancing and changing rapidly. Year-to-year, STEM disciplines are discovering new concepts, processes and techniques. The knowledge also changes to keep pace with research and development confirmations in medicine, biotechnology, engineering and computer science, to name just a few industries.
  • Most schools that offer STEM classes have to consider their academic reputations, timeliness and course quality when trying to recruit students, so the ability to keep pace with changing technology in courses is critical for giving graduates the best possible chances of getting jobs when they receive their degrees.

If you have taken STEM classes within the last several years, work closely with the admissions office of the school you are transferring to by providing a complete transcript of every STEM course you've completed. It's up to each school to decide whether they will accept yours. In addition, if you are shifting from getting a degree in English Literature to Mechanical Engineering, you might not have enough core courses to complete the new degree. Review all courses in the particular degree program you want to transfer to and see how many core curriculum courses you may need to still complete.

The mix of courses you've completed, how long ago you took those courses, and the school you are applying to will combine to determine if the credits will transfer.

Who Typically Transfers Courses?

Here at StraighterLine, the most frequently asked question by our returning students is if their college credits expire. They last attended college years ago—as long as 30 years ago—and because they're budget conscious, one of the ways our students look to save money is figuring out how many of their earned college credits are still valid.

There are many reasons to go back to school later in life. Being laid off, wanting to pick up new knowledge and skills or just to complete a degree that was started then stopped are just a few reasons why StraighterLine students take college courses. Life events, such as having children or caring for family members who are in poor health or may need constant in-home attention, are other reasons why college degrees were not completed over the years.

In many cases, our students have relocated from one part of the country to another, so going back to the original college or university they attended may not be an option. For others, the degree program they want to complete may no longer be available at their original college.

How to Transfer College Credits

Doing your homework on the new college as well as organizing and preparing your credit transfer package will make the transfer process smoother.

  • Start by going online and researching the university's website and your preferred program. You may be able to make a high level assessment of how many college credits will transfer by comparing what's in your transcript to those listed in each degree program Web page.
  • Next, review the admissions office requirements. Although there might not be a lot of specifics, you should be able to get a general idea of the credit transfer process. Be prepared to call or email the admissions office with a complete set of questions. Take notes when you speak with an admissions officer to get as much information as possible.
  • Follow the admissions office process and guidelines for submitting your past college courses to them. A complete transcript is critical to help the evaluator determine how many courses successfully transfer.

 Other Considerations for Transferring College Credits

Although all colleges and universities accept other course credits, there are other considerations to understand:

  • The new college might also ask you for the syllabus of any previous course you've taken, so be prepared to submit this information if requested. You may need to contact the faculty or program office at your old school to get this information. Call or email the appropriate person or organization and explain why you're requesting this information.
  • If you've taken more than 200 credit hours, be aware that many universities and colleges limit the number of credits you can transfer. A general rule is that 180 hours or two years’ class work may be the maximum amount for transferring to a four-year college. Two-year colleges might limit you to 80 hours’ total. Ask the admissions office how many you can expect to transfer when you're applying to attend their school.
  • Are you transferring from one state school to another within the same state? If so, your chances of having all of the core curriculum courses move over are much greater. But be aware that higher level, degree-specific classes may not always transfer, so work closely with the admissions office to determine which courses you may need to retake.

Consider Course Equivalency When Transferring College Credits

As you research the college or university admissions requirements, you need to consider course equivalencies. Course equivalency is broadly defined as those classes that are equal or similar to, or those that require more work to be equal or similar to, one at a receiving higher education organization. There are two types:

  • Unilateral—the sending university's course is equal to the receiving university's course.
  • Bilateral—the receiving and sending college agree that each other's courses on the same topic or subject are equivalent.

The equivalency acceptance criteria, requirements and process vary from school to school, state to state or region to region.

If the new college doesn't have many equivalencies, consider it from their viewpoint: they want to prepare their students to successfully complete higher level courses and be very competitive in the job market with their degrees, so the school you want to transfer to might require you to gain the same credits again, either through taking their version of the class or allowing you to complete a placement exam to gain credit specifically from that university.

Your College Credits May Not Expire, But They May Not Count as Core Curriculum

During your research to transfer your college credits, be sure to find out if those core curriculum courses in your transcript count towards your major requirements or if they are considered elective courses. This isn't necessarily bad news because you can knock some off your list of courses to complete at your new school. Some schools may require you to take a placement exam to see how much you've retained on a topic to give you credit for taking the class years ago. The admissions office will make a list for you.

Non-Accredited School Course Credits

Difficulty arises, however, if you've taken classes from non-accredited schools. Be sure you get the accreditation status of your former school when you apply to the new college. Although those courses may not be accepted, you won't know until the admissions office has reviewed them and made a decision, so list them in your transcript.

College credits never really expire; it's more a case of whether or not legacy courses can stand the test of time and transfer from one university to another. Core curriculum courses have a higher successful transfer rate, but STEM classes really need to transferred quickly once completed in order to be considered relevant for a degree program.

Thoroughly research the new college's admission and credit transfer process. Develop a relationship with someone in the admissions office. Be sure you have your complete transcript and any other support documentation to submit, which will increase your chances of getting more credits transferred sooner.

The total number of college credits that transfer really depend upon the course subject, school admission and transfer policies, as well as the specific degree program you want to complete.

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