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I attended college 12 years ago. I completed three years of my four-year bachelor's degree in business. Then I dropped out. Can I transfer these old courses toward online degree completion now? What should I look for in an online school to make sure I choose the most affordable and fastest route to degree completion online?
—Tom in Maryland
Yes, you can complete that degree online. Online programs will accept your old college credits in transfer toward a new online degree.
In fact, the vast majority of online bachelor's degree programs are degree completion programs. Degree completion programs assume students have already completed at least two years of college, an associate's degree or its equivalent. Since this is true in your case, many online degree programs are tailor-made for your situation.
However, not all online degree completion options will grant you the same amount of transfer credits.
Follow our tips to find the fastest route to online degree completion.
Online Program Completion — Check Credit Transfer Policies
Your old courses will have to "fit" into any new college's online degree structure or plan. Because no two colleges have identical degree requirements, the transfer credit process rarely results in a perfect fit.
You’re smart to worry and plan about transfer credits up front. Losing credits in transfer is like losing your wallet. If you paid $150 per credit for your old courses—a modest price—and you lose 15 credits when you transfer to a new college, you've lost $2,250.
Five issues will affect how your old college credits will transfer towards online degree completion.
Before you enroll in any online bachelor degree program, scrutinize each school’s policies on these issues to find the fastest degree completion plan for your situation.
5 Tips for Online Bachelors Business Degree Completion
1) Accreditation and Bachelor Degree Completion
The most important factor in transferring credits is the accreditation of the university where you took your courses. All colleges are not accredited; and among those that are, not all are equal in their accreditation.
There are two types of school accreditation: regional and national. The vast majority of degree-granting colleges in the United States that award the online bachelor's are regionally accredited.
Most online business schools are also regionally accredited.
The most common problem students encounter in transfer is that their old credits were earned at a nationally accredited college, and they now want to transfer them toward online degree completion at a regionally accredited college.
Most regionally accredited colleges do not accept online courses taken at nationally accredited colleges as the equivalent of their own.
A few regionally accredited online schools do accept nationally accredited credits in transfer. If your credits were earned at a nationally accredited college, ask about this specific policy before you enroll.
2) Degree Completion and Transfer Grade Point Average (GPA)
GPA is short for grade point average. Colleges, whether online or traditional, require a minimum GPA for admission and to earn a degree. Colleges take letter grades, such as a “C,” and assign a numerical value to them on a four-point (4.0) scale. They then add up these points and average them to get what is called a GPA.
Grade Point Scale
A = 4.0
B = 3.0
C = 2.0
D = 1.0
F = 0.0
Someone who has a 2.0 has a “C” GPA. Most colleges require a 2.0 transfer grade average for regular admission. A few may require a GPA in the range of 2.5 to 2.75 or a “C+" to "B-” average. All accredited colleges require a minimum 2.0 GPA to earn a degree.
You should be able to transfer old courses that carry a grade of “C” or better. Lower grades may not transfer. Depending on your cumulative transfer GPA, you may be able to get all or none of your old college credits that carry grades below a "C" to transfer.
3) Old Credits: Demonstrating Currency for Completion
We’ve seen online students successfully transfer courses completed 50 or more years ago. Most colleges do not place limits on the age of general transfer credits. So, if you took English Literature a decade or more ago, that type of course should transfer easily.
However, many colleges do have special rules that apply to degree majors. These special rules often limit the transfer of credits taken for classes within your major field—especially if these courses were taken 10 years ago or more. These special rules, known as "currency rules," are designed to ensure that your knowledge is "current" in your major or specialty area.
Currency rules affect students who major in any area where knowledge can easily become outdated. Computer information systems, for example, is a subject area where things have changed drastically in the last decade. Management, on the other hand, is an example of a degree major where the knowledge base has not changed much over time.
Be prepared to repeat some courses in your major area if your business specialty is one that is easily impacted by change. To determine if this rule might impact you, ask your degree completion adviser about "currency" policies and how they might impact your situation.
4) Bachelor Degree Completion: Upper Level Courses
College courses are taught on two levels. Courses that are introductory—designed to be taken in either the freshman or sophomore year—are termed lower level courses. These courses are numbered 100 (freshman) or 200 (sophomore) in catalogs and on transcripts. Courses that are commonly taken in either the junior (300) or senior (400) year, which cover more advanced subjects, are termed upper level.
To complete a bachelor's degree, online schools will require you to take a minimum number of upper level or junior/senior courses. You will be required to take most of these upper level courses in your major area. Most colleges require that from half (60 semester credits) to one-quarter (30 semester credits) of your bachelor's degree consist of upper level courses.
Many online degree completion programs require students to take ALL their major courses or at least a percentage from their course catalog.
5) Residency and Online Degree Completion
Regardless of how many credits you have already earned, almost all online schools require that you earn a certain number of credits from them before they will award a formal degree. This degree completion requirement is often called a “residency requirement.” This means a certain number of credits must be earned under their guidance and from their faculty while you are studying in their online program.
The standard residency rule for bachelor's completion online is that you must take at least 30 semester credits (10 courses) from the college where you will be completing your degree. This is one year of academic study.
A few online schools may insist that you take up to half your degree (60 semester credits) from them.
Check “residency requirements” carefully before enrolling in any online degree completion program.
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Vicky Phillips was cited in 2009 by US News & World Report as "for 20 years the leading consumer advocate for online college students." In 1989 she designed America's first online counseling center for distance learners on AOL. In 1998 she authored the first print guide to online graduate degrees, Best Distance Learning Graduate Schools put out by the Princeton Review. In 2001 she authored Never Too Late to Learn the Adult Student's Guide to College. She oversees the best online college rankings and reviews for GetEducated.com.