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Can Old Undergraduate Credits Be Transferred Toward a New Online Degree?



I attended college twelve years ago and dropped out. I finished three years of college toward my four-year bachelor’s degree in business. Can I transfer all these old credits toward a new online degree?
—Tom, Maryland


Your old course credits will have to “fit” into any new college’s degree structure. Because no two colleges have identical degree requirements, the transfer process rarely results in a perfect fit.

But you’re smart to ask about transfer credits. 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 fifteen credits when you transfer to a new college, you’ve lost $2,250.

Five issues can affect your transfer credit standing. Before you enroll in any online college scrutinize each school’s policies on these issues.

Type of Accreditation

The most important factor in transfer credits is the accreditation of the college 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 accreditation: regional and national. The vast majority of degree-granting colleges in the United States that award the four-year bachelor’s degree are regionally accredited. Most online colleges are regionally accredited.

The most common problem online students encounter in transferring old credits is that these credits were earned at nationally accredited colleges and they now want to transfer them to a regionally accredited college.

However, most regionally accredited colleges do not accept 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. Ask about this specific policy before you enroll.

Transfer Grade Point Average (GPA)

GPA is short for Grade Point Average. Colleges 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 4 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 transfer all or none of your old courses that carry grades below a “C.”

Age of Course Credits: Demonstrating Currency

We’ve seen students successfully transfer courses completed fifty or more years ago. Most colleges do not place limits on the age of general transfer credits.

However, many colleges do have special rules that apply to degree majors. These special rules may limit the transfer of credits taken for classes within your major field ten years or more ago. These special rules are designed to make sure that knowledge in your major area of study is current. Predictably, these rules are called “currency” rules.

Currency rules affect students who major in any area where knowledge can quickly become outdated. Computer programming, for example, is a subject area where things have changed drastically in the last decade. English literature, on the other hand, is an example of a degree major where the knowledge base has not changed much over time.

Course Levels

College courses are designed 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). Courses that are commonly taken in either the junior (third-300) or senior (fourth-400) year, and which cover more advanced subjects, are termed upper level.

To earn a bachelor’s degree, colleges 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 distance learning colleges require that from half (60 semester credits) to one-quarter (30 semester credits) of your bachelor’s degree consist of upper level courses.

Residency Requirements

Regardless of how many credits you have already earned, almost all online colleges require that a certain number of credits be earned from them in order to earn a degree from them. This is called a “residency requirement.”

The standard residency rule in earning a bachelor’s degree is that you must take at least 30 semester credits (10 courses) from the college that is going to award your degree. This is one year of academic study.

A few colleges may insist that you take up to half your degree (60 semester credits) from them. Check “residency requirements” carefully before enrolling in any online bachelor’s completion program.

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