“How can I make sure this class will transfer later?” is often asked and “Contact the college” is typically advised. Unfortunately, that’s terrible advice! If you want to get as close to certain as possible, I can teach you what you need to know in about 15 minutes.
KNOW THIS: Limitations of being a Pre-prospective Student
First things first, you have to know your place in the college’s hierarchy. The students who get accurate answers from the registrar or an academic advisor are enrolled students. These are people who are paying money and earning a degree. The very limited resources are going to go to those students first (and when you’re in that place, you’ll be happy to get first dibs). The next lower tier are the prospective students. These are usually 12th graders who have an application on file with the college, have possibly met with the college, and are in the decision making phase. These students have access to admissions and marketing services. Finally, the lowest tier are the pre-prospective students (that’s probably your teen). These students are browsing, considering, and pondering. These students might get access to admissions reps and the occasional phone person, but under no scenario will anyone at the college ever promise your pre-prospective student that course X taken today will count towards a degree in a few years.
Pro Tip: just because the college answers the phone, that does not mean you’re getting the best answer. In my decades of doing this work, I can promise you that it is easier, faster, and more accurate for YOU to learn credit transfer protocol for yourself than trusting a random “the college told me” employee.
6 Disqualification Filters
There is no way for you to learn if or how every class will be accepted in a specific university. The college doesn’t even have this information. Most classes have to be evaluated when they are received for the first time from a student with a transcript for review. In many cases, this will be YOUR TEEN. What is accepted is complex, but what disqualifies a class is cut and dry, so let’s look at those first and figure out if your teen’s potential course will be disqualified.
Pro Tip: There is no such thing as a perfect plan. Sometimes courses that have no reason to be disqualified still are. To be fair, the colleges don’t love transfer credit – they would much rather you paid them and took the courses with them. Still, it’s worth doing. The risk of losing a few credits is worth the enormous gains (financial and time) that your teen gets by having most of their resourcefully planned credits accepted.
Disqualification is the key. It really is THAT is easy, and if you sent me an email asking for my personal assistance, this exactly what I would do with you. You must start by looking for any reason a course might be disqualified.
1. Is the class taught by a university or college?
If yes, proceed to #2. If no, this course may be disqualified.
WHY? Many businesses offer classes “for college credit,” but are not colleges, so their credits are only worth potential college credit. When courses are evaluated by a third party companies like the American Council of Education (ACE) or NCCRS, an extra step on your part is required. To guarantee transfer, the business and college must have a partnership either to accept credits of this type (“we accept ACE credit”) or from this business (“we accept AP exams”). To proceed to step #2, visit the college credit business’s website and locate a list of their partnerships. If your college is there, then send an email toyour college’s Registrar asking them to confirm that the partnership is current.
2. Is the university or college accredited by one of these 7 accreditors?
- Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
If yes, proceed to #3.
If no, this course is disqualified.
WHY? Those 7 accreditors (also called Regionally Accredited, or RA) are important to the transfer process. College credit earned at a college that is NOT regionally accredited (RA) almost never transfer into colleges that ARE regionally accredited. Public community colleges and universities ARE always regionally accredited. Non RA colleges can be legitimate schools with different accreditation, but in answering the question about college credit earned in high school, only choose RA courses. Check accreditation for any college here: U.S. Department of Accreditation Database
3. Can regular college students (not dual enrollment) pay for this course using financial aid?
If yes, proceed to #4.
If no, this course might be disqualified.
WHY? Though you can’t use financial aid in high school, courses that don’t qualify for financial aid are probably either “continuing education” or “professional development.” These types of classes may be offered through a college, if they fail the financial aid test, that’s a good indicator that they are non-transferable. (Extension colleges at universities sometimes fall into this category, so you’ll need to dig deeper) Pro Tip: If you call the college to ask about the class and are directed to anyone other than “admissions” this is a red flag and you may be looking at a non-transferable course.
4. Locate the name of the department offering the course. Is this course part of a degree program that leads to an award with the letters AA, BA, AS, or BS?
If yes, proceed to #5.
If no, this course might be disqualified.
WHY? AA, BA, AS, and BS degrees/awards contain courses intended to transfer, specifically general education courses. If this course is part of a program or credential with a different name like Certificate, Diploma, Associate of Applied Science, Associate Occupational Science, or any degree with the word “Technology” in the title, the transfer is less certain. The course you’re considering is possibly considered career training or career and technical – two categories that don’t transfer well. The default here is that the course is disqualified unless you can find a reason (like a transfer agreement) for it not to be.
5. Is the course’s alpha-numeric 100 or higher?
Example: in “ENG101” you’ll look at the number “101.”
If yes, proceed to #6.
If no, this course might be disqualified.
WHY? The majority of colleges use 100-400 numbers to indicate level. Courses under 100 level (085, 060, etc.) are probably “developmental” or “leveling” and not eligible for college credit. A handful of colleges have their own numbering system that looks nothing like this one (ENG09T), but are still ok to transfer, so this doesn’t always work. If it looks like the college uses an unusual number system, contact the college for clarification on the course level for the course(s) you’re considering. If the course is “freshman” level or higher, that is the same as 100 or higher and you can proceed to #6.
6. Does this course appear in the college’s list of approved general education courses?
General education courses are the courses “all students” take prior to taking courses in their major. It’s intentionally “general” in that it provides the student with a wide range of knowledge. General education courses are the most likely to transfer, so choosing courses from these subjects gives you a better chance than choosing subjects outside this list. If you do have a target college in mind, you can check their general education list and compare the course your planning against their list.
Typical Considered General Education Subjects
English, Literature, Communication, Math, Natural Science, Physical Science, Foreign Language, Humanities, Art, Music, History, Behavioral Science, Ethics, Cultural Diversity.
Typically NOT Considered General Education Subjects
Accounting, Allied Health, Aviation, Business, Computer Science, Culinary, Education, Engineering Technology, Finance, Fire Science, Library Science, Management, Marketing, Nursing, PE or Fitness, Real Estate, subjects with “Technology” in the title, or anything leading to a career certificate.
If you made it this far, the courses you’re considering should be good! There are a few more opportunities you can consider if you really want an edge in the transfer process.
- PUBLIC: Public colleges and universities are transparent in the credit acceptance policy. Students choosing public colleges are almost always at an advantage. Sometimes public college systems are required to adopt a “state” policy around credit transfer, and this is often publicly accessible. The downside is that they may not have the authority to make exceptions.
- PRIVATE: Private colleges are unpredictable and can do what they want. While planning is harder, they always have the authority to make exceptions, so if a course is denied, you should press for an appeal.
- ARTICULATION AGREEMENTS: An articulation agreement is a written transfer agreement between two schools that guarantees your credits, courses, or degree will transfer. Using an articulation agreement is a great strategy to save money and avoid hitting the unfortunate snags that come from failed credit laundering.
- STAY HERE PAY HERE: If your student is taking college classes in high school from the college where they also plan to earn a degree, then you’re in the best possible situation because you can get course planning advice directly from the college!
- EXPIRATION DATES: Occasionally, some colleges will put “expiration dates” on hard sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, etc.) and technology (Intro to Computers, computer science, computer languages, etc.). If you’re still 3+ years away from high school graduation and you expect at least one of your teen’s target colleges has this policy, your best bet is to choose non-science and technology courses now (English, social science, humanities, math) and wait for the 11th grade or later before taking hard sciences or computer courses.
- SEQUENCES: When a course has a “1” or “2” in the title, it is part of a sequence. A college is more likely to accept a completed sequence than an broken one. In other words, taking General Chemistry 1 with Lab and General Chemistry 2 with Lab is a better strategy than taking only Chemistry 1 or Chemistry 2.
- COMMON COURSE TITLES: If you browse a dozen college catalogs, you’ll see common titles offered at most of them. Introduction to Psychology, for example, is probably offered at every college in the country. As such, common course titles are more likely to transfer because they “match” a course at the receiving institution.
- NAMED vs ELECTIVE: if your target college is asking for “a humanities course” that is a flexible requirement and can likely be met by any one of a thousand courses. If the target college is asking for “Art of the Western World” that is a named course requirement and probably must be met by a course covering a very specific scope and sequence. It will be much harder to transfer in a named course.
- GRADES: Many colleges accept transfer credit for credit only (no grade) but still require the student to earn a specific letter grade. (B or better, C or better, D or better, etc.). Students earning an A or B in a course improve their chances of transfer greatly.
- TRANSFEROLOGY: One product some colleges buy, is a subscription into the website database Transferology. This is a third-party site that allows colleges to upload course matches. The reliability of this tool is very low for three reasons. (1) this is an optional product/service and only a small percentage of colleges join. (2) belonging to the database is expensive. (3) the college must dedicate manpower to update and maintain the list of courses. (4) it is historical, which means it only includes courses from colleges that have already been evaluated. (5) it is not predictive, meaning it can’t tell you how a course will be evaluated for your specific major during your enrollment year. Transferology can be referenced for insight, but can’t be used as evidence that credit will be accepted.
- WIKIs: Often parents and students will create a wiki page, or open-source document that each can contribute to and use as a guide. If the wiki is current, it can be a good way to gather insight, but can’t be used as evidence that credit will be accepted.
- COLLEGE TRANSFER TOOLS: While colleges always offer a disclaimer regarding accuracy, if the college produces to transfer tool, it should be considered highly credible.