Transferring Between Colleges
One topic that has, at least since 1989 when I started my recruiting career, always been a hot topic in the college admission game, is the transfer of students and credits from one institution of higher education to another. For a wide variety of reasons, students routinely take courses at more than one college before they graduate with their Bachelor’s Degree. Concurrent credit taken during high school, lower tuition costs, lower admission requirements, availability and delivery mode of course offerings (online, summer, etc.), perceived difficulty of the course, and changes in major, among others, are all common and appropriate reasons for taking courses at more than one institution.
Regardless of the reason for transferring the credits, the practice is common, and presumably, here to stay. There are, however, misconceptions on the part of some students and others who work with them, which can cause problems for either or both institutions AND the students themselves. My purpose in writing this column is to inform students and parents as to how best to go about using coursework from more than one institution to complete a Bachelor’s Degree. Seven things you should know are listed below:
1. Know the difference between credits transferring to and credits counting toward a degree at another institution. Most college credits transfer to other schools, and EVERYTHING you take at one school MUST be reported to all subsequent schools. Whether or not a course transfers to another school is not really what you want to know. You want to know if the faculty/advisor/program you are going to (your destination school) will count it toward your degree. For example, if you take college algebra at school A (and pass it), it will most likely transfer to school B. However, if you will be an engineering major at school B, it is unlikely that you will receive credit for it toward your degree because calculus is usually the first math course required of engineers.
2. If you know what you want to major in and where you plan to graduate, don’t ask anyone but someone from that department/school if a course from another institution counts. Faculty are constantly making changes and fine-tuning their programs to offer the best possible education in their discipline. Only those connected with that program will be aware of the latest changes and updates, and the best possible course selections. No matter how knowledgeable and/or well-intentioned the help from someone else, there is a greater possibility of errors. Faculty or academic advisors from your destination school’s program are the best source of this information. In addition, it gives you the opportunity to begin a relationship with your future home department before you actually get there.
An updated copy of the latest degree requirement sheet will answer many of your questions, but the advisor can help where things aren’t clear.
3. You need to know that community colleges are, first and foremost, in the business of graduating students with Associates degrees and preparing them for work in specific fields (after graduating from their institution). Their programs are often intended to fill needs within the local or regional community. Ensuring that every class you take at their institution transfers, and counts at your next institution, is NOT their highest priority. You have to be aware and involved so as to maximize the amount of “countable” credit you take with you to your next school.
If one of your goals is to graduate with an Associates Degree, you will need to take every class required for the Associates (obviously). If it’s not, you may not want to take everything that’s required. If you’re interested in getting out of school as quickly as possible, and don’t want to take ANY extra classes, you may not want to finish the Associate’s, choosing only to take whatever classes count toward your Bachelor’s degree. Articulation agreements (addressed below) are a way to avoid this problem.
4. Know that you MAY lose some credit hours when you transfer. It always amazes me when a student comes to see me about transferring from another college, and is at the same time either changing or declaring a major for the first time, that they are taken aback when I tell them not all of their classes count toward their degree. Even general education courses vary from degree to degree, and certainly from school to school.
5. When you are starting over at a new school – even if you knew how everything worked and where everything was located at your old school, even if you have 20 friends already going to the new school, even if you’ve gone to every football game and went to camp on that campus every summer since you were knee-high to a grasshopper, you will need orientation to your new school – even if you don’t want it. That may mean a class you are required to take, or it may mean you have to attend an orientation program when you enroll. Either way, go and don’t gripe about it. Know that the rules/processes/etc. will be different at your new school, and part of your job is to educate yourself on the new rules.
6. One way to ensure the smooth transfer from one institution to another, is to look for a school with an articulation agreement not only WITH your destination school, but INTO your specific program or major. An articulation agreement shows that the faculty at the two schools have gotten together and talked about required courses at both schools and put together an agreement as to which and how many classes from the Associate’s count toward the Bachelor’s. That way, you have an agreement stating exactly what you’ll get from completing their degree and moving on to finish at your destination school
7. If you plan to major in a subject at a particular school, DO NOT take any more coursework in that subject at another school than you absolutely have to. You chose the institution and major because of your confidence and belief in that institution’s ability to educate you and help you prepare for a successful career in that field. By taking major courses at another school, you are effectively saying you think the other school’s education is equal to that of your destination school – or the reduced cost is more important than the quality of education – or the course is easier at the other institution. None of those are statements you really want to make with your transcript to a future employer. Although credits look the same on a transcript as long as they transfer to your destination school, don’t think for a minute that accounting courses taught at a nationally recognized accounting program are the same thing as accounting courses taught at X Junior College. It’s just not the case.
Playing football with the New England Patriots is a lot different than playing with the LSU Tigers. Each is one of the best teams in their league, but everyone who knows anything about football knows the difference. The same goes for accounting (or whatever your major is).
With the right information and expectations going into the process, you should be better able to get what you want from the process of transferring credits from one school to another.
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