General Education

How to Maximize College Transfer Credit in 5 Easy Steps

How to Maximize College Transfer Credit in 5 Easy Steps
About 25% of college students end up transferring to a new school at least once—but that doesn't mean the decision is easy to make. Image from Unsplash
Daphne Whittaker profile
Daphne Whittaker November 20, 2019

Whether you're a college student looking to transfer, a dropout who wants to finish your degree, or a high school student looking to get ahead, here's how to maximize transfer credits.

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So your first college experience wasn’t what you thought it would be, and you’re ready to transfer to a new school? You’re not alone. About 25% of college students end up transferring to a new school at least once—but that doesn’t mean the decision is easy to make. Transfer credit is a top concern; after all, you don’t want to lose the semester’s worth of credits that you obtained. Good news; you don’t have to. Here’s how to make sure you transition with ease.

Step 1: Check out transfer policies

It seems like a simple step, but it’s often glossed over. There’s no need to lose hope without looking at the facts. For example, California State University – Fullerton accepts upper-level transfer students and allows them to use up to 70 credit hours towards their new degree plan, and that information is readily available in their Transfer Application Guide. Some schools, like Colorado State University, allow you to submit unofficial transcripts for evaluation, so you don’t have to make your transfer decision blindly.

Here’s a list of just a few of the schools that offer this kind of service:

Keep in mind that this is a cursory list, so check with an admissions specialist at your school of choice to see if you are able to have your unofficial transcripts evaluated.

Step 2: Transfer appeals

You’ve checked out transfer policies, had your unofficial transcripts evaluated, and now you’ve chosen your favorite school. Unfortunately, that school didn’t accept as many credits as you would have liked. Speak with the registrar’s office about the possibility of appealing to get more credits. Often they will ask you to submit the course syllabus from your previous school, so make sure you’re able to access those either through your school’s website or by contacting your professor.

Transfer appeals are never guaranteed, but if there’s a chance to save a few thousand dollars on tuition, it’s worth a shot.

Step 3: CLEP tests

Your transfer appeal didn’t go through, or maybe it did! Either way, you still want to finish school as fast as possible. The College Level Examination Program (CLEP) allows you to take exams to gain credit for college classes without having to go through and do all of the coursework.

CLEP tests come in a wide variety of subjects, ranging from American Literature to Calculus, with World Languages, History, Science, and Business in the mix as well. They sell study materials and give you tips on their website to help prepare you, but if you really want to make sure you’re ready, check out Modern States, a study program for CLEP exams developed by some of the top universities in the United States. The best part? It’s free. Not only are the prep classes free, but if you complete the prep class and pass the test, they’ll reimburse you the $89 test fee that the College Board charges for each CLEP test.

Always make sure that the CLEP tests you’re taking will transfer to your new school. That can typically be done by searching their website for a CLEP equivalency guide or by calling their office.

Step 4: Other transfer methods

You’ve already maximized the transfer credit from your first college, and you’ve taken a couple of CLEP tests, but you’re still not satisfied? You’re in luck because there are still other methods for earning credits quicker than you could in a traditional classroom. Currently, a number of schools partner with Straighterline, a website that lets you finish classes at your own pace, starting at $59. You’re still taking a college course, but you aren’t forced to take 16 weeks to finish.

  • Are you a busy professional with a life that got in the way of you finishing school? There are a number of colleges that allow you to earn credit for life and work experience, either by submitting professional certifications or creating portfolios tailored to individual classes.
  • Are you in the military, wanting to use your training towards a degree? Ask your college if they accept military transcripts, like Joint Services Transcripts, for evaluation. You may be surprised by just how many of them say yes.
  • Are you still in high school but wanting to get a jump start on transfer credits? Look into Advanced Placement classes and exams at your high school, as well as dual credit classes that partner with a university to provide you college credit. Depending on your score and the college you’re attending, you could get a significant amount of transfer credits even before you start college.

Step 5: Be a top dog on campus

You’ve done it. Exams, appeals, condensed classes, and portfolios are out of the way, and you’re sliding on into your new school like Tom Cruise in Risky Business (I personally suggest the addition of pants), with a renewed zeal for learning and time for a social life. Congratulations, my friend! Work hard, and rest easy. You’ve got this.

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Daphne Whittaker spent over two years as an admissions counselor at one of the largest universities in the world. Now, she uses her knowledge to help students of all ages and backgrounds get into and succeed in college.


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