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Transferring Online College Credits: A How-To Guide for Students

It’s possible to transfer college credits earned from online study, but there are several crucial steps to take and questions to ask when moving your credits from one school to another. Learn how to transfer your online degree credits without losing any in the process.

Author: STEPS Staff
Editor: STEPS Staff

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A young woman and a young man look at an iPad together, discussing how to transfer online college credit.

Transferring colleges may seem risky, especially when you’ve earned some or all of your credits online. You’re afraid those credits won’t transfer to your new school or program, which would mean losing progress toward your ultimate higher education goal: graduation.

But transferring schools is far more common than you think. Thousands of students do it each year, and many of them have credits earned both on campus and online. Of course, some of those students lose credits during the move, but many don’t. Why? They’ve done their homework, and learned the steps you need to take to keep your credits intact and your college degree journey on schedule. This page breaks down what you need to know before, during, and after the transfer process, and demystifies the scary perception of moving your online credits from one college to another.

Transfer Glossary

  • ArticulationSimilar to transfer agreements, articulation agreements facilitate the smooth transition between schools, especially within the same university system. Within these agreements, students are guaranteed admission, and courses have direct equivalences between schools.
  • Core equivalencyThis term refers to the transfer of courses from one institution to another that fit within a new school’s core academic requirements for graduation. Specific schools and university systems create their own set of equivalency standards, so make sure to check with an advisor to see which courses would be considered equivalent.
  • Core waiverCore waivers allow transfer students to opt-out of specific courses within an institution’s core curriculum for particular circumstances. These waivers are given to learners who demonstrate various competencies through examinations, professional recommendations, or practical demonstrations.
  • Core substitutionsLike core waivers, core substitutions allow you to transfer earned credits to meet a core requirement regardless of whether it is a course equivalent. Transferring students typically submit a form to their new school’s registrar, who determines the validity of the request.
  • Degree auditA degree audit is used to evaluate a student’s academic progress. Often used as an advisory tool, this report shows you see what requirements you’ve met and the remaining coursework needed for graduation. This tool is especially useful when assessing transfer credits.
  • Quarter vs. semester transferCourses taken during a semester versus quarter differ in the number of instructional hours and required class meetings, but that doesn’t mean you can’t receive any credit for prior coursework. In these instances, institutions typically offer partial or split credit for classes completed at schools with different term lengths.
  • Transfer agreementTransfer agreements are negotiated partnerships between two colleges that guarantee transferable credits and offer additional benefits such as application fee waivers and scholarships.
  • Transcript evaluationThis is the process when a new school determines whether credits from a prior institution are transferable. While submitting official transcripts is required for admission into a new school, you may also need to fill out a transfer evaluation request form.
  • Transfer student scholarshipsEven though scholarships don’t always carry over to a new school, there are many scholarships available specifically for transfer students. Investigate the financial assistance options offered at your new school, along with national and regional scholarships for transfer students.

Reasons for Transferring

Whether they are academic or personal, there are endless reasons why transferring to a new school might be the change you need. We look at a handful of common reasons for transferring and provide some information that could help you transition and thrive in no time.

Change of Program

If your current school does not have any academic offerings you are interested in, transferring institutions may be a good option. Your program of choice may not exist, or in some cases, there may be a better program at another school that offers more career training opportunities.

If you’re seeking a change of program, make sure you do the legwork beforehand to ensure your new school offers an academic track that suits your specific needs. Take time to research different programs — contacting advisors and faculty along the way is a helpful way to get your foot in the door.

Move from 2-year to a 4-year School

Attending a community college is a common first step into the world of higher education, offering students a convenient and inexpensive way to begin a college career. Completing an associate degree is also a great way to knock out some general education requirements before entering a four-year degree program.

Stay up to date on any transfer and articulation agreements your two-year college may have with four-year institutions. These agreements can help ease the pain of the transfer process and increase the value of community college coursework.

Transfer to a Professional Program

Transferring online credits to a professional program is quite common, but it does have its own set of guidelines. Online professional programs are created as a fast-track towards a professional or advanced degree; therefore, most general education requirements must be transferable to prevent academic progress delays.

Knowing in advance the core requirements and transfer policies of a new school can allow you to plan accordingly, taking courses you know will be accepted and preventing the loss of college credits.

To Move from an Online to Campus School and Program

Moving from an online program to an on-campus environment is a normal process, but completing the transfer with the bulk of your credits can be challenging if you don’t do your research. Furthermore, it’s important to note that — whether you have online or in-person course credits — only credits from an accredited institution are accepted.

Articulation and transfer agreements should be considered as these are designed for your specific situation. Additionally, many online programs are directly affiliated with accredited institutions. Like all transfer situations, communication with current and future schools can help clarify any questions you may have.

Change from One 4-year School to Another 4-year School

College students can also transfer from one four-year institution to another. In most instances, like moving within a state university system, this process can be relatively straightforward. Articulation and transfer agreements offer an easy option for switching to a new school.

When transferring out-of-state or between public and private institutions, the transfer process becomes slightly more complicated. These types of transitions often result in fewer transferable credits, but if a new school mirrors your academic and personal needs, don’t let it stop you. Planning and communication with schools ahead of time reduce the rejection of certain course credits and allow you to plan your course load around classes you’re confident will transfer.

Transfer Checklist

Transferring schools can sometimes be a tricky process, but the checklist below can point you in the right direction. Although you do not have the final decision about which course credits will be accepted, there is a lot you can do to prepare yourself for a successful and seamless academic transfer.


Make sure your new school is accredited.

Schools that want to provide a high-value academic experience for students must receive regional accreditation. This not only guarantees an objective level of quality in the education you receive but opens up the opportunity for future academic work or additional transfers in the future. Accrediting bodies such as The Higher Learning Commission and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges work on behalf of students, putting their seal of approval on institutions that provide learners with an education meeting rigorous standards.


Check for reciprocities to save time and money.

Reciprocities often laid out as transfer or articulation agreements guarantee a smooth transition to a new school.If you’re transferring from a community college or a four-year institution, reciprocal agreements allow transfer students to successfully convert a large portion of earned credits from prior academic work. Each credit has a dollar value, and losing credits can be a painful loss of time, effort, and money. The value of transferable credits doesn’t vanish at the moment of transfer; work on the front-end to ensure you can transfer as many credits as possible and mitigate the time and money you spend.


Understand the costs of transferring.

Attending a new school, especially if you’re moving from a community college or an online program, can add additional costs to your academic experience. While a four-year institution’s price can be overwhelming, a simple cost-benefit analysis often reveals the real value of an educational experience. Financial assistance is always worth considering; loans, scholarships, grants, and work-study opportunities can play a pivotal role in offsetting college’s financial burden. At many institutions, there are scholarships specifically for transfer students. Do your research and reach out to your new school’s financial aid department for more information.


Be prepared for the application process.

As a general rule, most transfer applications don’t look much different from traditional, new student applications.That said, one significant difference depends on the number of credits you’ve accrued at your previous institutions. It is not uncommon for schools to ask you to complete a new student application if you’ve completed less than 24 transferable credit hours. This includes high school transcripts and standardized test scores. For students that have completed more than 24 credits, institutions will usually just ask for your official college transcripts along with a completed application.


Ask for a transcript audit.

This is a critical step tosecure the maximum number of transferable credits. After delivering your application, contact the registrar’s office at your new school and ask for an academic audit. This analysis of your prior work will dictate how many credits you can transfer. When laying out a transfer plan, it is worth the effort to communicate with both your current and future schools. If you know what courses will and won’t transfer in advance, it’s also wise to opt-out of classes that will not help you meet your general education requirements.


Based on the audit, determine if you will lose any time.

An audit can also play a large role in determining if a particular school is the right choice. If time and money are important considerations, transferring to a school with a reciprocal arrangement with your current institution could be a wise choice. That said, if a new school is chosen based on academic quality or prestige, you may find that it’s worth it to lose some credits in the short-term, benefiting from the choice in the long run.


If you disagree with the findings, ask if there is a petition process.

Most colleges and universities have a transfer petition process that allows students to question the exclusion of certain college credits. This formal process doesn’t require much more than completing an official form and submitting it to your academic advisor. Students may also be asked to also submit a syllabus with detailed educational content for the course in question. From there, the administration will examine the claim and determine if the course in question is transferable.


Make the move.

Whether transferring from an online program or a community college, moving to a new school is an exciting opportunity. Along with the adjustments to your daily life, this academic experience will undoubtedly come with unique challenges and requirements. Securing additional financial aid may be necessary though scholarships and work-study opportunities are often available. Upon admission, it is also valuable to engage with your advisor to ensure that you’re making the most of student life on campus. In addition to academic work, engaging with student and professional organizations can be a huge boost for future career endeavors.

Online Transfer FAQ

Q: Are online college credits transferable?

A: As long as your credits were earned at an accredited institution, online credits are transferable. While out-of-state and public-to-private/private-to-public transfers can make the transfer process a bit more complicated, coursework from accredited institutions will be considered. Schools with transfer and articulation agreements provide a smoother academic transition, allowing you to transfer a significant number of credits. However, when considering STEM courses with a lab component, some institutions have more specific requirements. It is also not uncommon for military and professional training to be considered for college credit.

Q: How do I transfer if I’m on financial aid?

A: Financial aid can get tricky when transferring to a new school. Federal aid, such as Pell Grants, do not automatically transfer — FAFSA information needs to be updated to reflect your new school information. Scholarships can also be affected by your decision to transfer. If a scholarship is determined by school or region, it could mean a loss of funding. Additionally, if a scholarship is awarded for a particular program, transferring to a different academic program may cause the scholarship organization to rescind your funding. That said, scholarships specifically designated for transfer students are common. You can always talk with a financial aid advisor who can assist and provide more information.

Q: How many online college credits can I transfer?

A: Four-year colleges generally accept up to 60 credits from community colleges and up to 90 credits from other four-year institutions. Students are usually required to complete the final 30 to 60 hours at their new institution to earn a degree. Coursework from regionally-accredited institutions is generally accepted as long as the transcript indicates a grade of “C” or better. Your transferred credits will appear on the academic transcript at your new school but will not have a bearing on your GPA at that institution.

Q: Are admissions requirements different for transfer students?

A: Depending on the amount of undergraduate work you’ve completed, transfer students’ application process can be relatively simple. If you already earned more than 24 credits, schools typically only ask for official transcripts and a completed application. For students with fewer than 24 credits, the application process may require high school transcripts and standardized test scores. Schools with reciprocal arrangements, especially within university systems, often offer a relatively simple transfer process while still requiring them to submit application documents.

Q: If I transfer, can I still graduate on time?

A: Transfer students regularly complete their undergraduate degrees in four years. That said, transferring can cause you to extend beyond the traditional four-year timeline for graduation. Depending on the academic and administrative circumstances of your transfer, it is not uncommon to lose some credits and not meet specific requirements at your new school. This added time and cost should be carefully considered before transferring.

Online College Credit Transfer Resources

ASSIST: Articulation System Stimulating Interinstitutional Student Transfer is a student transfer information site offering reports that allow students to see how credits earned at California community colleges can be applied when transferring to other state-run, four-year institutions.

Campus Tours: With in-person COVID-19 restrictions curtailing access to campus tours, this site is beneficial. Campus Tours offers an extensive database of digital campus tours, school maps, and simulated walking tours, giving prospective students a helpful visual when making transfer decisions.

College Board: Founded in 1900, College Board was created to expand access to higher education. This non-profit provides services from standardized test prep to college readiness plans.

CollegeSource Online: CollegeSource provides an online database of over 156,000 digital college catalogs, school profiles, and other school-specific resources. This can be an incredibly useful tool when navigating the transfer of college credits.

MITRANSFER: The Michigan Transfer Network is the central resource for Michigan students looking to transfer within the state university system and helps learners identify potential transfer credits.

NJ Transfer: NJ Transfer was created to help community college students through the process of transferring to participating four-year institutions within New Jersey. This site helps identify transferable credits while connecting students to schools within the system.

r/CollegeTransfer: This Reddit page is home to a broad set of useful discussions regarding college transfers. From thorough guides for transfer students to admissions essay help, this resource houses practical information and an open forum to ask important questions regarding the process.

TCCNS: The Texas Common Course Numbering System was created to implement a unified, consistent, and state-wide numerical system that catalogs college courses in Texas. This database allows students to quickly identify transferable college courses among public colleges in the state.

Scholarships for Transfer Students: The University of Tennessee at Knoxville provides an example of what you should look for when seeking to transfer student scholarships at your new college or university.

Transferology: Transferology is a national network created to assist students with college transfer opportunities. Pulling from a network of schools, the website answers essential questions and alleviates student concerns about the transfer process.