Have you already earned your degree, and are now thinking about going back to school? If the answer is yes, you should strongly consider transferring as many of your old credits as possible. Depending on certain factors, which we’ll review throughout this guide, you may be able to transfer college credits from your previous degree program. That means you can satisfy course requirements and graduate from your new program faster, enabling you to save time and money while getting an earlier start on your career goals.
But when do college credits expire? After five years? What about after a decade? How long are college credits good for if you were a STEM major? And how does a college or university’s accreditation status impact your ability to transfer credits? We’ll answer all of these important FAQs in this guide to transferring college credits.
Do College Credits Expire After 5 Years?
The short answer is “no.” Most credits do not have an expiration date. Many credits, particularly core courses (such as composition, English, or language arts-based courses and history courses), may be able to be applied to a new degree program. Core course credits from different colleges or universities may also be applied, provided those credits were earned at a regionally accredited school and are transferred to another regionally accredited or nationally accredited college or university.
Transferring Credits Between Nationally and Regionally Accredited Schools
Before we discuss the rules for transferring credits between nationally and regionally accredited schools, first, let’s review some basic differences between these two systems of accreditation.
Nationally accredited institutions tend to be for-profit and/or oriented toward vocational or trade-based programs. By comparison, regionally accredited institutions are typically state-owned or non-profit academic institutions. According to EdSmart, regional accreditation is “a voluntary process that self-regulates the higher education industry” — and, as EdSmart also points out, “Regional accreditation is older and more prestigious than national [accreditation], except in a few cases.”
National accreditation is awarded by a variety of agencies, such as the National Architectural Accrediting Board, whereas regional accreditation is awarded by one of six agencies that are dedicated to serving specific geographic areas. For instance, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) awards accreditation in American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii, and California.
So now that you understand the difference between regionally and nationally accredited institutions, how does transferring credits between these two systems work?
Transferring Credits Between These Two Systems
While nationally accredited colleges and universities often accept credits from both regionally and nationally accredited schools, regionally accredited schools only accept credits from other regionally accredited institutions. The reason for this is that regionally accredited schools are reviewed by a specific, regional governing body that evaluates a school’s curriculum and makes sure it’s up to the rigorous academic standards of that governing body.
It’s much easier to transfer college credits between regionally accredited schools. For instance, National University is a regionally accredited institution, meaning if you have credits from another regionally accredited college or university, you would likely be able to transfer those credits to a degree program at National University. However, if you’d earned those credits at a nationally accredited university, they may not successfully carry over.
College credits can be transferred across state lines, too. For instance, the geographic location of your former institute of higher learning may have been located in New York, but you may be resuming your academic career at a school such as National University in California. There is no time stamp on how long college credits last in California. Rather, if you’ve attended a regionally accredited school anywhere in the country, you can transfer those credits to a college or university in a completely different state.
Can College Credits Earned Online Apply to a Different School?
Yes, college credits earned in an online setting can certainly be carried over to a different school — provided they were earned at a regionally accredited institution, as the previous section of this guide discussed.
National University is a regionally accredited institution that offers a wide variety of graduate and undergraduate online degree programs, from bachelor’s degrees in history and cybersecurity to master’s degrees in accounting and education. Our accrediting agency is the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, or WASC, which you can learn more about here. NU has been WASC-accredited since 1977, demonstrating nearly half a century of commitment to academic excellence.
Along with our convenient and flexible online programs, National University’s status as a WASC-accredited institution makes it easy to transfer old credits — and explore new career paths. Whether you’re drawn toward the arts and humanities, science and technology, medicine and psychology, business and economics, or a totally different field, you’ll find an accredited online or on-campus program that aligns with your interests and goals at NU. You can also transfer your credits from NU to other regionally accredited schools, giving you plenty of freedom to explore additional programs in the future.
Use our program finder to explore our degree offerings, or talk to one of our admissions counselors about how to apply and transfer your credits to National University.
Transferring College Credits After 10 Years or More: How Long Do College Credits Stay Valid?
“How long are college credits good for?” “How long do college credits stay valid?” These are common questions among people considering a return to school after having spent some time away from the classroom.
While the easy answer is that most college credits for core courses will stay valid for years — or even decades — certain types of credits may have a more finite shelf-life. Here’s how long you can generally expect your college credits to remain valid, depending on whether they were obtained from STEM-related courses, graduate-level courses, or core/required coursework.
How Long Are My Credits from STEM Courses Valid?
Typically, course credits within the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) expire within 10 years after the time they were earned. Due to ever-evolving technological and scientific advances, information learned in the STEM field more than a decade ago may be rendered obsolete and require students to rebuild a foundation grounded in newer practices before moving forward. So, if you took STEM-related courses over 10 years ago, be forewarned that they may not necessarily be able to be applied to your new college or university degree program.
It’s always a good practice to check with your admissions office to find out whether or not any of these courses may be able to be transferred. Contact NU’s admissions office.
How Long Are College Credits from Core Coursework Good For?
Unlike graduate or STEM-related credits, which respectively expire after seven or 10 years, the credits you earned by completing core courses will generally remain valid regardless of how much time has passed. This category includes courses that satisfy general education requirements, with examples that include (but are not limited to) English, algebra, psychology, anthropology, art, music, and languages.
Can I Get College Credit for Work or Life Experience?
While some courses do have an expiration date, the upside is that, if you’ve worked in a field related to your desired degree program, you may be able to earn college credits in exchange for your work or life experience in that field. Consult with your college or university’s admissions team to learn if you may be able to leverage recent field experience for college credit.
How to Find Out How Many College Credits You Have
If you’re planning on resuming your college career, picking up where you left off with one degree, or pursuing a brand new one, you should find out how many college credits you have that can be applied to your new degree. To find out how many college credits you have, you’ll need to contact the college or university you last attended and request a transcript. You can then share this information with any new schools you are applying to and see how many credits they will accept.
Most colleges and universities have a web portal or form that offers digital transcripts to students, and former students can also use it to request transcripts. There is usually a small processing fee for requesting college transcripts (ranging between $3 and $10). It can take between 24 and 48 hours to receive a digital transcript (if requested) and one week or longer if a school needs to mail a student a hard copy of their transcripts. If you request a hard copy of your transcripts, your college or university may also tack on shipping costs in addition to processing fees.
How Long Do Colleges Keep Transcripts?
College transcripts do not expire and schools are obligated to maintain transcripts for all students who have enrolled in and attended their institution — regardless of whether or not that student graduated. Whether you last attended a school six months ago or more than two decades ago, you are able to request access to your permanent academic records from any school you’ve attended. Colleges and universities maintain these records so that employers can verify a person has the educational background necessary for applicants, or so former students can share their educational credentials with other schools to continue their education.
How to Transfer College Credits
If you are ready to start applying to programs and transferring your credits. Below, you’ll find a brief overview of the initial steps to take if you’re interested in transferring credits to National University, along with some additional links and resources to help you advance on your academic journey.
- Contact the NU admissions office. Get dedicated support from one of our friendly enrollment counselors, who can provide you with detailed program information and walk you through every step of our requirements for transferring your old credits. NU Admissions office.
- Determine how many of your credits are transferable. There are various resources to help you determine how many of your credits will transfer, including our credit transfer calculator. Our admissions office is also here to help if you run into any questions or issues!
- Obtain copies of your transcripts. You’ll need to obtain a copy of your transcripts from the college or university you graduated from, then submit your transcripts to NU following our submission requirements.
- Apply to NU online. It’s easy to submit your application to National University online. Once your application has been received, we’ll contact you regarding the next steps — and help you determine how many of your credits are transferable. Apply Online here.
For a deeper, more detailed dive into this topic, you may be interested in exploring our articles on how to transfer college credits to National University, what you should know before transferring old course credits, or whether it’s possible to transfer online credits. You may also wish to review our rules and requirements for undergraduate transfer students, browse our informational guide for graduate transfer students, or simply reach out to our admissions office for one-on-one support.
Resuming Your College Education
Resuming your academic journey might not be as hard (or as costly) as you think — especially if you already have college credits from a prior degree program. Transferring credits will help you to meet some of your new program’s requirements, without having to spend time and money revisiting skills you’ve already mastered or knowledge you’ve already learned.