Sometimes students face unforeseen circumstances and need to take a break from their college studies. In other cases, students may earn their associate degree, embark on a career in their chosen path, and then return to pursue a bachelor’s degree to open up more and better-paying job opportunities. In other instances, a student may have earned their bachelor’s degree, but then want to earn a second bachelor’s or master’s degree to distinguish themselves within a related — or completely different — field.
Regardless of the situation, students often have questions around whether the college credits they’ve previously earned have expired or if those credits can count towards a different degree they plan to pursue. The ability to transfer previously earned college credits can help reduce the amount of time (and money) a student must spend working toward a new degree.
The good news is that, in most cases, college credits that have previously been earned may remain valid and do not expire. There are, however, some instances where certain types of courses and educational credits may have an expiration date.
We’ll cover the different scenarios where previously earned college credits can still be applied, as well as some of the common questions students have when considering returning to school.
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
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 because 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. On the flipside, nationally accredited schools are often more vocational or trade-based in nature, as opposed to more strictly academic institutions within the regionally accredited category.
It’s much easier to transfer college credits between regionally accredited schools. For instance, National University is a regionally accredited institution. So, if you have credits from another regionally accredited college or university, you may 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.
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 — some credits may have a more finite shelf-life. Typically, course credits within the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields 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.
Credits earned in a master’s degree program may also have a limited shelf-life. Graduate-level courses are typically steeped in methodologies to help students advance their education within their particular career path. Graduate course offerings are less broad and more focused on a particular facet of a discipline. Some of that information may become outdated if a student has a long layover between the time they put their graduate degree on the backburner and when they resume their studies. If you’ve taken longer than seven years to pick up where you left off, those credits may no longer be valid towards your master’s.
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. Again, 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 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 of applicants, or so former students can share their educational credentials with other schools to continue their education.
Resuming Your College Education
If you’re planning on going back to school to complete an unfinished degree program or earn a new certification or master’s degree, National University welcomes students from all backgrounds, educational levels, and walks of life. To get started, review our undergraduate admissions checklist or our graduate admissions checklist to see the path ahead. Have questions? Please feel free to speak with an admissions counselor to learn which credits can apply to your new degree program and how we can help you learn and achieve more.