The road to a college degree isn’t always a straight line from Point A to Point B. Every year, more than one-third of undergraduate students discover they made a wrong turn when deciding where and how to pursue a degree and move from one college to another, while another 30% will drop out completely. Still others interrupt their studies to fulfill military service. But progress made toward a degree doesn’t have to be left behind when you are ready to continue your pursuit of higher education at National University.
Understanding how many college credits you need to graduate is a critical first stop on the journey toward graduation — and keeping the credit you have already earned can help jump start your progress.
College credits are used to measure a student’s progress toward completion of a degree in a particular field of study. Unfortunately, not every institution awards these credits in the same way or even operates on the same schedule. National University credits are awarded in quarter units, and 189 are needed to earn a bachelor’s degree. The academic year is divided into four 12-week quarters, each comprised of three one-month classes, one class per month, as opposed to the semester system many other universities follow. With only a few exceptions, each class is 4.5 quarter units.
“It can be a little confusing when you switch to the month-to-month format,” says National University Academic Advisor Elyse Houlgate. National students can take eight classes a year and still be considered a full-time student in the eyes of the financial aid office, she says. The quarter system allows more options for students to reconvene their studies once they decide to return to school, but Houlgate says the system has other benefits, as well.
“The nice thing is, it’s an accelerated program. Students can finish their programs faster if they are keeping up with their coursework,” Houlgate says. And the more quickly a degree is earned, the more quickly it will likely pay off in the form of higher rates of pay and expanded job opportunities. Houlgate also says there can be a psychological value to completing a course in a month’s time. “You may feel a sense of accomplishment. It depends on how your motivation works and what your learning style is.”
And if a class isn’t as engaging or interesting, Houlgate says the quarter system is a benefit here, too. “If you really dislike a class, hey, it’s only four weeks long.”
Calculating College Credit Transfer
A 2017 study by the Government Accountability Office estimated that students who transferred schools between 2004 and 2009 lost about 43 percent of their credits, although the specific numbers varied depending on the certain criteria, such as the types of institutions students transferred to and from. The financial implications of losing out on credits can range from needing to spend extra time working on a degree to exhaustion of financial aid eligibility. It’s important to understand what college credits will carry over, and those that won’t.
National University has taken several steps toward ensuring students can carry over transfer credits as seamlessly as possible. Students considering a change can use a handy college credit transfer calculator to estimate the credits that will transfer from their prior university or college.
But to ensure that every possible credit does count, National University provides several temperature checks along the route to enrollment.
A Word About Accreditation
A college degree is an investment, and many students are looking for the most bang for their buck. But what many do not realize is that not all college credits are created equally.
Many students are unaware of the difference between national and regional school accreditation or the implications of those distinctions.
“National accreditation is specific to trade schools or tech schools,” Houlgate explains. Credits earned at a nationally accredited school may not count the same way as credits from a school accredited by one of the six different accrediting commission bodies — if they count at all.
National University falls under the second category and is regionally accredited.
“If the student has regionally accredited coursework and they received a passing grade, that credit is going to go somewhere,” Houlgate says. “If we can’t find a space to fit it in, it comes in as an open elective.”
Plan On a Program Estimate
If you began your degree at another regionally accredited institution within the last seven years, chances are pretty good that at least some of your college credits can apply toward your degree at National University. However, transfer equivalency has many different implications and can be difficult to understand. It is not uncommon to have questions. At National, enrollment staff are on hand to help navigate which credits will transfer and which ones will not.
For undergraduate students, it begins with an unofficial transcript, which is needed during the enrollment process to verify your admission eligibility. Based on the unofficial transcripts from a previous institution, enrollment advisors can compile a program estimate for you. This PDF is a visual estimate of which coursework is likely to transfer over and apply toward a degree and what classes you still need to take in your program of choice.
Not sure what program is your program of choice? Not to worry. The staff will compile up to three program estimates per student. Program estimates are only created for undergraduate students, however. If graduate students wish to transfer work toward a master’s degree, the enrollment staff can send unofficial transcripts to the respective lead faculty for review. Graduate students should expect to transfer a maximum of 13.5 quarter units, or three classes.
Undergraduate students should plan to provide their high school (or GED equivalent) transcripts if they have completed less than 90 quarter (60 semester) units of coursework.
Program estimates are exactly that — estimates of the work needed and the college credits to be applied. You can see what classes you have left in both general education and the remaining classes for the major, Houlgate says, but official transcripts are required to update a student’s official academic advising report. “Once the official evaluation is complete, they can review what classes did transfer and which ones they still need to complete.” The official evaluation is called the Academic Advising Report, or AAR.
Unlike unofficial transcripts, which are typically free and accessible for download via the college’s student portal, obtaining official transcripts usually requires a fee and providing an adequate lead time for their delivery.
The first step Houlgate advises, is to fill out an application so staff can create a file with the student’s information. National University cannot generate a student ID until after an application is processed. The university’s records department won’t review or upload official transcripts onto a student’s file without a student ID.
If you are serious about enrolling at National University, Houlgate advises that it is best to request your official transcripts as soon as you can — the sooner the better. National University’s enrollment advisors encourage students to submit their official transcripts on file by 60 days from the time of enrollment before there is a lock placed on their account by the registrar’s department. The actual deadline is 90 days from the time of enrollment, but here is where some students get confused and that extra month of wiggle room is needed. Time of enrollment is determined once their application has been processed and a student ID has been generated, so the clock starts ticking pretty early.
Official transcripts should be sent electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org or via mail to 9980 Carroll Canyon Road, San Diego, CA 92131.
Once you have requested your official transcripts, look for a confirmation email. If the records department at National University is trying to track down your transcripts, and a lock is placed on the account, students can forward that confirmation email and other details (such as the full name of the institution, the date it was mailed, mailing method, any former names/nicknames) to email@example.com.
Obtaining transcripts can be a major barrier for students getting through the enrollment process, Houlgate warns. Stay in touch with your enrollment advisor, follow up and stay on top of deadlines, she advises. Plan on one to two weeks for official transcripts to arrive (electronic delivery is preferred), then three to five days to be processed and uploaded into the National University System, and finally, another four to five weeks to be officially evaluated by the records department.
Make Every Credit Count
Regardless of the monthly start date, some students would be best served by waiting for their official evaluation before starting classes. For example, a student who struggled at their previous school with a low incoming GPA — less than 2.0 for undergraduates, less than 2.5 for graduates — may want to wait to see exactly how many college credits will transfer.
Houlgate recommends that students keep the course syllabi from every class they complete. If an official evaluation is complete and you believe you should have received credit for a class, you can petition for another review by sending National University the course description with a syllabus. Students may also contact firstname.lastname@example.org to request a second review on their own.
Do College Credits Expire?
College credits do not “expire,” as such, but time can affect their transferability. Most coursework is transferable for up to seven years. Students can submit a petition if they wish to have coursework older than seven years applied toward their degree.
“We have a lot of adult learners who want to do their education online,” Houlgate says. “A lot of times they went to college and then put their education on hold for other things, like having kids or exploring different career paths.”
Because a lot can change in a given field over the course of seven years, Houlgate advises, “Students should be realistic with themselves.”
An exception to the seven-year rule are those students who begin their coursework at National University and are deployed before completing their degree. If they receive notice of impending deployment, they have 30 days to notify the university, and then, Houlgate explains, “We freeze their catalog.” This means that those students reserve their catalog rights and their requirements for their degree won’t change even if the catalog changes.
Which Credits Will Transfer?
Just like every student at National University is different, different, too, are the program requirements in a particular field of study, Houlgate says. Some programs, like engineering, require specific preparatory classes; specific prerequisites can vary from major to major.
However, every undergraduate must complete general education requirements. Students who come to National University with an associate’s degree from a community college will most likely have this work completed, Houlgate says.
Members of the military may also be able to apply elements of their service toward their undergraduate degree. Those students should plan to submit joint service transcripts.
“We have a lot of military students,” Houlgate says, citing the convenience of the monthly classes as part of the draw to the roughly 20% military makeup of the student population. “We usually waive health class if they have boot camp,” Houlgate says, or a recruiter might receive a credit that covers his or her speech classes. The Community College of the Air Force is Air Force specific, but the credits apply in similar fashion.
Members of the armed services should be advised that funding may be different if they are taking online college classes as opposed to studying on campus.
While the number of classes and degree requirements are the same from program to program, Houlgate says it isn’t unusual to see students who graduate with more college credits than they need in order to meet the unit requirement of their program, as opposed to the degree requirement.
She cites an example of an indecisive student who changed her major twice. “She graduated with 60 extra units,” Houlgate says. “It’s not super uncommon.”
In the long run, though, those extra credits won’t matter as much as finding the career path that is right for you.
“Consider your needs and your interests,” Houlgate says, touting National University’s more than 75 different online programs. “It’s very accessible. It’s very convenient. We have people from all different walks of life. You’re going to find a lot of diversity within your program that you may not expect.”
Regardless of the field you choose or the date you want to start, Houlgate encourages all prospective incoming students to reach out to their enrollment advisors and ask questions.
“If you think you’re asking a dumb question, you’re not.”
For more insights into the many degree options available at National University, including online degrees, and to request additional information on credit transfer or other questions you might have, please visit our programs page.