More and more “nontraditional students” are taking up their studies in this second decade of the 21st century. Most of these begin online where the flexibility they need to balance their lives with their studies is both important and available. Many of these students complete their degrees online, particularly bachelor’s degrees, but there might be some examples where the students will need to transfer their credits to a brick-and-mortar university.
Transferring college credits from an online college to a campus college is possible with careful planning, but it is not a simple matter. Getting an education is a worthy goal that offers students enlightening experiences, but it requires a significant amount of time and money. Students need to understand how changing enrollment from one school to another can affect an investment in higher education. Examining options prior to exercising them helps students avoid disappointment and unnecessary expense.
Is it Possible to Transfer Credits From an Online College to a Campus College?
The first thing students should realize is that if they’re taking classes by using the online portion of a brick-and-mortar university, those credits will be automatically transferrable. Most traditional universities who run their own online programs strive to make them every bit as excellent as their brick-and-mortar offerings. The first thing that a traditional college or university will look for when considering whether or not to accept a student’s transfer credits is the reputation of the online university where the student studied.
Students should beware of diploma mills and degree mills when choosing an online university. A good rule of thumb is to remember that students will have to pay standard tuition to attend a real online university. “Just $99.99!” or similar, is a good way to spot a mill. Students should be extra careful when it comes to diploma mills because they create fraudulent diplomas from real universities. While students who get worthless degrees from a degree mill might find themselves blackballed from the work force, students who use a worthless diploma from a diploma mill might find themselves arrested for fraud. Also, any time that a college promises a student reams of credits for life experiences, that’s a huge red flag. While it is true that legitimate colleges and universities will give some small amount of credit, perhaps a class or two, for life experience of the highest order in that student’s chosen field, it will never be more than that.
Students must bear in mind that there is no shortcut to earning a real degree from a real online university. Those students will have to do the research, write the essays, participate in the group learning sessions, read the assignments, and complete the necessary research papers commensurate with the level of degree they are seeking.
Each college or university will have its own requirements for transfer credits over and above the “fake credentials” cutoff point. Some of those requirements include:
- How long ago the student earned the credits
- How similar the curriculum was to that of the accepting institution
- The grades earned in the classes for which the credits will be transferred
- The level of the classes to be transferred, e.g. core requirement vs. capstone
- The sheer number of credits to be transferred
Core credits might never expire because the skills and critical thinking processes those courses develop are timeless. Science, technology, and advanced mathematics credits have an expiration date, however, because of the ever-evolving fields they represent. As an example, before Sir Andrew Wiles proved Fermat’s Last Theorem, mathematics was a completely different field than it was after he proved it.
When it comes to course similarity, a university obviously won’t accept English credits in place of science classes. But, the gist of the classes taken online must jibe with the gist of the classes to be replaced by the transfer credit. If the curricula don’t match exactly, then the online classes’ syllabi should be as close as possible. Equally obviously, the grades earned must be in accordance with the minimum requirement of the accepting institution.
Most schools won’t accept credits for capstone classes or other highly advanced coursework. It’s also likely that they won’t accept credits from theses or dissertations either. Also, students can’t just complete a degree at an accredited institution and then transfer all the credits to Harvard University to get a Harvard degree. In all cases, it’s a good idea for students studying online to contact the colleges and universities to which they are transferring from online college to university to find out the applicable policies for those institutions.
Understanding the Importance of Accreditation
As one of the most important factors in the selection of a college, accreditation provides the key to a student’s ability to transfer college credits between institutions. A designation by an accrediting board acts like a benchmark that indicates the kind of education that a school provides. The Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, developed by the U.S. Department of Education as a resource for students, is available as a public service.
Finding an appropriate match is a requirement in many aspects of life, from choosing a mate to selecting a plumbing part that fits. Colleges that have similar accreditations are likely to accept transfer credits, but investigation of university policies can reveal exceptions. Colleges that do not have accreditation can offer students almost no chance of successfully transferring credits. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation provides links to information about 3,000 schools that offer degrees and 60 accrediting boards.
Accreditation is an involved process by which independent and impartial organizations evaluate schools’ credentials. These organizations investigate curricula, the qualifications of the professors, the teaching methods of the professors, the equipment that the school provides for the completion of certain classes, the facilities, and the overall integrity of the school. There are many different investigatory bodies that provide accreditation. Most are completely legitimate, but some are as fraudulent as pieces of paper from a diploma mill.
In fact, “accreditation mills” are also a thing. In some cases, diploma mills and degree mills are brazen enough to create their own fake accreditation mill to provide them with impressive-sounding credentials. Names like the Accreditation Panel for Online Colleges and Universities, the Association for Online Academic Accreditation, or the Global Accredited Council for Business Association might sound all spiffy and important, but they’re all fake.
The most important accrediting organizations are the six regional accrediting bodies, which are:
- The Higher Learning Commission
- The Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- The New England Commission of Higher Education
- The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
- The WASC Senior College and University Commission
There is also the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges for two-year institutions. All of these are fully legitimate organizations and are so thorough that the colleges and universities they evaluate only have to have it done once every 10 years.
Certain kinds of schools, namely technical and trade schools, don’t use the regional accreditation system. They use the national accreditation system. National accreditation may not have the same criteria as regional accreditation, but it is every bit as legitimate. Some schools differentiate between national and regional accreditation in their transfer policies, but a voluntary professional organization known as The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers is striving to change that. For now, however, students should certainly consult with the institution to which they wish to transfer credits to find out both that school’s policies and also how accreditation will affect the transferring from online college to university.
Choosing to attend an online college is a convenience that enables many students to pursue higher education when going to a campus college is not possible or desirable. However, changing circumstances may cause a student to decide to go to a regular campus. Some requirements for students to evaluate when thinking about transferring include these:
• Online courses must closely resemble those offered at the campus college under consideration.
• Credits earned at an online school are potentially eligible for consideration if they are recent. Transfer students are not usually able to carry credits that are older than an acceptable number of years that is specified by university policy.
• Campus colleges usually accept less than half of the credits needed for graduation.
• Credits apply as replacements for elective classes or for general education courses, and they are often not usable for classes that are directly related to a major.
• A high grade point average in online courses is essential.
• Campus colleges reserve the right to determine if a student’s online education was academically appropriate.
Making a Decision Regarding Transferring Credits
By evaluating the variables that affect transferred credits, students can make a decision that is based on facts. Accreditation is probably the most determinative variable, and others have considerable impact as well. The value of making a long term plan for education is greatest when it anticipates change. Unforeseen circumstances can require a student to leave one school and enroll in another, and preparing for the consequences ahead of time helps to make a smooth transition.
Students should also consider the ramifications of transferring to a brick-and-mortar university. First of all, the student will lose the flexibility of being able to “do classes in pajamas.” Also, they might not have the study-life balance that they had with online classes. On-campus classes are also probably less flexible with deadlines. Perhaps the biggest difference is the fact that students might have to live on campus if the school is outside of either the student’s home town or easy commuting distance. Even if the student doesn’t live on campus, off-campus housing would be in addition to the student’s current housing costs. Before transferring, students should plan and evaluate their financial position.
Some schools allow students to learn in a hybrid fashion, which means taking some classes in brick-and-mortar classrooms and some online at home. Degrees that require classes with lab work always have to be done at least partially on campus, but some of the classes for such degrees could be done at home. This might be a great way for students to retain some of the flexibility of online classes while still maintaining a link to the physical university.
Because of the possible extra costs involved in living on campus and the specter of higher tuition at the transferred-to school, students will most likely have to seek financial aid. Financial aid comes in three types: grants, scholarships, and loans. There are two types of loans: subsidized and unsubsidized. Subsidized loans don’t make students pay interest on the principal during the time that they are enrolled. Unsubsidized loans accrue not only interest during a student’s enrollment but also interest upon the already accrued interest.
Public scholarships and grants are based on a student’s need. Although some of these have educational criteria, the main determining factor is that need. The same is true of subsidized loans. There is a special kind of grant called work study. When students work on campus to pay part of their tuition, they are limited in how many hours they can work. Most of the time, this is 20 hours or less. Students have to qualify for work-study grants just like they have to for other forms of financial aid. Students who transfer credits from an overseas university would have to arrange work visas or other immigration documents to quality for a work-study program.
When students apply for financial aid, they begin with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is also called the FAFSA. The student completes the form and includes all forms of income, and that also includes parental income. The student will also provide the requisite tax forms. Using this form, the government and the university decide which financial aid is applicable and award it based on preset criteria. When it comes to such aid, scholarships and grants are given gratis whereas loans must be repaid.
In addition to public financial aid based on need, students may apply for as many forms of private aid as they wish. Private aid is usually merit-based and consists of things like credit-union loans at favorable interest rates and scholarships and from private organizations. These organizations will have their own criteria for awarding such aid. Students should contact the relevant organizations to see if they qualify for the awards and submit the applications in a timely manner.
Of course, this guide is only an outline, and students should investigate their own situations thoroughly and completely before beginning the transfer of credits.