Many students considering going back to college might wonder if previously earned college credits ever expire.

There are various reasons why students might not finish their degree the first time. Various life experiences can cause college students to be unable to continue pursuing their degree, needing to complete it later.

Some of these reasons could be financially motivated if tuition fees, cost of living, and student loans are too high. While other commitments, such as family duties or health problems, can also get in the way.

In some cases, students need time to determine what career they want, and if the college degree they are pursuing is the right for them. Any shifts in jobs and industries could also nudge a return to school, using previous credits toward acquiring new skills.

Regardless of the reason, it is essential to remember that it is always possible to pick up where you left off.

Is There a Time Limit to Finish a Degree?

While there are no specific time limits for completing your degree, keep in mind that there could be many changes in requirements over the years.

If you started your bachelor’s degree but never ended up graduating, or if you completed an associate's degree, you most likely have credits that you can leverage in order to complete a bachelor’s degree much faster and cost effectively. Using an associate's degree as the base of a bachelor’s degree in particular can often reduce the length of a program by up to two years.

“Students who have completed an associate's in radiography typically enter this program with 65 to 90 credits already done,” notes Gary L’Abbe, assistant professor and program director for Regis College’s BS in Medical Imaging program.

Transferring credits is key to earning your degree with as little time and money as possible. And, by converting an associate's degree into a bachelor’s degree, especially through a process like a bachelor’s degree completion program, can make a positive impact on future earning potential and upward mobility in your career.

Below, we’ll explore how long college credits last as well as several factors that determine the eligibility of transfer credits.

How long do college credits last?

Generally speaking, college credits do not expire. However, several factors—including the age of those credits—will influence whether or not they are eligible for transfer into a particular program.

It is important to remember that every institution has its own transfer credit policies. Whether you wish to convert your associate's degree into a bachelor’s degree, transfer from one institution to another, or complete your bachelor’s degree after taking time off, you should always research the policies of the colleges or universities you’re interested in transferring to.

What Factors Determine Whether or Not Credits Will Transfer?

Some of the factors that colleges and universities use to determine the eligibility of transfer credits include relevance, recency, and accreditation. Below, we explore each of these factors in more detail.

Three factors to determine eligibility to transfer credits include relevance (how closely related the credits are to the program you wish to apply to), recency (the length of time that has passed since the credits were earned0, and accreditation (the quality of the education that you have received)

1. Relevance

One of the main factors that will determine whether or not credits are eligible to transfer is how closely related they are to the program you wish to apply to. If the courses you’ve taken previously are relevant to your proposed area of study, or they qualify as core curriculum or general education, they will likely transfer.

However, depending on the institution and particular program you’re applying to, courses that do not fall into either of these categories may still count towards elective requirements.

2. Recency

Another common criteria for transfer credits is recency, or the length of time that has passed since the credits were earned.

Recency is more or less important depending on the type of course you would like to transfer. For instance, courses in areas that evolve rapidly—such as the sciences or technology—are likely to have a shorter shelf life than those that tend not to change drastically over the years—such as humanities like history and English.

General education courses, on the other hand, are likely to transfer more easily between schools, as they tend not to become outdated as quickly as other courses.

3. Accreditation

Accreditation is an incredibly important factor to consider when transferring credits, for a simple reason: Accreditation speaks to the quality of the education that you have received. If a program or institution is accredited, that means it has met certain bare minimums in terms of quality.

In the United States, universities and colleges are typically accredited by at least one of 19 recognized accrediting organizations which fall under the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Regis College, for example, is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE).

Individual programs can also be accredited by additional accreditors. At Regis, the social work program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), for example, while nursing programs are accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

Institutions or individual programs which are not accredited typically have typically not met these minimum requirements. It’s for this reason that many colleges and universities will not accept transfer credits from institutions that are not accredited.

How to Transfer College Credits

Now that you know what factors affect the eligibility of your transfer credits, you can begin planning the next steps towards finishing your education. Remember, though, that the exact policies for transfer credits vary by institution, and the best way to determine how many credits will transfer is to speak with an admission counselor.

No matter which college or university you ultimately apply to, the steps for transferring college credits typically remain the same.

The four steps to transferring college credits: research your schools of interest, understand the transfer policies at each school, gather transcripts and other required materials, and work with an admission counselor throughout the application process.
  • Research your schools of interest: Each school that you apply to will have its own set of rules as to which transfer credits will be accepted. As you research colleges and universities, consider these factors as you compile a list of schools you will be applying to.
  • Understand the transfer policies at each school: Once you’ve narrowed down your list of choices, take a closer look at each institution’s transfer policies to help you prepare for the application and admission process.
  • Gather transcripts and other required materials: Depending on the college or university you are applying to, you may need to submit materials like official transcripts, syllabi, and other documentation of your previous coursework.
  • Work with an admission counselor throughout the application process: In order to make the transfer process as smooth as possible, students should work with an admission counselor who can help answer questions along the way.

If you plan to convert your associate's degree into a bachelor’s degree, there may even be programs in place to help you through this process. Certain states, like Massachusetts, have transfer pathways programs that allow students to easily transfer an associate's degree from a community college to a bachelor’s degree program at a state university or other partnering institution.

Regis College, for example, has formed academic partnerships for transfer students to help ease the transition. Students can take advantage of the MassTransfer block to streamline the application process from a community college to the bachelor’s degree completion program of their choice.

Taking the Next Step in Your Education

Making the decision to finish your bachelor’s degree is a big step, but it can prove to be highly rewarding. As you move forward in the process toward completing your education, be sure to find the right college or university for you, so that you can get the support you need throughout this process.

Earning your degree at a college like Regis ensures that you’ll have the flexibility and support to obtain your bachelor’s in a way that fits your professional and personal lifestyle.

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