3 Sneaky Ways College Students Accidentally Lose Credits...and Money

These three admission and financial aid mistakes are easy to make. And common. And costly.

You probably already know that failing a college class is a sure way to waste your time and tuition dollars. So just do well in your classes and everything will work out okay—right? Well, that might not be enough. There are other ways you can lose college credits and money by not planning ahead with your financial aid and academic requirements.

For example, these three mistakes are easy to make. And costly. They’re all essentially related to the role college administrative departments play in your academics and finances. And it’s a big role, for sure!

The top three areas and offices you need to know about are related to admission and enrollment, financial aid and the bursar’s office, and academic policies and procedures. You need to understand how their regulations impact your college success. While all colleges try to guide students through this unknown territory, it is ultimately up to you to know the path from your first day on campus and all the way through graduation (and maybe even after that).

1. Not filing the FAFSA in time

Jamey didn’t think the federal FAFSA deadline was important because he didn’t plan on needing financial aid until second semester in the coming year. No big deal, right? Wrong! FAFSA monies are awarded on a first come, first serve basis and go quickly, so Jamey may have to wait until next year to get financial help.

For the fall 2018–2019 school year, FAFSA will be available October 1, 2017 instead of January 1, 2018. If you’re going to be in college in fall 2018, file your FAFSA as soon after October 1 as you can—and definitely before the federal deadline for applications, which will be June 30, 2018. Check state and college deadlines as well, which may be even months earlier; Missouri’s deadline, for example, is April 1. And the FAFSA is only one example of college deadlines you need to respect. Keep copies of all your paperwork and a record of when you sent them in one place too.

Remember: deadlines can easily sneak up on you, so get in the habit of looking ahead at least six months.

2. Not making sure your earned credits count toward your degree

Beth was like many high school students today, entering college with many college credits, sometimes even at the sophomore level. But she didn’t submit her transcript on time, so her academic advisor didn’t realize she had already taken many prerequisites. This meant she wasn’t allowed to enroll in college courses she was ready to take—college courses that would’ve helped her save time and potentially money.

Admission counselors should be able to help you determine what credits will and will not apply to your major—but you should also be proactive in making sure any credits you’ve earned in high school can actually be applied to your intended academic program. Start by looking at your college’s catalogue and website, and ask your high school and admission counselors if you have any questions.

3. Not checking accreditation when transferring colleges

Margaret earned a two-year degree and wanted to continue her education at a four-year college. But then she learned she lost $25,000 in credits. Why? Her previous course work wouldn’t transfer because her previous school wasn’t accredited.

Accreditation basically signals a certain level of quality in an academic school or program, and colleges will almost always require accreditation to accept another school’s credits for transfer. Some “for profit” or “proprietary” schools (often those that had red flags to begin with) may not have the accreditation needed for your credits to transfer.

Most colleges belong to one of these six regional accrediting bodies. If your school is not one of them, you might have some trouble with your transfer. Check the Council for Higher Education Accreditation website to make sure, and consult with your transfer counselor if you have questions.

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