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Fighting for Your Education: An Expert Look Into Transfer Credits

The transfer admission process requires a lot of advocating for yourself. Here's a look inside transferring credits and speaking up for what you’ve earned.

Transferring colleges can be a scary thing, and knowing how your credits will transfer from one school to another can be an unclear process. Every year, thousands of students like you will transfer from one institution to another, and while understanding if you were accepted is straightforward, knowing what will happen with the college credits you’ve worked so hard to earn is not. As someone who was both a transfer student (a few times) and a staff member working with prospective transfers on the other side of the desk, I’m here to illuminate the process of transferring your credits and contesting how they’re counted toward your degree if needed.

Learn from my transfer experience

In my college career, I transferred schools three times and had three very different experiences. When I first attended college, I wanted to explore a different part of the country, so I applied and was accepted to a small liberal arts school in Vermont. It was unlike anything I had experienced before, with small class sizes, a design-your-own-major program, and no prerequisite courses. For someone with no set direction at the time, this was a dream come true. In my first year, I studied pirates in the Caribbean, dance in South American literature, and the philosophy of math. After a year and a half, my course of study turned to Economics and Business—and the one-person department was not what I needed. This is where I first started to learn the troubles of transferring and the difficulties in determining a new direction.

Related: The Ups and Downs of the Transfer Experience

Fitting your credits to a degree plan

Most degree programs out there are built along similar principles. You have your general education courses nearly everyone must take—some variation of English comp, US history, physical science, and social science courses. Then you have your major-specific classes and specialized courses within your field, which you take mainly during junior and senior years. The trouble comes in when your courses don’t fit into this structure. When faced with this situation myself, rather than investigate the process more in-depth, I decided to go back to community college after one semester to finish my prerequisite classes before transferring to Oklahoma State University. It took me another 10 years to learn how I could’ve saved myself thousands of dollars if I had just done my research.

How your credits are evaluated

Generally speaking, most college admission departments handle transfer credits in one of two ways. Either they will evaluate the credits individually to determine how they will transfer, or administrators will do so with guidance from the department heads when there are questions. Most courses that students take at a given school will have some comparable course at another school. We used to say, “English Comp is English Comp is English Comp.” In fact, many states have a database of how courses from one in-state institution will transfer to another in-state institution. Where those don’t exist, someone will compare the two courses by a syllabus or course description. Often, evaluators look for courses to be around a 75%–80% match in terms of content, although this process is more art than science. Most of the time, though, it’s clear when it’s a match.

A common transfer roadblock

When evaluating credits and determining which ones will transfer and how, sometimes your school(s) of interest will already have access to the course description or subscribe to a service that provides them. But in many cases, course descriptions or syllabi need to be provided by you. Just check with your new school to learn whether you need to provide it. If you didn’t save your old syllabi, email the professor or department chair to get a copy. This is the first place many transfer students fall into trouble, as most would rather not go through the minor hassle to do so and will take the elective credit or repeat a class they may not need to repeat instead.

Related: How to Avoid These 5 Common Transfer Student Mistakes

Fight for your credits

Another common way transfer students run into trouble is by not pushing back on something they feel is incorrect. Often, more technical courses have very specific people who review them—and if they aren’t reviewed by those people, the class will always be classified as an elective instead of a major-specific requirement. This can be especially common in technical fields like Engineering and Health Sciences, as the level of expertise needed to evaluate a thermodynamics course can be pretty high. However, you may not know that, or you may not be alerted to that fact. The problem is a bureaucratic one rather than someone not wanting to help. It’s up to you to advocate for your education and say, “No, I want this re-checked.” If something feels off and you think a course has been evaluated incorrectly, please speak up and inquire. If you need a sample email, your transfer buddy Eric has you covered:


I took [class name] at [your old school]. I transferred it to [your new institution’s name], and it was evaluated as an elective course. I think it may be closer to [the class you want]. Could I please have this re-evaluated? I have included the old course syllabus if this is any help.

Thank you!
[Your name]

Learn to love your elective credits

Unfortunately, sometimes a class is going to be deemed an elective, and you just have to accept it. My history of pirates in the Caribbean course was destined to be an elective from day one. Thankfully, your college degree plan likely calls for some, and you now have more of them covered than you may have thought! Sometimes the transfer process involves finding the silver lining and looking on the bright side of life. You may not win them all, but you will be happy with yourself for trying. Not every course will have an equivalency, but it’s always worth speaking up and asking questions.

Related: 4 Things to Consider When Choosing Electives in College

Truth be told, I’ve only skimmed the surface of the transfer world. It’s become a passion and a side project of mine over the past half a decade and something I enjoy making easier and better for other transfer students. If I can give you three pieces of advice, they would be: Save your syllabi, understand the process and push back, and know when to find the silver lining. Not all college lessons come from the classroom, but many good life lessons come from college!

Request information from Oklahoma State University by clicking the green button below, or explore other great colleges on our featured transfer college lists

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