Do College Credits Expire? Here’s What You Need to Know

  • In general, college credits do not expire.
  • If you are going back to school or transferring colleges, you’ll want to check with the registrar’s office and department advisors to see if your credits will be accepted at that particular school.
  • Completing your degree is the best way to ensure those college credits valid.

In general, college credits do not expire.

As a student, you’ll earn college credits by completing coursework at a college or university. Sometimes, you may even transfer credits from high school. These credits are based on the time spent in class and the academic effort you put into a particular subject. If you complete enough credits in a curriculum, you’ll earn a degree in a specific area.

So, it’s important to watch the credits you’re earning and how they contribute towards your academic goal. But do college credits expire? And when should you start paying attention to them after graduation? These are some important things to consider.

When Do College Credits Expire

Great news! Generally, college credits don’t expire. However, that doesn’t mean that previously earned college credits will be helpful in future academic endeavors. A few factors influence whether you can use a credit earned in the past in your upcoming education.

1. Technological Advances

Advancements are occurring faster than ever in the high-tech industries. Ongoing changes in technology and methods may make past college credits irrelevant if the topic has changed enough. Your completed degree does not expire. However, some of the specific credits you earned to obtain your degree may no longer be useful in the field and, therefore, may not be valid for use in earning future degrees.

2. Curriculum Changes

As time passes and fields and topics evolve, the degree curriculum will also change. This means that some courses considered important ten years ago may be less relevant today.

It’s also possible that a course is still offered for credit, but if you took it before a specific year, it may no longer be valid for your future degree. Don’t worry, though! Your academic advisor or the registrar’s office can help you through any changes in the curriculum and make sure you’re on the right track.

3, Institutional Changes

If a university loses its accreditation, the validity of the college credits earned there may be jeopardized. This means other institutions may not recognize credits from an unaccredited university, which could create student setbacks. Students need to make sure that the institutions they attend are accredited to protect their educational credits.

College credits typically don’t expire. And if you’ve completed your degree, it doesn’t expire. So, when it comes to college credits, it’s really a question of whether those credits will be valid in earning a future degree or whether the credits will transfer if needed to complete your current degree.

Transfer Credit Considerations

The college credit transfer process can be complex. Here are two common obstacles to ensuring that any credits you’ve taken transfer to the new school and how to fix them.

1. Course Equivalencies

Courses may not always match up perfectly between different colleges. This can sometimes create a situation where credits previously earned at one institution may not be accepted at another. To avoid any issues, reach out to academic advisors or the registrar’s offices at both institutions to clarify requirements and ensure a smooth transition. They have all of the information you need.

2. Credit Transfer Policies

There are sometimes limits on the number of credits a college or degree program will accept. Some universities will only take a maximum number of transfer credits, particularly from high school credits. Students can address this by carefully reviewing transfer policies and planning ahead to maximize credit transfer opportunities.

It’s especially important to plan ahead for credit transfer where possible. Often, it is much easier to transfer credits within a given region. For example, a local community college will likely have transfer programs that work closely with a university in the area. A high school may offer college credits through a local community college. These programs are often much more straightforward in transferring credits in the region than outside a local area.

Similarly, credits earned online are often affiliated with a university or a system of colleges to which they easily transfer. However, transferring credit outside of this network may be more cumbersome. Transferring outside of a network can be managed. However, it will likely take more effort and communication with the registrar’s offices.

Where and when possible, plan ahead for transfers and learn how credits transfer within your plan. When you’re facing a situation, you haven’t planned for, use the resources in your institution to your benefit.

Keeping Your College Credits Valid

Here are a few tactics to keep your college credits valid after completing your course.

1. Complete Your Degree Program

The number one way to ensure your credits are working for you in the future is to complete your degree program. Once you’ve earned your degree, it cannot be taken away. Even if technology or curriculum changes, you’ve earned your degree. Individual credits earned during that degree may not be valid for use against earning future degrees. But the degree you’ve completed is yours.

According the National Center for Education Statistics, around 14% of 4-year postsecondary students are over the age 25. If you find yourself in this percentile of students “going back to school” after a break in education when you did not complete your degree, or if you are going back for another degree after a period of time, you may have a bit more work to do to make your old college credits work to your benefit.

Many of the credits you previously earned may still be valid. Check with the registrar to figure out which are valid and which you must advocate for or replace. You can advocate for credits to remain valid even if an institution initially tells you they are invalid, but you’ll need backup.

2. Keep Records

This may sound like a bit much, but if you want to continue your education in the future, or if you’re in an evolving field requiring continuing education, it’s important to keep diligent records of the credits and courses you’ve completed. Keep the syllabi, hold onto course notes and assignments, and get your transcripts. This documentation will show all the hard work you’ve put in and the knowledge you’ve gained from your courses. Even if a credit gets rejected initially, you could use this information to confirm it.

3. Check With Your Registrar

Probably the best piece of advice: if you have questions about whether credits are valid, check with your institution’s registrar’s office. They will have detailed records of what courses and credits are still valid for a particular course of study. If your personal records don’t contain course descriptions or syllabi, reach out to the previous institution’s registrar’s office or the department directly. They likely have past syllabi on file from when you attended the class.

Continuing Education and Replacement Credit Options

Most careers last a lot longer than school, and fields evolve. Stay on top of recent changes in your field or show that your professional experience applies to a new course of study with continuing education. There are several ways to continue relevancy and learning as your career progresses, and it’s not limited to college credits.  Consider taking refresher courses or professional development workshops. Does getting a particular license or certification for your career make sense? There are even opportunities to gain college credit for life and professional experiences.

Education should span a lifetime, but college credits don’t always last that long. So, plan as much as possible. Your college credits will work for you if you prepare. Consider whether you need to transfer credits in the future, stay on top of new activity in your field, and check with specific institutions you’ve attended or would like to attend.

Will your ideal program accept your current credits? Check out our College Match tool to learn more! Or, if you’re still deciding which field is right for you, try our career finder tools to narrow your search and point you in the right direction.

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