Guide to Community College Credit Transfer for School Year 2023

Guide to Community College Credit Transfer for School Year 2023
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

During your time as a college student, there may have been a period in which you were forced to discontinue your studies because you ran out of money, you needed to spend time with your family, or you were required to go to work in order to provide for your household. Another possibility is that you are a student who has completed the requirements for an associate’s degree at a community college but does not yet have the required number of credits to acquire a bachelor’s degree. You always have the option of continuing your education by enrolling in one of the many different institutions that participate in credit transfer programs with local community colleges.

Credits earned by students at community colleges are being recognized by an increasing number of four-year institutions. According to the findings of the National Center for Education Statistics, anywhere from 20 percent to 50 percent of students who enroll in universities had previously attended community colleges (Chen, 2019).

This article discusses the factors that influence credit transferability from community colleges to other institutions, as well as how specific credits can be transferred to help you earn a degree in your chosen university.

Community College Transfer Credit Table of Contents

  1. Factors That Influence Credit Transferability
  2. How to Transfer Credits from a Community College to a University
  3. Types of Transferrable Community College Credits

Students opt to study at community colleges because they can earn a degree faster and at a lower cost. After earning an Associate Degree, most students want to pursue a four-year degree in a university. In fact, 49% of students who complete their bachelor’s degree in the country transferred from community colleges (Mullane, 2020).

However, not all those looking for a college credit transfer to universities are successful. Research by Chen (2020) shows that only 40% of community college students who want to earn a four-year degree are successful in transferring to a university. This can be attributed to the increasingly complex transfer process followed by different academic institutions. 

Demographic factors may also come to play, albeit, inconclusively based on local studies. For one, the article published in Higher Education  by Giani 2019 found that students in Hawaii and North Carolina expressed distinct values in terms of credit loss during a community college-to-university transfer. The study noted that: “White students had the lowest rate of credit loss at 6.1%, apart from American Indian subgroup that constituted only 0.7% of the sample. Black and Asian students both had credit loss rates greater than 10%, and non-resident alien students lost 12.0% of their credits. Males lost slightly more credits than females (7.7% vs. 6.7%), and in contrast to Hawaii, older students in the North Carolina sample lost a higher percentage of credits compared to younger students (8.2% vs. 6.7%).”

Some community colleges have made arrangements with universities regarding transfer credits. However, the specific set of subjects that will guarantee credits to be transferred continue to be unclear to most students. The requirements for transferring to universities also differ from one university to another because of the autonomy given by the state to most institutions. 

Factors That Influence Credit Transferability

College credit transfer equivalency is influenced by many factors. These include accreditation and articulation agreements between institutions, your academic grades, and the relevance of your course credits to the degree that you are applying for.

Community College Accreditation

Many students who enter community colleges are unsure of the career path that they want to tread. Some students are about to graduate from an associate degree only to find out that they will need additional units and certifications before they can practice their chosen profession. If you find yourself in this predicament, you can look for an academic institution that will accept your previous school as a credible provider of quality education based on accreditation.

If the community college you attended has been accredited either by a national or regional accreditation body, then there is a huge probability that your credits can be transferred to your chosen university program (Itzkowitz et al, 2018). On the other hand, if your previous school is not accredited by an accrediting organization in the country, chances are your courses will not be eligible for credit transfer. 

Universities check for the accreditation of community colleges because they are aware that accredited community colleges have created rigorous efforts in ensuring that the coursework submitted by their graduates has met excellent educational standards. 

Articulation Agreements Between Institutions

In looking for a college or a university that you want to transfer to, you should look for one that has an articulation agreement with the school where you received credits from. Articulation agreements refer to arrangements involving transfer policies that will make it easier for you to transfer from one college to another (Endsley, 2019). Many schools have successfully guided students in transferring their credits to a program that they want to pursue through these special agreements. 

To illustrate, if you are a student enrolled at Arizona Community College, you will receive extra transfer support should you choose to pursue further studies at Northern Arizona University since these two schools have special articulation agreements (Chen, 2019). In most instances, you will only be able to transfer your full associate degree to a bachelor’s degree if your community college has an excellent transfer articulation agreement with that university.

Your Grades 

Courses that you have completed in a community college can generally be transferred if you get at least a C, and if these are consistent with the subjects that are offered at your chosen school. However, it is best if you can research the transfer policy of the school you wish to enter since some universities do not give credits for courses with grades lower than B (Franklin University, 2021). 

How Relevant Course Credits are to the Degree you are Applying for

Before enrolling in an associate degree, you should first examine what university degree you want to explore in the future. This is to facilitate the easy transfer of credits to the degree program you want to be part of. Otherwise, many subjects that you took in your community college may not be credited at the university level.

Not all your course credits can be transferred when you move from one school to another. Only those that are relevant to the degree you are applying for are most likely to be credited. For instance, a biology course from your previous degree in nursing can be eligible to be credited to a pharmacy bachelor’s program. Conversely, a biology course may not be credited if you are planning to transfer to a baccalaureate degree in Business Administration. 

Some universities also base the relevance of courses on when you took them. Since there are subjects with topics that continuously change and upgrade, such as Information Technology, your credits may be unlikely to be transferred if these were taken years ago. On the other hand, subjects with content that does not change, such as Classic Theories in Early Childhood Education, may be credited regardless of the year you earned them.

Percentage of Credits Lost During Transfers

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Source: U.S. News, 2020

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How to Transfer Credits from a Community College to a University

Most bachelor’s degree programs need 120 hours of coursework before you become eligible to graduate. The majority of courses are worth four credit hours each. In choosing to transfer from a community college to another institution, you should understand what your chosen school’s transfer policy is and how you can successfully enter their program without losing your hard-earned credits from your previous college.

1. Learn about the University’s Transfer Acceptance Policy 

If you have already earned an associate degree or completed most of your education credits from another institution, you should learn about the transfer acceptance policy of the school that you want to attend to know if their requirements match your credentials. This is essential to find out if the maximum number of credits that you earned are eligible to be transferred to the program that you wish to pursue. Transfer policies between schools vary, and it would help if you would take the time to browse through your desired university’s website for its transfer policy. By understanding what is expected, you can optimize your time and finish your degree faster. Such policies are heavily influenced by the differences in the curriculum as well. For example, an online associate’s degree in paralegal studies may require different courses from an in-person paralegal program. 

Based on the article of Pearson (2019), community college students lose approximately 40%, or an entire semester’s worth of credits, during the transfer process because of the confusion brought about by inefficient transfer policies. This means that the majority of students spend 5.1 years to finish their four-year bachelor’s degree, while most take 3.4 years to complete a two-year associate’s degree (Mullane, 2020). As an implication, the more times that you transfer, the longer it will take for you to earn your degree. 

2. Submit Your Transcripts 

One of the most important documents that you need to have when you are preparing for academic transfer is your college transcript. Even if you did not complete a degree at that school or if there was a lengthy gap in your education, it would be best to prepare all transcripts that would substantiate the coursework and training that you have received as a student. 

Admissions officers and university advisors will look into the number of units that can be credited to their program based on the subjects that you took and the grades you incurred in these subjects (Friedman & Moody, 2020). If your transcript satisfies the transfer requirements of the university you wish to transfer to, then you can expect that the maximum allowable credits by the school can be transferred to the program you are applying for. 

3. Speak with University or College Advisors 

Meeting with university or college advisors will help you to determine which of your subject credits can be transferred to the university program you are applying for. University advisors can also assist you in understanding the specific transfer process employed in their university. By looking at your transcript, advisors can also provide insights if you have a positive chance of getting your credits transferred based on your grades and the relevance of your credits to the program you want to enter (Lukszo, 2019). 

Aside from coordinating with the advisor from the institution that you want to enter, it would also be helpful to speak with an advisor from your own community college. By communicating with both of them, you will be able to easily map out course units that can be credited and requirements that you should prepare to facilitate a smooth transfer to your chosen school. In a recent survey conducted by the National Task Force on Transfer of Credit, it was noted that 80% of college students believed that the advisors from their colleges were able to help them in transferring to their chosen institution and in earning their degree efficiently. (St. Amour, 2020)

Types of Transferrable Community College Credits

Transfer credit refers to the process of accepting a student’s prior learning and experiences as represented in the number of course units that are articulated on a student’s academic transcript. Aside from coursework, credits about professional training and life experiences can also be accepted as transfer credits from community colleges to other institutions. 


The most common way of transferring credits from community college to another academic institution is by showing the coursework you completed during your college years. This is the reason why you should bring all your transcripts with you. Generally, courses that you have completed at accredited institutions will be transferred, except those that are considered irrelevant to the program that you are choosing to pursue at a university level ( Most universities accept a maximum of 90 credits to be transferred to your degree. This implies that you are required to accomplish at least 30 credits in that academic institution before you can earn a degree. 

Professional Training

Aside from coursework, you can also gain credit from the professional training that you received through internships and employment positions. In most competency-based degrees offered in universities, credits taken from professional training, such as those from the military, can be transferred as units. You should look for a college or university that will accept credits that you have earned from your previous professional and training activities. This will help you in obtaining your degree easier and faster. 

Military members can benefit from a competency-based degree because it allows their professional training experiences to be credited when they seek to transfer to universities. Similarly, working adults who have gained substantial professional training in their chosen careers can also apply for transfer credit eligibility should they wish to pursue further studies in institutions. The research of Cleary (2020) reported that 57% of students who earned their degrees were able to transfer credit units acquired from mastering competencies related to their professional training experiences. 

Life Experiences

Working adults or returning students may have life experiences that can be considered equivalent to college-level learning. As such, many academic institutions credit life experiences, such as work and training, towards the completion of an undergraduate degree. In determining whether your life experiences can be credited to the program you are eyeing to complete, it would be helpful if you would speak with a university advisor. An advisor can inform you if you should show a portfolio of your life experiences or if you should take a challenge exam to prove that you have accomplished the necessary skills and competencies that merit a credit transfer. 

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 2019

Transferring Your Community College Credits 

Deciding to transfer from a community college to a university entails careful analysis of your options. Whatever your reason is for making this shift, it is always good to have an understanding of what articulation agreements are, what factors contribute to a smooth transfer of credits, and how university advisors can assist you in the process.



  1. Chen, G. (2019). How to Ensure Your Community College Credits Transfer to a 4 Year University.
  2. Chen. G. (2020). Why 60% of Community College Students Never Transfer.
  3. (2021). How does the course credit transfer process work?
  4. Endsley, A. (2019). How to Transfer Community College Credits to University.
  5. Franklin University. (2021). How to Transfer College Credit to Finish Your Bachelor’s Degree.
  6. Itzkowitz, M., Hiler, T. & Whistle, W. (2018). Using Accreditation to Make Transfer Credits Count.
  7. Jones, G. (2019). Explore Transfer Student Data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). National Center for Education Statistics.
  8. Lukszo, C. (2019). Facilitating Transfer Student Success: Exploring Sources of Transfer Student Capital. Community College Review, 48(1): 31-54.
  9. Moody, J. (2020). What Transfer Students Should Know About Articulation Agreements. U.S. News.
  10. Mullane, J. (2020). Free With No Degree.
  11. St. Amour, M. (2020). Survey: Student Opinions on Transfer Credit. Inside Higher Ed.
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Get personalized degree recommendations that will help you find a program that will match your goals and dreams.

The website is funded by advertising. All school search, finder, and match results, as well as featured or trusted partner programs, are for schools who pay us. Our school rankings, resource guides, or any other editorially impartial content on our website are unaffected by the compensation we receive.