Initial Overview of the College Credit Transfer Process


More than 30% of the students attend more than one university or college during their college career. This poses an issue because transferring credits between institutions can be a challenging process. Namely students that complete credits at one institution – sending institution – may not get recognition for these credits at another institution – destination institution – and they may need to repeat the course and/or pay for the same course again. Therefore, this post is the first one in the transfer series. The goal for the transfer series is to help you understand the complexities of transfer and plan for any potential barriers that may be arise during this process.

Transfer takes many flavors. It can include transfer from a college to a university, between colleges, universities, and even from a university to a college. The purpose is the same. Students transfer credits to help complete the requirements for a credential. The credential can be an associate degree, a baccalaureate degree, or a certification.

Today’s post provides a quick overview of college transfer and discusses:

  1. Articulation and institutional transfer agreements
  2. Institutional classifications by sector (public, private not-for-profit, and private for-profit) and program length (2-year and 4-year)
  3. Transferring with a degree

1. Articulation and Institutional Transfer Agreements

There are several types of transfer: across and/or within states, institutional sectors, accreditation agencies, as well as vertical, horizontal, and reverse. Two types of agreements are involved in transfer – articulation agreements and/or institutional agreements.

Articulation agreements typically cover institutions located within a state and can cover multiple institutions. These agreements can require that under certain conditions credits can be transferred from one institution to another. Sometimes these articulation agreements cover only public institutions or in other cases they can cover public and private institutions within a state. Unfortunately not all states have them. To see whether your state has an articulation agreement go to:

The second type of transfer agreements are institutional agreements – these agreements are set up between institutions and ensure that under certain conditions credits earned at the sending institution transfer seamlessly to the destination institution. The best way to find out about these agreements is to go to the sending and/or destination institution’s websites and see what other institutions are covered by the agreement. Once you figure out the institutions that are covered by the agreement figure out how feasible it is to start at one institution and transfer to another in terms of geographical distance, grades, GPA, etc. Because if an institution has a transfer agreement with another one that is on the other side of the state or in another state and you cannot move then the agreement will not provide much help. These agreements are important because they allow students to plan their college studies career. In certain cases institutional agreements are the only types of agreements that exist between institutions from different sectors (public and private).

Should you want to transfer to an institution that is not covered by an articulation or an institutional agreement contact the destination institution to see whether the transfer is possible and under what conditions.


2. Institutional Classification

Institutions can be separated into six categories depending on sector affiliation and program length. The sector of an institution can be public or private. Public institutions are funded to a certain extent by the state and tend to be heavily regulated. Private institutions typically do not receive state appropriations, except in a few states, and they tend to be less regulated. Also, due in large part to the fact that they don’t receive any state appropriations, with very few exceptions, they tend to cost more. Private institutions can be further classified in two categories not-for-profit and for-profit institutions. Private non-for-profit institutions aim to provide a full educational experience to each attending student and the bulk of educational costs are supported mostly by students and their families. Private for-profit institutions are run like businesses and the owners and shareholders expect the school to turn a profit. These institutions can be affiliated with companies that are traded on the Stock Exchange. Needless to say, that revenues are important for all types of institutions, but more so for private-for-profit institutions.

Moreover, depending on the length of programs offered (associate, bachelor, master, etc.) institutions can be further classified into two additional categories 2-year and 4-year institutions. Two year institutions tend to be state, junior, or community colleges and for simplicity we’ll refer to them as colleges. Two-year colleges tend to offer associate degree or below and in some states they do offer baccalaureate programs. Four-year institutions tend to offer baccalaureate level programs and above (master, doctoral). For the purpose of this chapter we will refer to 2-year institutions as colleges and 4-year institutions as universities.

Therefore, depending on the type of control and program length a higher education institutions may fall in one of the following categories:

Program Length

Public Private Not-for- Profit Private For-Profit


Public 2-year Private Not-for- Profit 2-year Private For-Profit 2-year


Public 4-year Private Not-for- Profit 4-year Private For-Profit 4-year

For the full list of public, private not-for-profit, and private for-profit institutions in the U.S. see the excel document included below.


3. Transferring with a Degree

Transferring with a degree (associate of arts or associate of science) is the best way to transfer. Please plan to complete a degree at the one institution before attempting to transfer to another institution.  While we won’t get into details about credentials in this post, the need to transfer with a degree is something that does not receive enough attention nowadays. A study1 found that it is easier to transfer degrees or the credits associated with a degree than attempt to transfer just credits in between institutions. So if you are a college freshman or sophomore please consider completing the associate degree (associate in arts or associate in science) before beginning the transfer process.

To wrap up today’s post here are the suggested initial steps you may want to follow prior to planning your college career or starting the transfer process:

  • Look up the classifications of the institutions you want to attend (public, private, 2-, 4-year, etc.) for the sending and destination institutions in the excel document below.
  • If the starting institution and the destination institution are located in the same state, look up an articulation agreement. To find out which states have articulation agreements and the sectors (public, private) that are covered under these agreements go to:
  • If you find an agreement – articulation or institutional – that means that credit transfer in between these 2 institutions is possible and the conditions will be specified in it. However, if these two institutions are not under any type of agreement contact the destination institution and see if they accept transfer credits. All in all, transferring credits between institutions without any type of agreements tends to be a little bit more difficult.
  • Always try to complete some type of credential at the sending institution (associate degree) before transferring to the destination institution.



Articulation agreements by state:

The full list of public, private not-for-profit, and private for-profit institutions in the US: ihe-by-sector-final-2



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