“Which college classes should my high school student should take?” and “How can I make sure they will transfer later?” are the two top questions I answer in emails or our many Facebook groups. College credit in high school is rarely guaranteed to transfer, but if you use the same filters I use when picking classes, I can get you really, really, really close to a perfect and seamless transfer experience.
Limitations of being a Pre-prospective Student
First things first, you have to know your place in the college’s hierarchy. The students who get accurate answers from the registrar or an academic advisor are enrolled students. These are people who are paying money and earning a degree. The very limited resources are going to go to those students first (and when you’re in that place, you’ll be happy to get first dibs). The next lower tier are the prospective students. These are usually 12th graders who have an application on file with the college, have possibly met with the college, and are in the decision making phase. These students have access to admissions and marketing services. Finally, the lowest tier are the pre-prospective students. These students are browsing, considering, and pondering. These students might get access to admissions, and maybe the occasional advisor, but under no scenario will anyone at the college ever promise your pre-prospective student that course X taken today will count towards a degree in a few years.
There is no way for you to learn if every class will be accepted at every university. I can’t even do the math to calculate the potential for how many variables that represents, but what you CAN learn (in about 15 minutes) is who a course gets disqualified.
Once you know why a course DOESN’T transfer, you can choose classes and credits with wisdom. If you read our celebration posts and happy stories, you will never hear a story of the perfect plan. You will always hear that X number of credits were accepted. It’s unlikely to be 100% for any of us, so don’t make that your standard, because you’ll never get started if you’re looking for a promise of a perfect plan.
Start anyway. The risk of losing a few credits is worth the enormous gains (financial and time) that your teen gets by having most of their resourcefully planned credits accepted.
Disqualification is the key. It really is THAT is easy, and if you sent me an email asking for my personal one on one help, that’s exactly what I would do with you. We’d look and see if there were any reason a course might be disqualified. Using this list is much faster and a million times more efficient than trying to ask a college about a specific course or find a college that never changes its policy.
1. Is the class offered through a university or college?
If yes, proceed to #2.
If no, then is the class or exam inside a partnership or transfer agreement?
If yes, proceed to #2. If no, this course is disqualified.
WHY? Many businesses offer classes “for college credit,” but are not colleges, so their credits are evaluated by a third party like the American Council of Education (ACE) or NCCRS. Examples of these kinds of businesses include Advanced Placement exams, CLEP exams, Straighterline, ALEKS, Sophia, Studycom, Coopersmith, Law Shelf, etc . On our list of “30 Ways to Earn College Credit” we are talking about ways #2-30! In short, the BEST CHANCE of transfer is to start with a college or university. If you’re using any other option, the only way to be SURE that the credit will be accepted at your target college or university is to see if the business has a partnership with the university. Partnerships are very important. For instance, almost 78% of colleges accept CLEP exams. If the college you’re considering does, they will likely publish their CLEP policy on their website. A college in partnership with Law Shelf will usually be listed on Law Shelf’s website. These programs allow you to save thousands of dollars, so if you’re not committed to a specific college, these partner colleges are worth considering..
2. Is the university or college accredited by one of these 7 accreditors?
- Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
If yes, proceed to #3.
If no, this course is disqualified.
WHY? Those 7 accreditors (also called Regionally Accredited, or RA) are important to the transfer process. Colleges that are NOT regionally accredited (RA) almost never transfer into colleges that ARE regionally accredited. Public community colleges and universities ARE always regionally accredited, so the likelihood that they’d accept an NON-RA credit in transfer is tiny. Non RA colleges can be legitimate schools with different accreditation, but strictly in the question of future transfer, only choose RA courses in high school. Check accreditation for any college here: U.S. Department of Accreditation Database
3. Can regular college students (not dual enrollment) pay for this course using financial aid?
If yes, proceed to #4.
If no, this course might be disqualified.
WHY? Though you can’t use financial aid in high school, courses that don’t qualify for financial aid are probably either “continuing education” or “professional development.” These types of classes can be offered through a college, but are almost never transferable. (Extension colleges sometimes fall into this category). You’ll need to dig deeper – this could get muddy and complicated. A clue is if they direct you to a division other than “Admissions” when you inquire about the class. Being redirected to “continuing education” or somewhere else is certainly a red flag that this course won’t transfer later.
4. Locate the name of the department offering the course. Is this course part of a degree program that leads to an award with the letters AA, BA, AS, or BS?
If yes, proceed to #5.
If no, this course might be disqualified.
WHY? AA, BA, AS, and BS degrees/awards contain courses intended to transfer, specifically general education courses. If this course is part of a program or credential with a different name like Certificate, Diploma, Associate of Applied Science, Associate Occupational Science, or any degree with the word “Technology” in the title, the transfer is unlikely. The course you’re considering is possibly considered career training or career and technical – two categories that don’t transfer well. The default here is that the course is disqualified unless you can find a reason (like a transfer agreement) for it not to be.
5. Is the course’s alpha-numeric 100 or higher?
For instance, the number part of ENG101 is “101“ and 101 is higher than 100.
If yes, proceed to #6.
If no, this course might be disqualified.
WHY? The majority of colleges use 100-400 numbers to indicate level. Courses under 100 level (085, 060, etc.) are probably “developmental” and not eligible for college credit. A handful of colleges have their own numbering system that looks nothing like this one (ENG09T), but are still ok to transfer. If it looks like all the classes use unusual numbers, contact the college for clarification on the course level for the course(s) you’re considering. If the course is “freshman” level or higher, that is the same as 100 or higher and you can proceed to #6.
6. Does this course appear in the college’s list of approved general education courses?
General education courses are the courses “all students” take prior to taking courses in their major. It’s intentionally “general” in that it provides the student with a wide range of knowledge. General education courses are the most likely to transfer, so choosing courses from these subjects gives you a better chance than choosing subjects outside this list. If you do have a target college in mind, you can check their general education list and compare the course your planning against their list.
Typically General Education Subjects
English, Literature, Communication, Math, Natural Science, Physical Science, Foreign Language, Humanities, Art, Music, History, Behavioral Science, Ethics, Cultural Diversity.
Typically NOT General Education Subjects
Accounting, Allied Health, Aviation, Business, Computer Science, Culinary, Education, Engineering Technology, Finance, Fire Science, Library Science, Management, Marketing, Nursing, PE or Fitness, Real Estate, subjects with “Technology” in the title, or anything leading to a career certificate.
If you made it this far, you’re as close to a sure thing as you can get! You’ve through key transfer credit disqualifiers. What now? Proceed! You’re as solid as you can be at this point.
Nuances to be aware of:
- Occasionally, some colleges (NOT the majority) will put “expiration dates” on hard sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, etc.) and technology (computer science, etc.). If you’re still a few years away from enrollment and you expect at least one of your teen’s target colleges has this policy, your best bet is to choose non-science and technology courses now (English, social science, humanities, math) and wait for the 11th grade or later before taking hard sciences or computer courses.
- Public colleges and university employees will disqualify credit based on a specific written (and approved) policy. Sometimes this is done at the state level, district level, or even campus level. But these colleges are the most predictable and usually available to the public for you to review.
- Private 2 and 4-year colleges, schools, or universities will always be the least predictable. Private colleges, schools, and universities also have complete autonomy when it comes to setting their own policy, and you’ll sometimes encounter people who can make decisions based on their own assessment or opinion.
- For any potential college, see of they have “articulation agreements” in place with other colleges. An articulation agreement is a written transfer agreement that guarantees your credits, courses, or degree will transfer. Using an articulation agreement is a great strategy to save money and avoid hitting the unfortunate snags that come from failed credit laundering.
- If your student is taking college classes in high school from the college where they plan to earn a degree, then you’re in the best possible situation because you can get course planning advice directly from the college!
Courses, not Degrees.
This post is to help you choose individual courses and exams. If your teen wants to earn an associate degree in high school, that’s something altogether different! Earning a degree that transfers builds on these principles, but once your teen has a degree conferred, everything changes. The date earned, coordinating with high school graduation, picking a degree that nests inside a bachelor’s degree perfectly, and making sure that the AA really does mean that the first 2 years of the bachelor’s are done. There are a lot more moving parts, especially when a bachelor’s is the goal. If that’s your goal, I highly recommend you take our HS4CC 2-Year Degree course. You’ll need considerably more depth and understanding to make sure your teen’s degree transfers the way you expect it to, but just like the course filter process above, it’s learnable, and I’m happy to teach it to you!