Will it Transfer? That’s the Wrong Question

How to plan college credits while your teen is in high school so they will transfer (count) toward their degree after high school.  

you better be sure…

A well-meaning warning usually sounds like this: “You better be sure to check with your kid’s college to make sure that class will transfer!” Unfortunately, colleges don’t work like that. People who warn you were likely denied transfer credit and worry that it will happen to you. That advice sounds good, but there is no such thing as “pre-approval” for a class that you’re planning to take now and apply to a degree in a few years at a different college. That’s not a thing.

Let’s clear something up first. Parents who are Homeschooling for College Credit are taking in a risk. We are risking that the college credit our kids earn today will save us time and money later when our teen leaves high school and enters college. It might not! Since we want the credit to count, we have to mitigate our risk and get as close to a guarantee as possible.

Behind the scenes: College registrars (not admissions, not advisors, not counselors) are the ones who decide whether credit “counts” at a college. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll convince a college registrar to (a) talk to you, (b) give you any kind of assurance that courses you’re taking elsewhere will count at their college, or (3) discuss hypotheticals. It’s much more likely that you’ll be routed to an admissions (sales) rep who hasn’t been trained on the nuances of earning college credit in high school.

I know you want to ask “will it transfer?”

For high school planning, that’s the wrong question.  

A high school student is 2, 3, 4, or more years away from enrollment, thus it is impossible to “lock” your teen into a college policy or guarantee. Even if you contacted a college and they gave you an answer, that answer can change every single year when the new catalog is published.

Learning the transfer or credit acceptance policy of one college is like learning one recipe! You’re not going to be much of a cook that way! It’s a better use of your time to learn college transfer principles that will allow you to understand what happens at thousands of colleges and plan accordingly.

Planning for future college admissions isn’t as hard when you think like a college employee instead of thinking like a homeschool parent!

Colleges differ widely in their acceptance of credit, but they’re predictable and boring with how they disqualify credit from being transferred. The best question you must ask and the right approach to use as plan your teen’s homeschool for college credit journey is:

“Will this class be disqualified from transfer?”

By knowing and then avoiding classes that are commonly disqualified, you improve the likelihood of successful transfer a zillion-fold. (Maybe not a zillion-fold, but a lot!) I’m not going to tell you which courses are disqualifiable, I’m going to teach you how to assess this yourself and your family!

Use these 6 tests to see if the course is a good risk or a poor risk. If you can answer “yes” to each, you’re probably going to have a successful transfer. If you hit a “no” anywhere on this list…disqualification is likely.

1. Is the class offered through a university or college?

If yes, proceed to #2.

WHY? Many businesses offer classes “for college credit,” through partnerships with specific colleges and the American Council of Education (ACE). Examples of these businesses include Straighterline, ALEKS, Sophia, Coursera, Studycom, etc. If you’re not planning to attend a college on that business’ partnership list, stop now. These courses rarely, if ever, transfer into a non-partner college. If you do plan to use a partner college, there will be a transfer guide -simply look up the course you’re considering to know how it will come in at your partner college.

2. Is the university or college regionally accredited?

If yes, proceed to #3.

WHY? 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  If you find that the college is not regionally accredited, stop now.

3. Can regular college students pay for this course using federal financial aid?

If yes, proceed to #4.

WHY? Though you won’t be using financial aid with your high school student, courses that don’t qualify for financial aid are probably either professional development, continuing education, or offered through a college within a university that may not transfer well (Extension colleges sometimes fall into this category).   Dig deeper – this could get muddy and complicated.  If the course doesn’t qualify for financial aid, my advice is to stop now.  

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.

WHY? Those degrees/awards contain courses intended for transfer, specifically general education courses.  If this course is not part of a degree program, or it is part of a 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 for career training, not college transfer.  

Exception: If your teen’s ultimate goal is an Associate of Applied Science degree from the school you’re considering for dual enrollment, you’re not going to transfer the credit elsewhere, so you don’t need to worry about transfer credit. But, if a transfer to another college is planned, into a different Associate of Applied Science degree program or a 4-year school, stop now. 

5. Is the course’s alpha-numeric 100 or higher?

For instance, the number in ENG101 is 101.  ENG101 has an alpha-numeric higher than 100.

If yes, proceed to #6.

WHY? The majority of colleges use 100-400 numbers to indicate level. Courses under 100 level (085, 060, etc.) are possibly “developmental” and not eligible for college credit. If the college uses this system, and the course is not at least 100 level, stop now.  A handful of colleges have their own system that looks nothing like this one. If that’s the case, call and ask.  

100 and 200 are freshman/sophomore lower-level. 300 and 400 are junior / senior upper-level. Community college courses generally have a good selection of remedial (under 100) courses but will not go higher than 299. Universities don’t always offer courses under 100-level but can offer courses all the way through 600 (masters/doctorate).  

6. Does this course appear in the college’s list of approved general education courses?

If yes, congratulations! You’re as close to a sure thing as you can get. You’ve passed my test of 6 key disqualifiers.


What now?  Proceed!   You’re as solid as you can be at this point.  

Final things 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 since they almost never make decisions on a whim.
  • 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.

Credit Laundering

Colleges are highly predictable in how they handle incoming credit, but people are exceptionally creative, and it doesn’t take long before bright parents to think they’ve found a loophole.  Let’s look at that loophole.