How to plan college credits while your teen is in high school so they will transfer (count) toward their degree after high school.
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. That advice sounds good, but there is no such thing as “pre-approval” for a class that you’re planning to take now for a degree you’re not starting for a few years.
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?”
But for high school planning, that’s the wrong question. Why?
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 when you contact a college and they give you the green light, they are not bound by the answer. Future college catalog and policy is reviewed every year, and things change!
Learning the transfer or credit acceptance policy of one college is like learning only one recipe! It’s a much better use of your time to learn college transfer principles that are typical for the majority of colleges. Doing this allows 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 right question to ask is
“Will this class be disqualified from transferring?”
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, Studycom, etc . Unless you’re planning to attend a partner college, your classes will rarely transfer! 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. We keep a list of ACE partnership colleges here.
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
3. Can regular college students pay for this course using financial aid?
If yes, proceed to #4.
WHY? Though you can’t use financial aid in high school, 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. This is certainly a red flag. If you have other options, my advice is to avoid this class.
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 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 for career training at that institution and not for future transfer elsewhere.
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. A handful of colleges have their own numbering system that looks nothing like this one, so if you’re in the least bit uncertain, call and ask if the course counts towards a degree and then follow up by getting it in writing.
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 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.
- 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!