It's no secret that a college degree can help you take your career to another level. All across the U.S., colleges and universities are working to help students who hold some college credit return to school and complete their degrees.

In Hawaii, for example, the state university system is developing programs designed to re-engage students whose academic journey was cut short. The initiatives include state-funded scholarships, flexible class schedules, debt forgiveness programs and more.

Transferring your old credits into a renewed college effort makes good sense financially, too. Professionals who hold bachelor's degrees earn around 60 percent more than those with just a high school diploma, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On this page, we'll cover how to transfer college credits to or from an online college, what kinds of classes usually transfer easily, and some important terms that every transfer student should know.

$2,080
No high school
diploma
$2,848
High school
diploma
$3,096
Some college, no
degree
$3,344
Associate
degree
$4,692
Bachelor's
degree
$5,604
Master's
degree

Is Transferring Credits Worth the Effort?

In a word: yes. Course enrollment fees and other per-class expenses can really pile up, and choosing not to transfer completed credits is like throwing money out the window. While it may not feel like it at the time, engaging with the credit transfer process can save you time, money and hassle in the long run.

Demystifying the Credit Transfer Process

To the inexperienced, the transfer process might seem arbitrary and overcomplicated. Let's break it down to a few of the most important points:

You'll usually need to include a sealed transcript from your former school with your transfer paperwork. Your admissions office may have a transfer specialist on hand who can help you with the process, as well.

Why Do Students Transfer?

Is it right time for your transfer? Here's a quick quiz to help you decide

Have you just finished an associate degree at a community or junior college?
Are you ready to continue your education after spending some time away from school?
Do you want to train for a new career after completing a stretch of military service?
Will you have to move to a new city before finishing your current degree program?

Transfer Terms to Know

Can You Transfer from an On-Campus Program to an Online Program?

Provided you're headed to one of the online colleges that accept transfer credits, your campus-based credits should have the same value that they would at a brick- and-mortar school. Credits earned in the two different types of schools are largely the same, with one important exception.

As you may already know, accreditation is important for transferring college credits. Some multi-state online schools hold national instead of regional accreditation, and credits from regionally accredited schools tend to be more widely accepted for transfer. If you're looking into the best online schools for transferring credits, don't forget to check their accreditation status. Our page on college accreditation may be able to help you better understand what to look for and where to find it.

Types of Transfer Credit

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5 Steps for Transferring to an Online College Program

1. Choose a college

Choosing the right college can be tough, but it's an important first step in the process of finishing your degree. Here's a quick list of questions to help you narrow it down:

  1. Is the school regionally accredited?
  2. Are the tuition and fees within your comfort zone?
  3. Is your target degree program available there?
  4. Do you meet the residency requirements for in-state tuition?
  5. Do they participate in any transfer agreements that might benefit you?
  6. Are there any special financial aid programs for transfer students?

If you're still looking for ideas on where might be best to go, take a look at our list of the best online colleges for transferring credits.

2. Meet with your current advisor

If you're currently in school, your advisor should be able to help you sort out what it takes to transfer your credits smoothly. Here's a quick list of the sort of questions you can ask:

Remember, your advisor is there to help you work through the administrative challenges of college life. If something they tell you isn't clear, don't hesitate to ask for clarification.

3. Talk to advisors at your new school about which credits may transfer

Your current advisor isn't the only person with a vested interest in you transferring successfully. The advising department at your destination school may also have information that can help your transfer process go as smoothly as possible.

Here are some sample questions you can ask advisors at your upcoming school:

  1. What documents do I need to provide in the transfer process?
  2. How can I check to see which of my courses are likely to transfer?
  3. Are there any special policies for online college transfer credits?
  4. Do you offer any financial aid incentives for incoming transfer students?
  5. How can I meet other transfer students on campus?

It's also a good idea to visit campus for a transfer advising session, if you have the chance. Being there in person may present you with resources you didn't expect.

4. Collect the documents your school needs

The exact materials needed to transfer can vary depending on the specific policies at the schools involved in your transfer. However, here's a list of some of the documents that may be called for:

Your conversations with your advisors should give you a pretty good idea of which documents you'll need to put together before your transfer. Most schools make a list of their necessary documents plainly available, either in hard copy or on the Web.

5. Apply

Pulling the trigger on your application is the last step of the process. If you've done all the other steps thoroughly and correctly, though, this part should be as simple as putting the right information in the right places and sending the application to your new school's admissions department.

The most important thing left to note is the series of deadlines in force at your destination school. There's usually an application deadline by which you need to submit your paperwork, a financial aid deadline that serves as the cutoff for grant, loan and scholarship applications, and -- once you're accepted -- an enrollment deadline by which you'll need to have your class schedule in order.

State Programs That Can Help Transfer Students

Most of the information we've been covering so far has dealt with transferring on a generalized scale, but active transfer initiatives in your state or region can provide you with special advantages. Here are five examples of programs available to help transfer students in states both large and small.

Find More Help Transferring

If it's time for you to plan your transfer, you need information that's relevant and specific. Traditional search engines can be a big help -- try putting the name of your school or state before the words "college transfer" in a Web search. You might be surprised how much info comes up.

Also, check out our state index page for more geographically focused information, or look for inspiration in our ranking of the best online colleges for transfer students.

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