College Credit Transfer Guide (High School Credits, Community College)

Written by: Kristyn Pilgrim
Updated: 8/11/20

College is a significant investment. Many students try to make the most out of this investment by getting classes and credits out of the way cheaply before going to college or transferring to a four-year school.

While in high school, students can sometimes earn college credits by taking AP or IB classes or through dual enrollment programs with a local community college. Many community colleges offer the same courses you would find in the first two years at a four-year school but at a much lower price. 

In this guide, we explore the types of credit you can earn in high school or college and how well these types transfer to different institutions.

High School: AP Credits

Talented students across the country can take Advanced Placement (AP) courses while in high school. These are courses created by the College Board and are meant to be challenging and equivalent to college level. 

After successfully completing an AP class, you can then take a standardized AP exam. Scores on these exams are given as 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5, with 5 indicating the highest score. Most colleges will either grant credit, advanced placement, or both depending on your scores.

When a college grants you credit for an AP exam score, you don’t have to take the equivalent class at that college, which can mean significant financial savings or free you up to take a wider variety of classes. When colleges grant advanced placement, they are allowing you to skip a class that might be a prerequisite for a more advanced course.

Colleges that grant credit or advanced placement for AP exams have their own minimum score required. Many colleges will give you credit if you earn a 3 or higher. Some require a 4 or better, and a few require that you earn a 5.

You can use a search tool on the College Board’s AP website to see what scores your prospective college requires for the AP exams you have taken or will take. 

Note that after you get credit at one college for AP exam scores, if you transfer to another school, these credits may not transfer. The credit that you are granted at the new school will be based on that school’s AP exam policies. 

High School: IB Credits

IB stands for International Baccalaureate. It was a program designed in Switzerland in the 1960s but now exists worldwide, including the United States. 

High schools that offer an IB program provide students with the opportunity for advanced learning, as well as the possibility of advanced placement and college credit when they enter college.

This program also has exams that students take upon completion. Based on your exam scores and whether you have taken Standard Level (SL) or Higher Level (HL) IB courses, you can earn college credit.

Many IB programs also offer an IB Diploma upon high school graduation. Students who have earned this credential can sometimes place out of all of their general education courses upon entering college, although policies vary by institution.

High School: Dual Enrollment Credits

It is becoming more commonplace for high schools to partner with local area community colleges to offer credit to high school students. How it works is that students, usually while in their junior or senior year of high school, can take classes at the college that count toward their high school graduation requirements and provide college credit.

Dual enrollment credit is sometimes earned by high school students attending classes with other college students on the college campus. It is also sometimes earned by taking special classes at their high school sanctioned by the college to qualify for credit. 

When students who have earned dual enrollment credit graduate high school, they also come with a transcript from the college with all of their earned credits. Some ambitious students are even able to earn an associate degree at the same time they graduate high school by doing this.

Often, AP and IB courses are more rigorous than many dual enrollment classes, and depending on which college you would like to attend after graduation, you should take time to weigh the benefits of each option. 

AP and IB credits tend to be more universally recognized, particularly among elite schools, due to their rigor and standardization, while community college credits may not transfer as readily or meet rigor requirements. In fact, most Ivy League schools do not accept dual enrollment credit.

That said, community college and dual enrollment credits often transfer very readily to in-state public institutions, and many have agreements explicitly guaranteeing this transfer.

Community College Credits

In theory, credits earned at a community college should be transferred in a similar way as dual enrollment credits granted by the same institution. This is usually the case, but not always. That is, some schools that don’t accept dual enrollment college credits will still accept credits from the same college earned after graduating high school.

Community colleges are public institutions, and, as such, they often have agreements with other public institutions within the same state when it comes to credit transfers. This is because a lot of students start at community college and finish their four-year degrees by transferring. 

If you know that you will be transferring to a public four-year school, always check with your adviser and admissions office to make sure the courses you are completing will transfer without issue. 

When it comes to private schools or schools in other states, you may face more difficulties getting your community college credits to transfer, depending on that particular school’s course offerings and policies.

Reasons That Credits May Not Transfer Between Colleges

There are several reasons why, in addition to what has been described previously in this article, credits may not transfer between institutions. Among these are:

  • The receiving institution does not have any courses that are similar enough to the one you wish to transfer.
  • The course is offered only at a higher level at the receiving institution, and so they will not grant you credit due to the discrepancy in level. (For example, if you take Anthropology 201 at your community college, it isn’t likely to count for Anthropology 301 at a new institution.) 
  • Course content is not at least an 80% match with what is taught at the receiving institution for a course of the same title. (Side note: It’s always a good idea to hang on to the syllabi for courses you may want to transfer later, as consideration is often made based on the information found in a course’s syllabus.)
  • The course is not deemed rigorous enough to meet the standards of the receiving school. 
  • The course does not meet the degree requirements for the degree you are pursuing at the receiving school.

How to Increase the Odds That Credits Will Transfer

It’s always a good idea to keep one eye on the future. If you think you may want to transfer credits at some point, do your research and look up the policies at the schools that you might consider transferring to. That way, you can choose your courses or AP classes wisely.

If you are unsure about transferring later, make a point of starting your education with core classes taught almost everywhere. If you have a transcript of calculus, biology, and English, you will likely have more luck getting those credits to transfer than you would credit for game design or an obscure etymology seminar. 

If you are a high school student deciding between AP classes or dual enrollment, consider which type of college you plan on attending. Dual enrollment can be great for transferring to state schools, but AP classes are a more universally accepted option.

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