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We get it—college is expensive. With the cost of tuition rising, it comes as no surprise that more and more students are exploring cost-effective solutions to earning a diploma. Some students choose to attend a community college prior to enrolling in a four-year college as a way to earn credits at a lower cost before applying them toward a bachelor’s degree. In addition, some savvy students know that credits from exams including AP, CLEP or DSST are a quick way to receive college credit in subjects they already know. But regardless of the reasoning behind transferring credits, the main question on students’ minds is the same—will my credits transfer?

One size doesn’t fit all

It’s important to note that each school will have their own policy on transfer credits, and there is no “one size fits all ” answer. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some similarities among schools in how they evaluate transfer credits. We spoke with Michelle Adams, Senior Director of Transfer Admission and Articulations at Elmhurst College to help us understand the process colleges use to determine if your credits will transfer.

How do schools determine if credits are eligible for transfer? 

“The receiving school reviews pertinent information related to the course from the sending school, including course title, course description, number of semester hours or units, and syllabi. This review is performed by a combination of an articulation officer and faculty, in most cases,” said Adams.

When it comes to transfer credits, each school may have a different procedure and set of standards, but we asked Adams to share the criteria Elmhurst uses in their evaluation process to understand how the system works.

“At Elmhurst College, the following criteria are evaluated: 

  1. Is the sending institution accredited by a governing body from which we accept transfer credit, like The Higher Learning Commission?
  2. Is the course taught at the college level, and is it typical of a liberal arts and sciences curriculum? 
  3. Did the student earn a grade of D or better in the course? 

If the answers to these three are all yes, then we move to determine exactly what equivalency the course will have at Elmhurst College.”

In an effort to dispel myths surrounding transfer credits, we asked Adams to share some of the common misconceptions students have.

Students sometimes think all courses transfer to all institutions, and are surprised to hear that some credits cannot be accepted if taken at a non-accredited institution, or if they are courses below college level, such as remedial reading or math courses. Also, all schools have their own policies regarding transfer credit, so the way a course may transfer to one school may be different than at another school.”

How to request a credit transfer 

We know this process can be intimidating, so we asked Adams to walk us through the procedure of requesting a credit transfer at Elmhurst College.

Before applying to the school

 “A student may request an unofficial evaluation of transfer credits before the actual college application process by:

  •  submitting a request on our website
  •  reaching out to our admission staff via email or phone


  • scheduling an appointment with an admission counselor for an in-person review and explanation  

Unofficial evaluations are based on unofficial transcripts and are done by the admission counselor. Once complete, the counselor works with the student to go through the evaluation and answer any questions.” 

After applying to the school

Once a student applies to Elmhurst College, it is required that official transcripts from all college-level institutions attended are submitted. Once these documents are received, transcript evaluators review all coursework to apply credit towards major requirements, general education requirements or elective hours needed for graduation. An official evaluation is put together and returned to the student with their admit packet. This outlines at the time of application all credits accepted in transfer, what the courses are equivalent to at Elmhurst, as well as the transfer GPA and hours left to graduation.” 

Credit by exam

Aside from transferring credits earned from another school, students can also utilize credit earned by certain exams. Credit by exam saves you time and money by measuring your knowledge in subjects like Biology, Chemistry, and English Literature. Many schools accept credits earned through a satisfactory score on exams like CLEP, AP, and DSST

“We grant credit for all AP exams offered for students who earn a score of 3 or better on the exam, and submit official test scores from CollegeBoard. CLEP exams each have different passing scores, so if a student received a score at the passing level or above then Elmhurst will award college level credit if an official score report is submitted.” 

Need help preparing for an exam? Check out Peterson’s College Test Prep subscriptions. Get access to practice tests, flashcards and videos to prepare you for success on exam day.

Prior learning credit

Receiving credit for professional or military experience is another cost-effective way adult learners and veterans can receive credit in areas they are already proficient. For example, military personnel and veteran students may receive credit in areas like computer science or engineering based on the training and skills they acquired in the military. 

“Adult students are automatically waived from our Experiential Learning requirement within our general education program. And students with military experience can submit their military transcripts for review using ACE standards to earn credit.”

Check in with the school you want to transfer to

Adams advises students to reach out to the school they’d like to transfer to sooner rather than later.

“The number one piece of advice is to talk with admission counselors at the four-year school and transfer advisors at the two-year schools to develop a transfer plan. The earlier a student speaks to these individuals the greater the chances of completing courses that benefit them most in the transfer process.”  

By taking the time to investigate the process your school uses to evaluate transfer credits, you receive the best chance of a successful transfer.