Do College Credits Expire?: College Credit Guide 
Obtaining each college credit is a success, but how long do college credits last? Do college credits expire?
If you’re thinking about taking a break from college for any reason, or even if you’re considering going back to college after a long break, you might be wondering: do college credits expire?
Would it make sense to take an extended break from your studies if it meant that you’d end up wasting your hard-earned credits (that you also paid good money for)? Can you even go back to college after your extended break and pick up where you left off, or would you have to retake all your classes and pay for everything again?
If you’re asking, “when do college credits expire?,” this article will take you through everything you need to know about college credits, how long until college credits expire, transfer eligibility, and more. Ready? Let’s get started!
How Long Do College Credits Last?
You’re probably asking yourself, do college credits expire after 10 years? Or maybe even — do college credits expire after 20 years? Both questions are valid, especially if you plan to leave your studies for a long time (or are ready to return to school after a decade break or more).
Let’s answer all the questions you may have below.
Do My College Credits Have a Shelf Life? Do College Credits Expire?
Strictly technically speaking, the answer to these questions is no (at least if you earned your credits at an accredited institution). If you were asking, “how long do college credits last before they expire?,” the answer is — forever!
But there’s a catch: not all credits are transferable. And, the longer it’s been since you earned your credit, the higher the chance that you won’t be able to transfer them if you decide to go back to school.
Here’s what you can expect when it comes to college credit expiration:
- Any core classes you’ve taken in general education are typically evergreen. That means that no matter how long it’s been since you took these classes, the credits will be valid and transferable between schools. This fact is why a lot of students choose to take their general classes at a much more affordable community college before shifting to a four-year institution to finish their degree.
- Courses in STEM usually have a shelf life of ten years. The reason for this is that in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), advances are made regularly. Each field sees improvements, new methodologies, new findings, and more. Thus, after 10 years, you may need to retake your STEM courses as they’ll no longer transfer.
- You can expect around a seven-year shelf life for your graduate courses. However, you may find that in some professions, even seven years is generous, especially if your field of study rapidly evolves.
- You might be able to get credit for life experience. Some institutions will honor some of your life and work experiences as credit if they find you eligible. For example, if you’ve got relevant work experience in your industry, you may receive some credit!
- Some schools will accept military service as valid, transferable credit. Many military-friendly colleges and universities have a credit allotment for time served in the service.
Is College Credit Expiration Standard Across the Board?
Nope! Each educational institution has its own policies as to how long they’ll consider a credit transferable. The best way to know for sure is to check each school’s transfer policy. You can also call up your school and ask them, “how long are my college credits good for?”
How Do I Know What Credits I Have?
Now that we’ve answered the question, “how long do credits last for college?,” let’s talk about how you can find out what credits you already have.
It’s really easy to find out which credits you’ve earned in the past. The best way to do so is to get in touch with your past school (or schools) and ask them! You can ask the registrar and follow the procedure they have for giving you your transcript. Some schools will allow you to do this online, while others will do it over fax or e-mail. You can also send your request via certified mail and give them instructions on how to send your transcript to you.
Note that there may be a small fee for getting your transcript.
What Affects a College Credit’s Transferability to Another Program?
Five main factors affect whether you can transfer your college credits to another university: time, accreditation, relevance, number of credits, and GPA.
Although college credits won’t necessarily expire in the technical sense, you won’t be always able to transfer them. This is most true in cases where your field of study experiences frequent growth, developments, and advancements. A great example is STEM, where what you learned ten years ago could be obsolete today. In this case, you’d be asked to retake a course to ensure you are up to date.
Think about innovative or critical subjects like medicine, science, or technology. A lot can change in 5-10 years, so curriculums are updated constantly. If your experience is outdated, a university might require you to take a more recent course. For these reasons, many institutions have implemented a 5-year rule or 10-year rule for college credits.
If your college credits aren’t relevant to your new prospective course of study, a university might not accept the college credit transfer. After all, any courses you’ve completed and earned credit for in one major wouldn’t do you any good in a completely unrelated field of study. For example, if your previous major was in music, how would your music credits be able to help you in your new major, accounting?
Most universities in the US have accreditation status from one or more bodies demonstrating their reputation and credibility. To transfer your credits, you’ll likely need to have college credits that are accredited. Read more about accreditation here.
Additionally, there may also be some cases where even if you did go to an accredited school, your credits may not transfer anyway. This is usually the case if you went to a nationally accredited college and want to go to a regionally accredited university.
Credits earned at a regionally accredited school are easily transferable to a nationally accredited institution. However, the opposite is not always true. While it’s technically possible to transfer credits you earned at a nationally accredited school to a regionally accredited school, the process will involve a lot of hurdles than normal. And even then, you may run into regionally accredited schools that, by policy, simply do not accept credit transfers from nationally accredited universities.
Number of Credits
Some universities accept more college credit transfers than others. For example, one university might accept 10 transfer credits that meet other criteria, while another might have a maximum limit of 30.
If you just barely pass one college course, another university might not be willing to accept a transfer for that credit. This is especially true for more advanced and demanding programs.
How Do I Check the Eligibility of My College Credit?
Once you already know what credits you have, the next logical step would be to check whether they are transferable. The best way to check your credit eligibility is to do a little bit of research. Some schools will provide you with free tools like eligibility calculators to see how many of your credits can transfer over. These free tools are often available on school websites.
Unfortunately, not all educational institutions have these tools. If a school you’re looking to transfer to doesn’t have an eligibility tool, you can ask the institution’s admissions department.
Note that although a school’s eligibility tool may tell you your credits are transferable, the final say is in the hands of the admissions officers.
Who Do I Contact About Transferring My College Credit?
If you would like to transfer your college credit, you’ll need to get in touch with your prospective schools’ admissions offices. You’ll most likely need to ask your previous school to send them your transcript (for a fee). Once the admissions offices receive your transcripts, they’ll usually let you know how long the review will take and how they’ll let you know the results.
The best person to ask would be the transfer coordinator, so it may be a good idea to ask for their contact information. Having a direct line to the transfer coordinator can be quite helpful as you’ll be able to ask any questions you may have. You may also petition or appeal the results in some cases.
How Do I Check if My College Credits are Transferable?
The best way to find out if your credits will transfer to another school is to ask the school itself. Each school has its own credit equivalency policies. Write to or call the admissions office and provide them with any information they request, and they’ll often let you know how many credits they’ll honor.
How Long Do Colleges Keep Transcripts?
If you’re thinking about applying for a degree program 10, 20, or 30 years after your last stint in university, don’t worry. Colleges are obligated to keep your transcript permanent record for many years as decided by each state government.
Some states demand a 60-year recordkeeping period, while others have implemented one for 100 years. Keep in mind, though, that if your transcript is decades old, you might have to wait a while longer to get them.
Temporary records are much faster and easier to obtain. Either way, you can expect to pay a fee anywhere from $15-$100 to obtain your college transcript.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do college credits expire after five years?
Not at all! College credits technically have no expiry date — the credits you’ve earned will stay with you forever. However, there may be cases in which your credits will no longer transfer to another school if a certain amount of time has passed. This is usually the case in STEM fields or professional fields.
Will older college credits transfer?
It depends entirely on each school’s transfer and credit equivalency policy and which field of study you are in. The best way to find out is to get in touch with your prospective school’s admissions office, more specifically, the transfer coordinator. Provide them with the information they need, and they’ll let you know the results after a review period.
So, do college credits expire? Technically, no. Do college credits expire even if you don’t graduate? Also no. However, what you have to keep in mind is that not all credits will transfer, and each school’s transfer policy differs from the others. The best way to find out if your credits remain valid for transfer is to get in touch with your prospective school’s admissions office and ask them directly.
We hope that this guide has helped you learn everything you need to know about college credit expiration. If you’re ready to start transferring yours, you can read College Monk’s guide to transferring colleges.