Do College Credits Expire?

A degree may open the door to a variety of opportunities and diverse career paths. The degree programs offered at AIU will not necessarily lead to the featured careers. This collection of articles is intended to help inform and guide you through the process of determining which level of degree and types of certifications align with your desired career path.

With an increasing number of adult students going back to college each year, one question of growing importance is, "Do college credits expire?"

The short answer is that college credits don't ever really "expire." If you've earned a passing grade, then your credit for the class will be permanently logged on your transcripts with the school you earned them with. The more important factor to consider is whether your new school will allow you to transfer existing credits to count toward your degree requirements. This is where timing can become a factor.

Why Worry About Whether College Credits Expire?

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that enrollment rates for adult learners age 25 and over are increasing at a faster rate than "traditional students" under 25. Between 2004 and 2014, the enrollment of students under age 25 was higher than the enrollment of students age 25 and over. However, NCES projects that enrollment of students aged 25 and over will increase by 18% through 2025, compared to a 13% increase among students below age 25.1 Even in 2016, approximately a quarter of all students in higher education institutions were over age 30.2

Many nontraditional students choose to go back to college to finish their degree program after having been out of school for years. Therefore, if this is you and you're planning to return to college after a long absence, can you still use credits you've earned in the past, or do you have to start from scratch?

How Long Do College Credits Last?

Every institution has its own rules regarding transferability of credits, and the awarding of credit is at the sole discretion of the receiving institution.

  • Relevance of Existing Credits – Do the credits you previously earned align with the field and degree program you're pursuing? If you decide to shift from a humanities degree to a psychology degree, or from math and science program to a business program, then you may find that some of your older courses aren't relevant to your new online degree program and won’t be counted toward the degree requirements.
  • Length of Time Since the Credit Was Earned – Is the information you learned when you first took the credit-granting course still valid or has it changed? Colleges want their graduates to work to develop current knowledge and an accurate understanding of the relevant information, theories, and practices to help them prepare to pursue opportunities in their field. If your credits were earned more than 10 years ago, for example, they may be perceived as less relevant than those earned in more recent years. Furthermore, they may not be eligible to transfer. However, this may likely vary depending on the institution you attend.
  • Type of Credits – General education credits may be eligible to transfer regardless of age since they do not typically cover specific industry practices. In fields that rely on constantly changing information and technologies – science, nursing, or engineering – you may have trouble transferring credits earned 10 – 20 years ago or more. In a similar vein, some institutions may offer college credit for real world experience.
  • College Accreditation – One of the most important factors to check when considering whether or not you'll be able to transfer college credits to a new institution is the accreditation status of your original college or university. Credits from a non-accredited school may be less likely to transfer (or may not be eligible at all). Additionally, keep in mind that your previous school's accreditation status at the time you earned your credits is important, and whether credits are transferable will depend on each institution’s policy.3 Further, even if a degree program is accredited, it does not guarantee that the credits you have earned will be eligible to transfer.

If you have questions about whether credits from a potentially non-accredited school are eligible to transfer, be sure to speak with an academic advisor or a representative from the program you plan to pursue.

How Do You Transfer Credits?

Each school will address how to transfer college credits a bit differently; however, keep the following points in mind as you prepare to talk to your advisor or admissions officer:

  • Send a Copy of Your Transcript to Your New School – Having a printed copy of your transcript can be helpful when you have to speak with an advisor about which credits may apply to your new degree program.
  • Placement Tests May be Required by Your New Program – In order to assess your current level of knowledge, placement tests may be required. If the results of these tests place you in a lower-level course for which you've already earned credit elsewhere, then you may still be required to retake the class.
  • Information on Previous Courses May be Requested – Your advisor or admissions officer may request information on previous courses, such as the syllabus or other course materials, in order to evaluate whether they meet current degree program requirements.
  • Old Credits May be Applied as Electives – This benefits returning students by cutting down the number of additional courses you need to take outside your immediate concentration, while still requiring you to potentially retake courses in subjects where your old credits have become outdated.

Pursue Your Education Today

Are you thinking about returning to school but don't want to start from scratch? View AIU’s transfer credit guide to find out how you may be able to get credit with previous college, military, or work experience.* If you are ready to learn more, explore degree programs at AIU today


1. “Digest of Education Statistics: 2015.” National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d15/ch_3.asp (Visited 04/25/18).
2. “Shaken by Economic Change, ‘Non-Traditional’ Students are Becoming the New Normal.” NPR. Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/09/25/495188445/shaken-by-economic-change-non-traditional-students-are-becoming-the-new-normal (Visited 04/25/18).
3. “Overview of Accreditation in the United States.” U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from: https://www2.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/accreditation.html (Visited 04/25/18).

AIU cannot guarantee employment or salary. For important information about the educational debt, earnings and completion rates of students who attended these programs, go to www.aiuniv.edu/disclosures.
* Transfer credit is evaluated on an individual basis. Not all credits are eligible to transfer. See the University Catalog for transfer credit policies.
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