On the move? Transfer credits to your next school

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Today’s students are on the move — seguing from a community college to earn a bachelor’s degree in a four-year institution, moving from one school to another that’s a better fit or going back to school to complete a degree or learn new skills. And wherever they go, they want to make sure their college credits will make the trip with them.

“If you’re planning to transfer to another college you want to make sure all the credits you’ve already earned will transfer with you,” said Anthony Todd, a transfer counselor at South Suburban Community College in South Holland. “It’s very disheartening to find you’ve wasted both time and money on a course that another school won’t accept.”

To avoid this pitfall and help keep students on track with their goal of successfully transferring to a four-year school Todd has a number of tools at his disposal. Students who plan to transfer to a school in Illinois can check with the Illinois Articulation Initiative to ensure their courses will be accepted at another Illinois school. The IAI is a statewide transfer agreement between more than 100 participating colleges and universities. All participants agree to accept a “package” of IAI general education courses in lieu of their own comparable general education requirements.

Detailed information can be found at itransfer.org, an Internet tool created as a portal of transfer assistance for students seeking to transfer between schools of higher education in Illinois.

You can browse the site to learn the basics of transferring, different types of transfer credits and what you can do to ensure a smooth transition. And for answers to specific questions, you can also email counselors at itransfer@itransfer.org or call (309) 438-8640.

However, use caution when relying on this Internet tool.

“The IAI agreement doesn’t include upper-level courses, only general education requirements,” said Robert Berki, undergraduate counselor at North Park University in Chicago. “So if you plan to major in communications at a four-year school, don’t assume a lower-level communications course you took at a community college will count toward your major.”

Students who plan to transfer to a school out of state can consult collegesource.org, another online database containing 67,254 digital catalogs from colleges and universities around the country, institution profiles, transcript keys and other critical resources.

One CollegeSource tool that students can use is u.select. Students can create a free u.select account at collegesource.com/solutions/u-select where they can view course equivalency information and request an evaluation of their transfer work against a program in a particular school.

In recent years a growing number of community colleges and colleges and universities have formed partnerships that seamlessly combine the credits earned at both institutions and eliminates the possibility that earned credits will be disallowed by the receiving school.

The College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn currently offers 10 innovative 3 + 1 bachelor’s degrees with partner universities that provide the opportunity for students to train for careers in high-demand fields. Three of these degrees — computer science, criminal and social justice, and fire service administration — are offered in partnership with Lewis University in Romeoville.

“We were the first university to offer a 3 + 1 bachelor’s degree program with the COD. Now this model has become increasingly popular, and we’ve been joined by several other local universities because the plan is very affordable and can be flexible for working students,” said Ashley Skidmore, director of transfer admissions at Lewis University.

Here’s how the 3 + 1 plan works. According to Skidmore, students attend classes all four years at COD. The first two years they pay the community college’s tuition rate while earning their associate degree. The third year they take upper-level classes that will transfer to Lewis, but the tuition rate remains the same. It is not until the final year that students pay the full tuition for upper-level classes that are taught on the COD campus by Lewis University faculty.

Concordia University Chicago also has partnered with COD and offers three new 3 +1 bachelor’s degree programs in health care management, sports and recreation management, and visual arts administration.

“We recognize the need to provide educational options for today’s students,” said Marilyn Reineck, senior vice president of academic affairs at Concordia. “And we’re proud to partner with the College of DuPage to offer an option that is flexible and affordable while maintaining high academic quality.”

Students who want to avoid the burden of crushing student debt should consider Governor State University’s affordable 2 + 2 dual degree program that locks in the tuition rate for the entire four years from the date the student enrolls, usually in his or her second semester.

“Once students are accepted into the program, usually at the end of their freshman year, they receive all the help and encouragement they need to help keep them on track to graduation,” said Anthony Todd. In addition to locked tuition they can apply for a GSU Promise Scholarship (if eligible), receive ongoing counseling and have access to both the GSU library and social activities.

Finally, students who move from one school to another should do so with a definite goal in mind. “If you’re not focused on a single major when you transfer it may take longer than you thought because you didn’t take the right courses,” Berki said. “Transfer students have less time than students who enroll as freshman to sample different majors before settling on one. So it’s important that they figure out sooner, rather than later, what they want to major in.”

Jean Guarino is a local freelance writer.